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How to Help Someone Who Is Having a Panic Attack

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Panic attacks are a brief, sudden, and intense rush of panic, fear, or anxiety. They often happen quickly and with little warning beforehand. If someone you know and love has a panic attack, you must know what to do to help them. However, it’s equally important that you know what not to do.

Recognizing the Symptoms of a Panic Attack in Someone Else

One of the first things you should do to be of any help is to know what a panic attack’s symptoms look like. Here are some things to look out for in someone else:

  • Sweating or chills
  • Rapid breathing
  • Hyperventilating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Crying

These are just the outward, visible symptoms that you and others will notice. Inside, the person having a panic attack is also feeling nausea, abdominal cramping, chest pain, headache, dizziness or lightheadedness, etc.

How to Help Someone During an Anxiety Attack

Stay calm

Remaining calm is the first thing you need to know about how to help someone with an anxiety attack. Anxiety and panic attacks don’t last long, and they’ll be even quicker if you remain calm around someone who’s experiencing one.

Make conversation and offer support

Trying to get the person talking to you and offering subtle but comforting support is also important. You should tell them that you’re not going to leave them and that you’re there to help. However, never be forceful or aggressive and only touch them comfortingly after asking for permission. Panic attacks often stem from feeling helpless or out of control. Asking for permission is a great way to give them a sense of control.

Ask questions and listen intently

Asking questions and listening intently to the response is a great way to distract someone with a panic attack. It’s also a great way to let them know that you care about them and are there for them.

Grounding Techniques to Help Someone During a Panic Attack

Keeping someone grounded and interactive is extremely important for feeling safe and overcoming a panic attack. Here are some of the best ways to help someone with a panic attack.

Deep breathing

People amid a panic attack often take only shallow, short breaths. Focusing on deep breathing helps them slow down their heart and push away the panic.

The 5-4-3-2-1 technique

Here’s how the 5-4-3-2-1 technique works.

  1. Name five things that you see around you.
  2. Focus on four different things that you can feel.
  3. Name three things that you can hear around you.
  4. Notice two things that you can smell.
  5. Focus on one thing that you can taste.

Picture someone you love

Having someone picture a person they love during a panic attack can relax them.

Spelling backward game

Have the person you’re helping spell out a few random words backward. This will help to distract them from what’s causing their panic attack.

Focus on an object

If there’s a unique object in the area, have the person experiencing a panic attack focus on it for distraction.

Play a memory game

Memory games are also a good way to distract someone from panic attacks.

What Not to Do If Someone Has a Panic Attack

Knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do.

Don’t minimize their feelings.

Shaming someone or telling them there’s nothing to be afraid of, is not how to help someone having a panic attack. Their feelings are valid, and it’s your job to provide comfort and support rather than judgment.

Don’t give advice.

All panic attacks are different because all people are different. Trying to pretend that you know exactly what someone is feeling and giving them advice is the wrong approach to take.

Don’t compare their fear to other stressors.

Whatever is panicking your friend is a valid fear. Trying to convince them that it isn’t so bad is not a good idea.

One Mighty member who experiences panic attacks, Aimee M., put together this list of things she has personally found least helpful to hear during a panic attack.

When to Seek Additional Help

The human spirit is strong and resilient, and we often try to fight through panic attacks on our own. However, it’s important to know when to seek additional help. If your loved one’s symptoms persist or chest pain moves to their arm or shoulders and feels more like squeezing, you should reach out to medical professionals.

You might seek additional support like cognitive behavioral therapy if your family member or friend regularly has anxiety attacks.

Stories From Mighty Members About Panic Attacks

Connect With Others Who Have Panic Attacks

The Mighty is a community for people who are living with panic attacks and other mental health conditions, as well as those who support them through their struggles. You can read stories from others with similar experiences, join support groups, and even share your own story.

Anxiety and Panic Attack Support Groups

Mental Health Newsletters

Originally published: June 16, 2022
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