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How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack

Helping Someone with a panic attack


Witnessing someone having a panic attack can be frightening, especially if you don't know what's happening. Remember to remain calm and meet their needs the best you can. Keep them grounded, stay with them, and focus on what you can do instead of what you can say.

Panic attacks are extreme rushes of fear and anxiety that can be crippling, and watching someone go through one can be frightening in it's own way. If your friend or loved one is having a panic attack, it can feel like there's nothing you can do. 

Most of the time, a panic attack must reside on its own. But it can help to have someone there to support you during and after a panic attack. This blog article will teach you the warning signs of a panic attack and how to help someone who is having a panic attack. 

What is a Panic Attack? Know the Warning Signs

One of the best things you can do to help someone with a panic attack is catch it before it gets worse. Knowing the beginning signs of a panic attack can help you alert the person to their rising anxiety and implement coping mechanisms to help them call down. We'll get into coping with anxiety in a later section, but for now let's focus on what a panic attack is and how you can recognize the early signs of one. 

A panic attack is a short but extreme rush of fear. These sudden attacks of anxiety & overwhelming fear can happen to anyone and are known to be unpredictable, generally occurring without an apparent cause. These attacks involve signs similar to those experienced when facing danger, including:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Feelings of extreme terror
  • Numbness in the hands and feet
  • Pounding heart
  • Rapid breathing

Beginning stages of a panic attack often look like: 

  • hightened vigilance for danger 
  • anxious thoughts
  • fast, panicked breathing
  • hot flushes
  • feeling unable to calm down

Panic attacks usually feel very discomfiting & cause significant distress. Know how to help someone having a panic attack in the steps elaborated below.


What to do when someone is having a panic attack?

11 percent of Americans yearly suffer from panic attacks. Depending on the severity of the disorder, as many as 3 percent of this group develop panic disorder, which occurs when an individual starts to continuously stress about coping with panic attacks & experiences more severe issues and loses control of their actions.

It is difficult to ignore the reality of the situation when you are helping someone through a panic attack, especially if it is someone you know. But by helping your loved one overcome a panic attack, you can help them feel comfortable. The goal of helping someone through a panic attack is to make them feel as safe as possible and not alone. It may not be possible to end a panic attack, so instead focus on weathering the storm with them. 

11 Ways to Help Someone through a Panic Attack

Remain as Calm as Possible

What to do if someone having a panic attack? The most important thing to do is stay calm. Adding your panic to the mix will only escalate things. Keep your voice low and calm. Don't touch them unless you know that's what they want, but try to stay close to them if they need anything. Some experts suggest gently infomring them you think they could be having a panic attack, as naming it takes some of the fear away. If this person frequently as panic attacks, they probably already know what is going on. But if it is a new experience for them, gently telling them what you know about panic attacks can be helpful. 

For example:

"It looks like you might be having a panic attack. I know it may feel like you're dying, but this feeling will pass. Most panic attacks pass within 10 minutes. I'll stay with you if you need anything."

Ask How You Can Help

Most people who undergo panic attacks or live with different types of anxiety have their go-to coping strategies. When offering support, remember that your loved one understands best what will help most. If you know they experience panic attacks, ask in advance  how you can provide help if they experience an attack around you. If a panic attack happens and you aren't sure how to help, it's okay to ask what you can do to support them calmly. However, during an episode they might find it more challenging to communicate this. So, prepare for the possibility of a short or curt response.

Start with a simple "What can I do to help?" 

If they aren't able to answer this, narrow it down by providing a few options:

"Do you need water?" 

"Can I touch you?"

"Do you want me to keep talking?"

Some people feel grounded by physical touch during a panic attack, but others deplore it. Some find listening to someone talk about something mundane helps them come out of their attacks faster, but others find it worsens symptoms. Always ask if you can do something before trying to implement help, because everyone experiences panic attacks differently. 

See If They Need to Move

Ask the person having a panic attack if they want or require your help. If they ask for help and have a panic attack in a busy or noisy place, encourage them to settle in a quiet area. Eliminating noise and other distractions can help them focus on techniques that will help them manage their panic attacks.

