How to Care for Someone During a Panic Attack

Aislynn Miller, Writer

According to Better Health, “Up to 35% of the population experience a panic [attack]s at some point in their lives.” Some people experience them more frequently. They go anywhere from multiple times a day to once a month. They can range in intensity and duration lasting from three minutes to over an hour. They can come on suddenly or be triggered.

Signs of a panic attack include, but are not limited to fear, sense of detachment, irritability, increased heart rate, chills, trembling, nausea, and so on. The list is quite extensive and most of the symptoms are easy to spot. When someone has a panic attack their body goes into ‘flight or flight’ mode. Their adrenaline levels increase and they become hyper aware of their surroundings.

The first step to help someone through this situation is to stay calm. They are panicking and freaking out so staying calm may help them stay grounded and won’t cause them to panic more. If they seem to like talking, keep talking. Tell them things like they’re safe, that you aren’t leaving, and that it won’t last long. If engaging in conversation is an option, talk to them about some topic they are interested in. Do not tell them that they shouldn’t be panicking, to calm down, and that they are embarrassing themselves. If talking to them seems to irritate them or they ask you to keep quiet, stop talking. You are probably not helping.

The person may find it difficult to breathe so if you can remove any jewelry or loosen any tight clothing that person may have on but only with their permission. Take them away from the situation that made them anxious in the first place or take them for a walk. They may have lots of built up energy they need to get out. If they experience these often the person may already have some techniques so in that situation assist them if they need it. Don’t give them unwanted advice as that may cause them to panic more.

Ask them and get confirmation from them before doing anything. If physical contact such as hugging or holding hands is okay with them and you also feel comfortable with it, hold them tight. Applying pressure to someone who is stressed is called Deep Pressure Therapy and is used commonly for people who experience stress and anxiety regularly.

Practicing calming or grounding techniques even if someone doesn’t experience anxiety or panic attacks is a great tool to have. Some techniques are box breathing, 5-5-3, and visualization. All of these techniques go by different names so you may already know them. Box breathing is done by placing your finger on your palm. As you breathe, move your finger across your palm in the shape of a box. Count your breath for four seconds breathing in. Hold it for four seconds then let it out again for four seconds. Keep this rhythm until you feel calm. The next technique is called 5-5-3. You start with slowly naming five colors you can see. Then you name five objects you can see. Finally name three things your body is touching. This is used to bring you back to the present moment. The last technique is visualization. All this technique is imagining a place that makes you calm, happy, or safe. Any place works. A beach, forest, or library?

Doing what you and the other person is comfortable with are what people are limited to in the situation. Putting trust in the fact this won’t last long and not shaming them are the best ways to help. Keep them safe but let them make their own decisions as to what they think they need to do to calm down.