When someone you care about has a panic attack, it can be hard to know what to do. However, if you take the time to understand and empathise with their experience, you can help them get through it more easily.

Panic Attack: How to Help?

Health professionals are now encouraging families and partners to play an active role in helping their loved one cope with anxiety attacks. Here are some strategies for doing so.

panic attack

1. Stay calm

If you have a loved one experiencing a panic attack, you want to do everything in your power to help them. While this may seem daunting, there are many ways to make someone who is suffering feel more at ease.

The first thing you can do is stay calm yourself. Keeping a calm demeanor will make it easier for your loved one to respond with a more relaxed demeanor. It also helps them understand that you’re there for them.

You can also encourage them to take a deep breath. This can be particularly helpful if they’re feeling short of breath, which is often a common symptom during a panic attack.

Once they’ve taken a deep breath, try to remind them that this is temporary and will pass. You can repeat a mantra to them, like “This too shall pass,” or speak to them about the experience in a soothing way.

Another technique that can be beneficial is to pick something in their environment and focus on it. Whether it’s a clock or a picture, taking the time to really look at something can help reduce the intensity of other stimuli that may be triggering their symptoms.

Finally, if possible, move them to a quiet location where they can relax and ride out the symptoms without drawing attention from other people. Ideally, this should be a place where you can sit next to them and provide comfort and support while they work through their panic attack.

It’s also important to remember that everyone experiences anxiety differently. What works for one person might not work for another, so it’s important to keep trying different strategies until you find what’s best for your loved one.

2. Encourage them to take a deep breath

When someone is experiencing a panic attack, it can be hard for them to breathe properly and it can also make them feel very overwhelmed. But encouraging them to take a deep breath can help them feel better.

If you’re a parent, friend or family member of a person who is having a panic attack, encourage them to take a deep breath whenever they feel that the symptoms are getting worse. This is important because deep breathing can reduce many of the physical symptoms that people experience during a panic attack, including chest tightness, dizziness and fainting.

You can do this by teaching them to breathe in deeply through their nose (imagine smelling roses or fresh laundry) and then out slowly through their mouth. You can also instruct them to sit in a quiet place and focus on their breathing.

Another way to encourage them to take a deep breath is by reminding them that it’s okay for them to feel anxious. This can be difficult for some people, especially those who have experienced anxiety and panic attacks before, but it’s important that they know they are not alone.

Aside from breathing, it’s also important for you to offer them words of reassurance and support as they are going through their panic attack. Try to avoid asking too many questions or bombarding them with your own concerns as this can only make things worse.

If you’re unsure how to support a loved one who is having a panic attack, you can find out more by speaking to a mental health professional. This will help you understand how to best support them in the future.

3. Ask them what they’re thinking

When you witness a loved one or friend having a panic attack, it can be tempting to try to put an end to the symptoms. However, this can actually make the situation worse for them and increase their feelings of stress and helplessness.

Instead, focus on calming the person down and keeping them safe. Reassure them that the attack is only temporary and that they will get through it.

A calm and friendly conversation is also a great way to distract the person from their symptoms. Ask them about their day and see if there’s something you can discuss that might be helpful.

Another technique is to encourage them to take a deep breath. The body needs to breathe deeply in order to relax and calm down, so this can be a good way to refocus them on their surroundings.

If you’re sitting down with the person, encourage them to use their five senses to distract themselves: identify four objects they can touch, three sounds they can hear, two different smells and one taste.

You might also find it helpful to ask them about a recent experience that made them feel stressed or worried. This may help them recognize that they’re feeling fearful because of a past experience and not because the current situation is dangerous.

This will allow them to sort out what they’re thinking and will let them know you’re there for them. It can also help them understand that they aren’t alone and that this isn’t their fault. They will be able to focus more on their own thoughts and emotions, which can help them recover faster from the attack.

4. Tell them they’re not alone

Those with anxiety often develop coping mechanisms to help them regulate their feelings, but panic attacks are one of the most challenging experiences. During these moments, it can be helpful to let someone know they’re not alone.

This can be a difficult message to convey, because people can be overwhelmed by the symptoms they’re feeling. However, if you’re able to calm your friend down, they may be able to find some relief from their panic attack.

A common strategy to use is the 5-4-3-2-1 method, which focuses on five different senses and helps your friend ground themselves. You can also encourage them to take slow, deep breaths in and out.

Keep in mind, though, that this technique works best if you have your friend sit down in a quiet place and allow them to focus on their breathing. Getting them to do something physical, such as stamping their feet or raising and lowering their arms, can also help them feel grounded.

Another option is to simply ask them what they’re thinking. This will give them a chance to think about what’s going on and how they’re feeling.

Lastly, if you’re not sure how to respond, enlist the help of a mental health professional. They’ll be able to offer suggestions and resources that may help your loved one during their time of crisis.

It can be difficult to support someone with a mental illness, so it’s important to remember your own needs. Be sure to prioritize your own health and emotional well-being, and don’t let your stress affect your relationships or work life. Taking care of yourself and your mental health can be the most effective way to help your loved ones with their anxiety.

5. Let them know you’re there for them

You can help someone who’s having a panic attack by being calm, understanding, and non-judgmental. This will make them feel safer and less likely to have future attacks.

Let them know you’re there for them by saying something like, “I understand how you’re feeling. I’m here for you, and I want to help.” Saying this a few times will reassure them that you’re there for them.

Stay with them during the entire episode and don’t leave until they are no longer experiencing symptoms. They may be tempted to flee from the situation but this will only make them feel more uncomfortable.

While you’re there, encourage them to do breathing exercises or other calming techniques. They may even appreciate some physical support, such as rubbing their back or holding their hand.

When they ask to talk, give them time to talk through their feelings. You can use guided words of encouragement or just speak slowly and gently.

You might also want to focus on a shared interest or hobby, such as singing or playing a musical instrument. This will distract them from their thoughts and help them to feel centered.

Panic attacks can be frightening, but they usually last only a few minutes. By reassuring your loved one that their symptoms aren’t life-threatening and will pass soon, you can ease their fears. They’ll also be more likely to seek help for their anxiety if they are able to cope with it. If they have a friend who is also dealing with panic attacks, they may find it helpful to discuss their experiences with that person and how you can support them.

In conclusion, it can be distressing to witness someone experiencing a panic attack, but there are several ways to help them through it. The first step is to remain calm and reassuring, and encourage the person to take slow, deep breaths. It can also be helpful to provide a distraction or help the person focus on something positive, such as a happy memory or a soothing image. Offering physical comfort, such as a hug or a hand to hold, can also be beneficial.

It is important to avoid minimizing the person’s feelings or telling them to “snap out of it”, as this can be invalidating and make the panic attack worse. If the person has a history of panic attacks, it can be helpful to have a plan in place for managing future episodes. This may include seeking professional treatment or using relaxation techniques to manage symptoms.

If you or someone you know is struggling with panic attacks, consider seeking help from a mental health professional through ClinicAll’s online consultation platform to get personalised treatment and guidance. With the right support and tools, it is possible to manage panic attacks and improve overall well-being.