How To Help Someone Having A Panic Attack

How do I help when my child is having a panic attack? What do I do when my husband is having a panic attack? What should I do when my friend is having a panic attack? These are questions that therapists often hear from loved ones of people who are struggling with anxiety, especially panic attacks. The main rule to follow is: don’t panic!

It can be scary to watch someone who is sweating, looks very scared, and is telling you that they can’t breathe or are having chest pains. If your loved one is telling you they might pass out, it’s a normal response to be alarmed. Sometimes family members call 911 or drive to the emergency room, only to be told after lots of testing that this was likely a panic attack.
Once your loved one has been thoroughly evaluated for health problems and diagnosed with panic attacks, it’s a relief to know what to do to help, and what not to do. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts for dealing with panic attacks.

What To Do:

  • Stay calm
  • Speak normally
  • Know that panic attacks are not physically harmful
  • Affirm that the person is feeling anxiety and that it happens
  • Encourage them to use any skills they have learned to regain their calm
  • Focus on what’s happening later, especially if it’s something pleasant

What Not To Do:

  • Panic
  • Frantically try to calm the person down
  • Feel bad that you can’t fix this immediately

Again, the best thing you can do to help is to stay calm. Don’t panic. If someone has a panic attack and they look to you for help, speak in a calm, normal voice. You can’t do anything magic to stop the anxiety in it’s tracks, but you don’t need to fan the flames with your own fears. Be confident that panic attacks are not physically harmful, and be kind and patient. Talk to the person as normally as you can, and feel free to bring up boring or distracting topics. Don’t take on the responsibility for stopping a panic attack. It will stop on it’s own after a few minutes. Don’t try to become a therapist if you’re not!

The kindest thing you can do for someone with panic attacks is just be with them while they either regain control of their emotions or wait for it to pass. After the panic attack is over, you can encourage them to keep going to therapy or to find a therapist if they haven’t already. Sometimes people avoid going to see a psychologist or other mental health professional because of the stigma of mental illness. “Crazy” is a word we throw around easily, and it’s not a positive one. People are often afraid of seeking treatment, but for those dealing with panic attacks, fear of going crazy or losing their minds can be a persistent worry. It’s helpful to let people know that it takes a lot of courage to face their fears and seeking treatment is brave. Most of us could use therapy at some points in our lives, and good self-care means getting the help we need.

The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

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