>

How to Help Someone During a Panic Attack

Many people believe they’re experiencing a heart attack when really they're experiencing a panic attack. Here are several things you can do (and avoid doing) to help them in the moment.

Remain Calm

 

Even if you feel a little afraid of yourself, stay calm. If your voice seems to help (and they haven’t asked you to keep quiet), talk to them in a calm voice...

What To Say

 

  • Try reassuring them you won’t leave

  • Try reminding them the attack won’t last long

  • Try telling them they’re safe

Ask how you can help

 

During an attack, it’s okay to calmly ask what you can do to support them. Just prepare for the possibility of a short or curt response.

The fight-or-flight stress response can affect the ability to think and behave logically, according to Bingham. “Try to remain neutral, and don’t take their response personally,” she recommends.

 

What if they want me to leave?

 

As long as they’re not in immediate danger, take a few steps back and give them some space. Stay nearby so you can still keep an eye on things, and let them know that should they change their mind, you’ll come right back.

 

Learn the warning signs

 

If you haven’t already, take some time to familiarize yourself with the early signs of a potential panic attack.

 

Panic attacks commonly begin with:

  • A feeling of terror or dread

  • Hyperventilation or shortness of breath

  • Feelings of choking

  • A pounding heart

  • Dizziness and shaking

 

The sooner you realize what’s happening, the faster you can help them get to a more private place, or wherever they need to feel more comfortable.

Take Action With Your Words By:

  • Asking if they want to leave the room and go somewhere else

  • Reminding them to keep breathing

  • Engaging them in light conversation, unless they say they don’t want to talk

Be Empathic!

 

An empathic response can be as simple as,

“That sounds really tough. I’m sorry you experienced that. Let me know what I can do to support you.”

Help them stay grounded

To help someone ground themselves, you can try:

  • Physical touch, like holding their hand (if they’re okay with it)

  • Giving them a textured object to feel

  • Encouraging them to stretch or move

  • Encouraging them to repeat a soothing or helpful phrase, like “this feels awful, but it’s not going to hurt me”

  • Talking slowly and calmly about familiar places or activities

 

What to Avoid

 

Respond with compassion and be mindful of your words and actions, during an attack and at any other time. You might have all the best intentions, but it’s entirely possible to make someone feel bad without realizing you’re doing so.

 

Panic attacks can be confusing as well as scary. People generally can’t predict them and there’s often no clear cause. With proper support, they can get easier or go away completely. we've been there, we can help. Please join a support group here.