Ask If They Need to Sit

Help them find a comfortable seat and sit down to have a literal grounding effect. Having feet relaxed on the floor and the sensation of having a chair for support can have a healing impact. It will also help in doing deep breathing exercises more comfortably.

Know the Right Things to Say

Oftentimes, empty reassurances only make panic attacks worse. Instead of saying "it's okay" over and over again, try saying things like:

  • Reminding them how long panic attacks usually last (5-10 minutes)
  • Reassuring them that you won't leave and that you're not judging them 
  • Telling them that they're safe

Try to aviod overusing any saying, unless they respond well to it. A lot of people having panic attacks know that they are actually safe and that it is just their body rebelling in an anxious way. 

Help Them Stay Grounded

Grounding techniques can contain panic attacks after they begin. These techniques allow the person to focus on what's happening, not their anxiety about the attack. They're often most beneficial once the episode's intensity has faded.
To support someone grounding themselves, you can try the following:

  • Physical touch, like holding their hand 
  • Giving them a textured object to hold
  • Motivating them to stretch or move
  • Talking slowly & calmly about familiar places or activities

Focus On Breathing

One of the most challenging parts of a panic attack is accelerated breathing and the inability to control it. Panic attack treatment can help them to manage their breathing patterns and reduce anxiety. If you are wondering what to do when someone has a panic attack, suggest them these four steps for breathwork:

  • Breathe slow, deep, and as gently as you can through your nose.
  • Exhale slowly, deeply, and softly through the mouth.
  • Count up to 5 on every in-breath and out-breath.
  • Close your eyes and be mindful of your breath.

Give Them Water

A panic attack can start from a physical trigger like dehydration; cold water triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to calm the body. Water can be soothing when people sweat and feel warm when they have anxiety. It's a good distraction from the burdensome thoughts they may have.

Be Supportive, Compassionate, & Reassuring.

Let the person struggling with a panic attack know that you will stay with them as long as they need you to be there. Be present without judgment & speak to them in a supportive manner. Your capacity to provide comfort goes a long way in reminding them that they are not alone.

Note: Read further resources to comprehensively understand how to help someone thru a panic attack or connect with our support team to know the best next step.

Encourage Counseling

Panic disorder treatment can help the person recognize possible triggers leading to an emotional response. A therapist will also teach coping skills and assist in implementing a positive mindset so that they can independently manage an episode when it happens. 

Counselling & therapy has been proven more effective than panic attack medication in improving anxiety symptoms and preventing the recurrence of panic attacks. Currently, the best panic disorder treatments are:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • Panic-Focused Psychodynamic Psychotherapy (PFPP)
  • Exposure therapy
  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)
  • Group Therapy

Get Them Educated

Encourage a person you care about to learn more about their panic attacks. Information is essential if people are to understand why and what is happening. Researchers suggest If recurring panic attacks continue to be an issue for someone you care about, encourage them to reach out to a counselor. A detailed education about panic disorder treatment and its symptoms can help people understand what to do when someone having a panic attack. People can identify and avoid triggers by learning the various therapies and the need to comply.

What to avoid when someone has a panic attack?

If someone decides to inform you about their panic attacks, take it as a sign of trust.

How to help someone having a panic attack? Show care for their experience and honor this trust: respond with empathy & be mindful of your talks & actions during an attack and at any other time.

  • Don't try to minimize it- Understand that the panic you notice is real to your friend, even if the reason may not appear rational.
  • Don't be judgmental or critical- Blaming an individual for a panic attack doesn't help. Don't try to speak them out of it, either.
  • Don't help them avoid the situation- Dodging the problem now could be dangerous later. It could make the anxiety more harmful and raise the odds of more attacks. They may also become overly reliant on you to protect them from their fears.

Note: You might have all the best intentions, but it's possible to make somebody feel bad without recognizing you're doing so. So, be prepared with what to say when someone has a panic attack.

