Key Takeaways Key Takeaways
  • When someone you care about is experiencing a panic attack, it’s essential to remain calm and composed. Your presence and soothing words can provide much-needed comfort during their distressing moments.

  • Panic attacks can lead to physical symptoms, and it’s crucial to ensure the person’s safety. If they’re driving, encourage them to pull over safely. Help them focus on slow breathing, and if they have medication for panic attacks, offer to assist them in taking it.

  • Choose your words carefully and offer words of reassurance and understanding. Simple phrases like “You can get through this” and “I’m here to keep you safe” can make a significant difference in helping them manage their panic.

How to Help Someone Who is Having a Panic Attack

Panic attacks can be a frightening and overwhelming experience for those who suffer from them, and if you have a friend or loved one dealing with panic attacks, knowing how to help them can make a world of difference.

Panic Attack 5 Step Emergency Guide

If your loved one is in the middle of a panic attack now, stay as calm as possible and take the following five steps:

  1. Ensure their physical safety
  2. Speak calmly and say reassuring things
  3. Ask if they have prescription medication for panic disorder
  4. Try clinically proven therapeutic techniques
  5. Avoid taking specific actions that can worsen the symptoms

If the person knows what panic attacks feel like and insist this is different, call 9-1-1. Panic attack symptoms can look very similar to heart attack symptoms. If someone is having a panic attack and they want to be alone, honor their wishes as much as possible. Offer to go to the next room or stay on the phone until you know they are safe.

Understanding how to carry out these steps can help you, and your loved one get through this tough time safely and prepare for any panic attacks in the future.

steps-to-stop-panic-attack

In this guide, we will discuss five crucial steps to support someone during a panic attack, ensuring their safety, providing reassurance, and offering effective strategies for coping.

Ensure Physical Safety During a Panic Attack

During a panic attack, a person’s fight-or-flight response is activated, even in the absence of real physical danger. It’s essential to ensure their safety and well-being:

  • If they’re driving, encourage them to pull over safely.
  • Help them focus on slow, deep breaths to regulate their breathing.
  • If they’re genuinely struggling to breathe, seek immediate medical assistance.
  • Stay with them throughout the panic attack, which typically lasts for five to 10 minutes.
  • If they prefer to be alone, respect their wishes but stay nearby in case they need help.

What to Say to Someone Having a Panic Attack

Your words can have a significant impact on someone experiencing a panic attack. Offer comfort and reassurance with these supportive phrases:

  • “I’m here to keep you safe.”
  • “You can get through this.”
  • “Your feelings are understandable.”
  • “Let’s focus on breathing right now.”
  • “You are loved, safe, and heard.”
  • “What can I do to help you through this?”

Whatever you say, stay calm. Speak slowly and in a soft tone. If the person having a panic attack asks you to stop talking, honor that. Simply sit with them.

Prescription Medications for Panic Attacks

If your loved one has had a panic attack in the past, they may have seen a mental health care provider about it. When appropriate, these providers may prescribe medications that patients take only when panic attacks begin. In the midst of a panic attack, your loved one could forget that they have the medication; be sure to inquire and offer assistance:

  • If they have emergency medication, fetch it with some water.
  • Reassure them that there’s no judgment in taking prescribed medication during a panic attack.
  • If they don’t have medication, wait until the panic attack subsides before discussing the possibility of obtaining a prescription.

Calming Techniques to Help Someone Through a Panic Attack

Medication is not the only thing that can help someone who is having a panic attack. Calming and grounding techniques can help them regulate their emotions and physical responses. If your loved one sees a therapist, ask if they have a calming process they worked on in therapy. If not, that’s OK. You may:

Create a calming environment: If the environment itself is triggering the panic attack, go somewhere else. No matter where you are, try to limit loud or bright sensory stimuli. You may dim the lights, turn off loud sounds, or have your loved ones close their eyes.

Take focused breaths together: Model deep breathing and ask your loved one to breathe along with you. Try breathing in through your nose for four counts, then out through the mouth for four counts. By purposefully slowly the breath, your loved one can regulate their heart rate as well.

Try grounding techniques: Grounding techniques seek to focus the mind on what is truly happening around them, rather than what their body is responding to. There are many grounding techniques, including counting the number of sensory stimuli they can sense. Have your loved one name a few things they can hear, then what they can hear, and so forth.

Consider guided meditation or visualization: These techniques can have calming effects. Consider using an app, video, or other resources to access guided meditations.

What Not To Do When a Person is Having a Panic Attack

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to comforting someone during a panic attack, there are certain actions to avoid:

  • Never tell them they are overreacting or that their feelings are invalid.
  • Avoid sudden movements or loud outbursts that could worsen their anxiety.
  • Refrain from comparing their situation to others or shaming them for their feelings.
  • Don’t minimize their experience by saying, “It’s not a big deal.”
  • Do not leave your loved one completely unattended until the panic attack has ended, usually five to 10 minutes from the beginning.

As long as you approach the situation calmly and with empathy, you can both be OK.

Supporting a friend or loved one through a panic attack requires patience, empathy, and a calm demeanor. By following these steps, you can provide crucial assistance, ensuring their safety and helping them cope with this challenging experience. Your understanding and support will make a positive impact on their journey to managing panic attacks effectively.

Authored By 

LifeStance Health
LifeStance Health

LifeStance is a mental healthcare company focused on providing evidence-based, medically driven treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults suffering from a variety of mental health issues in an outpatient care setting, both in-person and through its digital health telemedicine offering.


Reviewed By

Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S
Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S

Nicholette is a faculty member at John Carroll University’s Clinical Counseling program, and she is also the host of the LifeStance podcast, Convos from the Couch.