Witnessing a friend, family member or even a complete stranger having a panic attack can be horrible and terrifying. Panic attacks are characterized by mental, emotional and physical symptoms which begin with a sense of nervousness and fear. The person starts to experience anxiety, shortness of breath, palpitation, dizziness, chest pain, shaking, and nausea. For those with panic disorders, the attacks can occur abruptly without warning since it’s out of their control. On the other hand, individuals with specific phobias usually experience panic attacks when they are exposed to that specific fear. People who have never experienced a panic attack may think that the affected person is a bit silly or overreacting. Even worse, some have been accused of faking it for attention. What they fail to understand is how someone can be so freaked out when there’s clearly no reason for it. What you need to know is that panic attacks are real and a lot of people who suffer from such conditions need our help. Below is what you should do when someone is having a panic attack.

Stay Calm and Act Normal

Don’t let the situation overrun you and make the person having a panic attack to feel more anxious than they’re feeling. Assure the person that you are going to stick around until they feel better and safe. Panic attacks ease out in 20 to 30 minutes and therefore, you can wait with them until it subsides. A panic attack can leave one feeling drained and you can offer to get them something to eat and drink once the situation is stable. Ensure that they feel fine before you go separate ways or you can offer to take them home.

Try to Be Understanding

Enquire about the condition by asking them if it’s the first they are having a panic attack and what could have caused the attack. By doing so, you can help them think about the situation more rationally. Remember don’t keep on asking questions if the person doesn’t know the cause or maybe the person having the attack isn’t consciously aware of the cause. Furthermore, not all panic attacks have a cause.
You can also assure them that they will be fine which can help erase any fear they might be having. In addition, asking them questions like “what actually happened?” and helping them overcome the attack can make the next attack less traumatic.

Be Engaging

In case it’s a friend or family member, most probably you know their interests and what makes them happy. You can bring up casual topics and keep the stories short to avoid overwhelming them. Try to capture the person’s mind and lure them away from the feeling of panic. It can help a lot and make them more aware of the situation they are in.

Help Slow the Affected Person’s Breathing

You can ask him/ her to take a deep breath and hold for four seconds then let it out slowly while counting to four and repeat several times.
At times it can be difficult for the person experiencing the attack to breathe properly, hence it’s essential that you help them regulate their breathing. Get them to cup their hands over their mouth and nose while breathing to make it more effective.

Show Support

You can ask them what they need and take them somewhere quiet. Don’t assume they will be able to handle the situation alone although different people handle panic attacks differently. More importantly, let them know you will help with whatever they want even if it’s a glass of water. Also, you can just listen to them and if they need medical attention, you can try calling the hospital on their behalf.


Most the time panic disorder is treatable. If you happen to come across a person experiencing one of these episodes just understand what they are going through in a far more intense way and you will be of help to them. As a friend, you might feel the pressure to encourage the suffering individual to seek extra help. This is fine, but you should allow the person to seek therapy at their own pace. This experience can be traumatizing for you as well, therefore, you need to be careful. After everything is settled and things are back to normal, you can ask the person if it’s okay for you two to talk about it. You might feel at ease in case you thought you didn’t help as required.

All images by Pixabay


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