July 31, 2023

How Do I Help Someone During a Panic Attack?

how do I help someone during a panic attack

Clinically reviewed by Imran Iqbal, MD

A panic attack is a temporary episode where someone experiences intense fear that causes a physical reaction, even though they aren’t in danger. Panic attack symptoms can include trembling, sweating, rapid heart rate, chest pain, feeling that you will die, and several others. 

While panic attacks have no apparent cause, they produce real physical distress. This article addresses how to help someone during a panic attack. 

How to Help Someone Nearby

If you’re with someone who has an episode, there are ways to help. Do the following to calm a panic attack:

  • Stay calm. While the episode might frighten you, try to control your emotions as you and the person “ride out the storm.” The most intense panic attack symptoms typically resolve in 10 minutes or so.
  • Provide reassuring words. Tell the person they’re safe, and you won’t leave them. However, don’t say too much, as repeated attempts to soothe them can be irritating.
  • Offer support. Calmly ask if you can help in any way. People who’ve had panic attacks before often have coping mechanisms, so they might dismiss your offer — perhaps in what appears to be a curt or rude way. But they may welcome your help.
  • Validate their distress. A panic attack is an extremely unpleasant experience that the person can’t control. Let them know you understand with your words and actions. 
  • Encourage them to use grounding techniques. This includes things like holding their hand if they allow it, giving them a textured object to focus on, talking slowly and softly about familiar places or positive activities, and encouraging them to talk through the episode with phrases like, “This is scary, but it won’t hurt me.”
  • Remember what not to do. You shouldn’t minimize their fear, tell them to “snap out of it,” or advise them on the “best way” to get through the episode. 
  • Respect their post-episode needs. A person who has had a panic attack has gone through an intense mental and physical experience. As a result, they may feel fatigued and uninterested in anything other than quiet relaxation. Respect their needs, even if it means changing your plans. 

Understanding how to calm a panic attack is crucial if you know someone with a panic disorder. 

How to Help Someone Through Text or Over the Phone

Your options for what to do during a panic attack are more limited if someone calls or texts you while experiencing one. But you can still help. Here are some things you can say:

  • “I’m glad you contacted me.”
  • “I’ll go through this with you and stay in contact until the symptoms go away.” 
  • “I understand this is intense and scary, but you’re safe.”
  • “Is there anything I can do for you?”
  • “Would you be open to trying some things to reduce your symptoms?” (Meaning grounding techniques, visualization, etc.)

What If It Doesn't Work?

Most panic attacks resolve on their own, and seeking medical assistance at the onset may worsen the person’s anxiety. However, you should get help if the person experiences any of the following:

  • Their symptoms last longer than 20 minutes or get worse, not better.
  • They have chest pain that persists or worsens and spreads to their arms or shoulders.
  • Their shortness of breath doesn’t improve. 

Get Help with Panic Attacks from Baptist Health

Knowing what to do when someone has a panic attack can enable them to get through the episode with less stress. And your panic attack help will be appreciated, even if the person doesn’t appear to appreciate it at the time. 

If someone has frequent panic attacks, our behavioral health experts can diagnose their condition and recommend treatment. 

Learn More.