How to Prevent Panic Attacks from Occurring in the First Place

If you are undergoing a panic attack while uncomfortable, there are ways to help address the symptoms and de-escalate the situation. By implementing these lifestyle changes, you can discover 'how to help someone having a panic attack' and prevent such episodes in the future.

Exercise regularly

Research says that exercising three times a week can help lessen anxiety, lowering the chances of a panic attack. If you or somebody you know is dealing with panic attacks, it could be the ideal excuse to get more active.

Improve your diet

One way to reduce the possibility of panic attacks is by enhancing your diet. For example, you may discover that eating regularly & lowering sugar intake can help you live a more balanced & fulfilling life.

Avoid drugs and alcohol

Since consuming drugs and alcohol can activate panic attacks, avoiding such substances can help you to evade panic attacks.

Seek out a therapist

If you're suffering from panic attacks, speaking to a therapist can help. At Lifebulb, our panic attack therapists can help you identify and reduce the triggers for your panic attacks.

Therapy can effectively identify, treat, & manage your symptoms. Panic disorder therapists work closely with you & customize a panic disorder treatment plan to help you recover. Some of the best panic attack treatment options include:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
    Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a form of psychotherapy used to treat panic attack disorders. The underlying notions of CBT are based on the idea that an individual’s opinions, emotions & perceptions influence their movements & demeanors.
  • Panic-Focused Psychodynamic Psychotherapy (PFPP)
    Panic-focused psychodynamic psychotherapy (PFPP) aims to reveal past incidents & emotional conflicts that may have affected the development of an individual's panic and anxiety.
  • Exposure therapy
    It’s a behavioral therapy typically used to help people with phobias & anxiety disorders. It involves a person facing what they worry about, either presumed or in real life, but under the direction of a trained panic disorder therapist in a safe environment. 
  • Group Therapy
    Many people with panic disorder deal with feelings of loneliness & separateness. Through group therapy, people can feel secure & supported as they communicate their improvement, setbacks, aspirations, and dreams.
  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy
    It’s an action-oriented strategy focused on helping people to manage irrational beliefs and understand how to control their feelings, opinions, and manners in a healthier, more sensible way.

How Can Therapy Help Manage Panic Attacks?

Therapy has proved to assist people with panic attacks. A panic disorder therapist can help people unravel how their thoughts contribute to their panic episodes, assisting them in changing their beliefs & behavior in healthy ways.

The primary goals of therapy for panic attacks include:

  • Identify the sources of anxiety and fear
  • Learn to exist in circumstances that would have prompted a panic attack
  • Create new ways of feeling about negative beliefs
  • Use coping skills & understanding how to help someone having a panic attack 
  • Help with customized treatment plans that suit your need

Note: Some therapists also suggest panic attack medication with different types of therapies to help people in their journey to healing. 

Final Thoughts

If you suffer from panic episodes, you might feel like you’ve lost control of your life. Still, there is support available in the form of therapy, whether online panic disorder treatment or a support group. Also, if you know someone suffering from panic attacks, help them reach out to a counseling center or book an online therapy session to support them in living better.

Frequently Asked Questions

Gently let them know that you believe they might have a panic attack & that you are there for them. Prompt them to breathe slowly and deeply – it can support them to do something simple or repetitive they can concentrate on.

If you are thinking about what to do when someone has panic attack! Try this:

  • Inhale slowly, deeply, and gently
  • Exhale gradually, deeply, and gently
  • Count steadily from one to five each time you inhale and each time you exhale
  • Close your eyes & focus on your breathing.

If you know a person who experiences panic attacks, there are numerous things you can do to help them at the moment.

  • Remain calm
  • Ask how you can help
  • Focus on action over words
  • Help them stay grounded

If you think you or your loved one are frequently facing panic attacks, then opt for panic disorder treatment to learn & recover.

One essential step in reversing the anxiety cycle is slowly confronting feared circumstances. Doing this will help you to gain confidence, which will help lessen your anxiety & allow you to go into critical situations.

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