7 Things You Can Do to Help a Loved One Through a Panic Attack

couple holding hands

Have you ever been with a loved one during a panic attack? It can be terribly frightening.

At first, you might not know what is going on. Even if you immediately know that it is a panic attack, you may still be at a loss as to how you can help.

Luckily, if you can recognize the signs of a panic attack, then you are already ahead of the game. And there are actually several things that you can do to help.

Here are seven important steps you can take.

1. Verbally Identify the Panic Attack

Get to know the symptoms of a panic attack. They include:

  • Hyperventilation or difficulty breathing

  • Tightness in the chest (there might even be chest pain)

  • Racing heart

  • Flushed skin

  • Fear of a heart attack

If you see these symptoms, then verbalize them to your loved one. Let them know that this is a just a panic attack. Additionally, specify the symptoms that make you sure of this and reassure your loved one that this will pass.

2. Encourage Deep Breathing

When someone has a panic attack, it feels like they can’t get a deep breath. However, that is precisely what the body needs in order to calm down.

First, ask your loved one to breathe in deeply through the nose (suggest that they imagine smelling roses or fresh laundry). Then, encourage them to breathe out slowly through the mouth (suggest the image of deliberately blowing out the candles on a birthday cake).

Breathe in and out this way together with them. They will likely copy your breathing pattern.

3. Attempt Distraction

If your loved one is distracted, they might be able to calm down. You can help by providing that distraction.

However, the distraction needs to provoke genuine interest. “Hey, look at this!” simply won’t cut it. Therefore, try to engage your loved one in a conversation about a topic that you know they love.

4. Focus on the Problem

In direct contrast to distraction, you can also try bringing attention to the panic attack. The goal here is to provide a more rational viewpoint about the experience.

You can ask questions such as:

  • What exactly are you feeling?

  • Has this ever happened before?

  • What types of things have helped you in the past?

  • What thoughts are you having?

  • More importantly, what is actually happening at the moment?

5. Offer a Change of Scenery

There is often a trigger that brings about a panic attack. Sometimes leaving the scene or the situation that triggered it can help end the attack.

Some things you can suggest include:

  • Offer to take a walk with your loved one

  • Let them know that they're not obligated to stay where they are

  • Remind them that they're safe where they are, but they have the option to leave any time they want

  • Provide a ride back home if it happens in public

6. Stay with Your Loved One

Don’t leave the person who is having the panic attack. Sometimes they may tell you that they’re fine. Nevertheless, you should wait to leave until the panic attack is over.

Most panic attacks last thirty minutes or less. Awareness of this will help you be able to wait it out regardless of whatever else is going on.

7. Stay Calm Yourself

It can be really frightening to witness a panic attack. Of course, you want to make things better, and you might get frustrated if your efforts aren’t helping. However, it is very important that you stay calm.

People tend to mimic the behaviors of others. Though, you don’t want to mimic your loved one's panic. Instead, you want them to be able to pick up on your calm demeanor and mimic it.

Moreover, they might also be embarrassed about their panic attacks. Hence, model to your loved one that everything is okay. Acting relaxed will help them see that there is nothing to be embarrassed about.

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Although you can help your loved one in the moment by applying these steps, it helps to address the underlying issues. Consider learning more about Rapid Resolution Therapy, which is a brief form of therapy that helps immensely with panic attacks. Your loved one will thank you for it.