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How to Help Someone Who’s Having a Panic Attack

If you've ever been around a person who is experiencing a panic attack, you probably know how awful it can feel to see someone in pain and not know how to respond.

In an effort to help out, people may try to jump in and kindly comfort the person in distress. However, even though they're trying to help, they can say or suggest the wrong things. That's why it's important to know effective ways to calm the person down and alleviate their symptoms.

Indicators of a Panic Attack

A panic attack usually lasts between 5-20 minutes and may vary in intensity and duration.

Those who experience a panic attack are faced with an intense and sudden feeling of fear, terror, or discomfort accompanied by mental and physical symptoms, such as rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, chest pain, sweating, trembling or shaking, chills, sense of impending danger, feeling of detachment, nausea, and feeling lightheaded or unsteady.

Even though a lot of what they’re experiencing may be internal and invisible to an observer, there are some physical signs that you can look out for.

  • They've suddenly become distant and quiet: It may be hard for them to communicate with others because they’re too focused on the sensations they’re experiencing.

  • They seem hot and flustered: Panic attacks may cause a person to begin to sweat or feel uncomfortably hot. You may notice that their face is flushed or that they look nauseous.

  • Their breathing has changed: Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or chest pain are all possible symptoms. As they attempt to regain their breath, they may get dizzy, lightheaded, and, in some cases, they may even faint.

  • They are shaking: Some people may feel cold rather than hot, and this can cause them to get chills and begin to shiver.

What to Do

It can be really difficult when someone you care about is experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, but, fortunately, there are some things you can do to help. You can:

  • Remain calm: This one’s important because if they see that you're also panicking, it could potentially make things worse.

  • Guide their breathing: Have them inhale slowly, completely filling their lungs, then exhale slowly, completely emptying their lungs. You can even do this breathing exercise with them to help them feel supported and less alone.

  • Remind them it'll be over soon: This will help them direct their focus to the fact that their panic attack is temporary and that they will be okay.

  • Use grounding techniques: Give them a lemon or sour candy and have them focus on the taste. You can also hand them something cold, like ice cubes, or have them run cold water over their wrists.

  • Ask them what you can do to help them: If they can't answer you in that moment, that’s okay. You can try to have a conversation with them once the panic attack has passed to see what would be helpful so that you're prepared should this happen again.

What to Say

Talking to a person experiencing a panic attack may help distract them from their thoughts and help them regulate their breathing.

Try saying somet