Mental Health Awareness Month: COVID19 Panic Culture, How You Can Help Someone Having a Panic Attack or Extreme Emotion

Posted by Tony Romando on

The COVID 19 Pandemic has left an imprint on many of us. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns are at all time highs. Panic buying of toilet paper and gas are examples of some of the extreme behaviors that have emerged around us. We all likely have a friend or loved one who is struggling because of our COVID 19 panic culture. How can you help someone who is displaying extreme emotion, like a panic attack or depressive episode and help them through the extremes? 

Perhaps the greatest thing we can do to help uses a skill called active listening. As Hostage Negotiators we often refer to this skill as tactical empathy. 

Active listening skills are simple:

  • Ask open ended questions or questions requiring more than a yes or no answer
  • Use the 80/20 rule by allowing them to speak 80% of the time while you speak 20% of the time.  
  • Label emotions by making statements that indicate that you recognize how they might be feeling. Emotional labeling might sound something like “you sound frustrated”.
  • Occasionally restate the last three to five words they said. Mirror their posture and maintain eye contact.
  • If the person having the extreme emotion is a child, be sure to come down to the child’s level and have the conversation eye to eye. Teens also appreciate being spoken to instead of spoken at. 

As you practice and employ your tactical empathy you will see how powerful this tool is for changing behavior. We often face some incredibly hostile people and employ these skills with amazing success. All humans need validation and empathy regardless of age. Active listening is a game changer. 

There may be times however when this is not enough. In situations where a friend or loved one might be suicidal never be afraid to ask the tough question “Are you thinking about suicide?” If the answer is yes stay with them and contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or call 911. Oftentimes just being there and being an active listener is enough to help save a life.

Billy Jensen is the CEO of Captive Audience Prevention Training and Recovery Team. He is a Personnel (Hostage) Recovery Professional and honorably retired Special Forces Soldier (Green Beret). During active duty, he served more than a decade as a Special Forces Intelligence NCO. Since retiring from Special Forces, Billy was trained as a hostage negotiator, private investigator, locksmith, martial artist, scuba diver, Critical Incident Stress Debriefer and Certified Missing and Exploited Child Investigator. He is the co-author, with Check Freedman, of Survival Ready: Life Saving Skills and Expert Advice for Surviving Any Threat At Any Time.