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.
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
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.