How to help someone with a panic attack

Witnessing a person ‘s panic attack , especially a loved one, can be a traumatic and very demanding experience for anyone. It is common to feel powerless in what seems (but often isn’t) an apparently simple situation. We would like to feel useful to the person developing a panic attack and avoid harming them further. We therefore tried to draw up a sort of list of behaviors to have or, on the contrary, to avoid.

Step 1: recognize and evaluate the situation

  1. Try to understand what is happening to the person:

It is likely that individuals who develop a panic attack have already experienced similar episodes in the past, which usually last a few minutes. It is equally probable that it is the first panic attack, which is normally perceived as “a bolt from the blue”.

The panic attacks are characterized by fear of a disaster or lose control even when there is no real danger. These attacks can occur without warning and for no obvious reason. In extreme cases, the symptoms can be accompanied by an acute fear of dying. While they are quite distressing and can last anywhere from five minutes to several hours, panic attacks by themselves are not fatal.

  • Panic attacks bring the body to a peak of arousal that makes the individual feel as if he is losing control of himself. The mind is preparing for a false fight or flight (caused by the alarm assessment), forcing the body of the alleged victim to run away from perceived danger, whether it is real or not.
  • The adrenal glands release two hormones into the blood, cortisol and adrenaline, and the panic attack process begins. At that moment, the person is unable to distinguish between a real and an imaginary danger. For the individual, at that precise juncture, the threat is concrete and tangible.
  • There has never been a recorded case of death from a panic attack. It can be fatal or lead to possible consequential effects, only if accompanied by pre-existing medical conditions, such as asthma, or if it subsequently causes extreme behaviors (such as jumping out of a window, running into an uncontrolled flight, taking dangerous substances, etc. .).
  1. Observe the symptoms

If the person has never had an actual attack before, they will panic on different levels, not least because they don’t know what’s going on. If we can determine that it is indeed a panic attack , this solves half the problem. Symptoms, according to the DSM-5, can be:

  • Palpitations and chest pain
  • Acceleration of the heartbeat
  • Very rapid breathing or hyperventilation
  • Headache
  • Backache
  • Tremor
  • Tingling in the fingers or toes
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Vertigo, feelings of fainting (usually due to hyperventilation)
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Hot flashes or chills
  1. If this is the first time the individual has had a panic attack, seek emergency medical help

If in doubt, it is always best to seek medical help immediately. This is doubly important if the individual has diabetes, asthma or other medical problems. It is important to note that the signs and symptoms of a panic attack can be similar to those of a heart attack. It is important to keep this in mind when evaluating the situation.

  1. Find out the cause of the panic attack

Talk to the person who is unwell to determine if it is a panic attack or another type of medical emergency (such as a heart attack or asthma) that requires immediate and specific medical attention. If it is not a first panic attack , the person may be able to provide some clues as to what is going on.

Many attacks have no clear cause or, at the very least, the panicked person is not consciously aware of which one it is. For this reason, determining the cause may not be easily feasible, especially in the immediate future. If the person doesn’t know why, we can only acknowledge it, without insisting and risking creating further pressure.

Put the person who has a panic attack at ease

  1. Put the person “safe” (remove any cause or take the individual to a quiet area)

To facilitate this, but keep the individual safe, take him to a different area, preferably open and quiet. Never touch a person who is having a panic attack without asking and obtaining final authorization to do so. In some cases, this could increase panic and make the situation worse.

Sometimes, a person with panic attacks already knows techniques or medications that can help them overcome the crisis, so it is always good to try and ask if there is anything we can do (e.g., they may have somewhere they prefer to go. ).

  1. Speak in a reassuring but firm tone

While facing a panic attack can be a more difficult battle than expected, it is extremely important that you stay calm. As the person in question may be trying to escape, we can ask him to stay still. But avoiding to grasp or block it, not even gently. In the event that the person wants to move, it is advisable to suggest stratching or jumping jacks or to accompany us on a, albeit short, walk.

If the person is in their home, suggest that they keep busy with challenging tasks (e.g., arranging the closet or cleaning). The whole organism of the person having an ongoing panic attack is “ready” to fight or run away. It may therefore prove useful to direct energy towards physical objects and constructive and well-defined tasks. This can help you cope with the physiological effects. The sense of gratification can actually change the mood, while a different activity to focus on can help overcome anxiety .

If she is not at home, suggest an activity that can help her focus. This can be something simple (such as raising and lowering your arms). Again, the goal is to tire the person and make them bored, so that they are less focused on panic and its secondary effects.

  1. Don’t deny or belittle fears

Saying phrases like “there’s nothing to worry about”, “it’s all in your mind” or “you’re exaggerating” will only aggravate the problem. Although it seems clear to us that there are no concrete reasons to be afraid, this is very real for the individual. In that moment the best we can do is try to ” stay with the person ” to face them together.

Emotional threats are as real as life and death threats to the body. That is why it is important to take the fears of the person in front of us seriously. If your fears are not rooted in reality and are reactions from the past, providing some specific checks on current reality can help.

Ask the question in a calm and neutral way: “Are you reacting to what is happening now or to something in the past?”. This can help the panic attack victim rearrange their thoughts to recognize flashbacks to immediate warning signs. We need to be able to listen and accept whatever answers are given. In fact, sometimes people who have experienced violent situations before have very strong reactions to real danger signals. Asking questions and letting the person express the cause of their agitation as clearly as possible is the best way to support it.

  1. Emotional support and empathy (it is forbidden to say ” calm down!” Or ” there is nothing to fear“)

Trying to make the person think by bringing to light the reality of the facts, would only make the situation worse. Instead, trying to use expressions like “I know you are worried, it’s okay, I’m here to help!”, Makes the person feel less alone and inadequate. Above all, it makes her feel welcomed in her own vulnerabilities and not ridiculed.

It is important that we put ourselves in the shoes of the individual who is experiencing a panic attack. Let’s try to see hers as a real problem, as if she had a cut somewhere and was losing profusely blood. The situation, from his point of view, is terribly real: that we treat it as such is the only way we can help.

  1. Don’t push

This is not the time to force the person to respond or do things that would make the anxiety worse. Instead, we minimize stress levels by trying to induce calm and relaxation in the panicked individual . Do not insist on understanding what caused his attack, especially if we realize that this is not currently possible. We could only make it worse.

Don’t judge in any way, even if sometimes it would naturally come naturally to us: let’s just listen to it and let it speak.

  1. Encourage control of breathing

Regaining control of your breathing can help eliminate symptoms and help calm them. Many people take short, quick breaths when panicking (risking hyperventilating), others hold their breath. This reduces the oxygen supply, which causes the heart to accelerate. Proposing to use one of the following techniques to help bring your breathing back to normal can be a valuable intervention:

  • Try asking to count how many times you inhale and how many exhale. Start counting aloud, encourage the individual to inhale up to two. And then to exhale, always up to two, gradually increasing to 4 and then to 6. This, if possible, until his breathing slows down and is regularized.
  • If the individual is receptive, offer him a paper bag, to let him breathe inside. However, it is important to remember that, for some people, the bag itself can trigger a fear. This is especially true if its use turned out to be a negative experience during previous panic attacks.
  • Since this is done to avoid hyperventilation, it may not be necessary if you are dealing with someone holding their breath or slowing their breathing when panicking. If necessary, however, this should be done by alternating about 10 breaths in and out of the bag, followed by bagless breathing for 15 seconds. It is important not to overdo the bag in case the carbon dioxide levels rise too high and the oxygen levels are too low, causing other more serious medical problems.
  • Have the individual inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, as if inflating a balloon. It would be important to do the exercise together with the person.
  1. Try to regulate your body temperature

Many panic attacks can be accompanied by sensations of heat, especially around the neck and face. A cold object, ideally a wet washcloth, can often help minimize this symptom and help reduce perceived severity.

  1. Don’t leave the person alone

This is an important aspect, at least until she has recovered from the attack. Never leave someone alone who is struggling to breathe or to regain control of themselves. A person with a panic attack can appear rude or rude. However, we must always remember what she is going through and wait until she is back to normal. Ask her if and what has worked in the past and if and when she has taken her medication.

Even if we have the feeling of not being useful, we always remember that we represent at least a reason for distraction for the person. In fact, if she is left alone, she has nothing but herself and her own thoughts. The fact that she has someone close at the time helps keep her anchored to the real world. Being alone during a panic attack can be a terrible experience. At the same time, however, it can be helpful to make sure that those around you keep away from someone who is having a panic attack. Although with the best of intentions, it is likely that they would end up making the situation worse

  1. Wait for it to pass

While it may seem like it will last forever, the episode will ‘pass’. Panic attacks generally tend to peak around 10 minutes and from there there is a slow but steady decline.

However, less severe panic attacks tend to last longer. That said, the person will be better able to handle them, so duration is a secondary issue.

Manage severe panic attacks

In the case of more important and / or longer-lasting panic attacks, there are some precautions not to forget:

  1. Seek medical help

If symptoms do not subside within hours, it is a good idea to call for help urgently, even if it is not a life-or-death situation. The emergency room doctor will most likely give the patient some Valium or Xanax. Possibly also a beta blocker like Atenolol to calm the heart and lower adrenaline levels in the body.

If this is the first time the person has a panic attack, they may want to see a doctor because they are afraid of what is happening.

  1. Help the person undergo therapy

Panic attacks are a manifestation of anxiety that must be treated by a specialist. A good cognitive behavioral therapist should be able to identify the triggers of the attack. Or at least it should be able to help the individual gain a better understanding of the physiological side of the situation.

Reinforce the concept that psychotherapy, especially if of cognitive behavioral orientation, is a legitimate form of help to which millions of individuals turn, obtaining good results.

  1. Allow yourself to feel emotions

Losing patience in the face of another person’s panic attack could make us feel incredibly guilty or inadequate. It is good to remember that being alarmed and a little scared is a healthy reaction when witnessing such incidents. If possible, it may also be helpful to propose that the person address the topic at a time when the anxious activation has ceased, so as to make another possible crisis in the future more manageable for everyone.


by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

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