When someone has a panic attack, it is also a frightening experience for their loved ones or for casual bystanders. When helping the person, it is crucial, first of all, to remain calm yourself. In addition, there are important do’s-and-don’ts that you should take into account to get the attack under control together.

In a panic attack, a person is suddenly overwhelmed by a wave of intense anxiety, which reaches a peak within a few minutes and often lasts almost half an hour. Sometimes there is a concrete reason for it, such as a major life event, but often the attack seems to come out of nowhere.

Some only experience this once in their lives, others suffer from it regularly and therefore develop a panic disorder. According to estimates, panic disorders occur in about 4% of the population, more often in women.

Recognizing the symptoms

A panic attack can be accompanied by many symptoms, which vary from person to person. Some common complaints that you can recognize are palpitations, nausea, trembling, sweating, breathlessness, chest pain, dizziness, and an upset stomach.

In themselves, these phenomena are harmless, and often the result of too much superficial inhalation and exhalation, but they increase anxiety. This makes people think, among other things, that they are having a heart attack, going crazy, fainting, or even dying. Sometimes they end up in the emergency department, where no physical problems are identified.

The do’s during a panic attack

It’s also particularly stressful to witness a panic attack, whether it’s a loved one or a stranger.

  • Stay calm: it is essential to stay calm yourself, otherwise, you can aggravate the situation. 
  • Offer help: Understand the other person’s fear, even if you think it’s very exaggerated, and ask how you can help. By asking questions, you can make the person think about any previous attacks and how they recovered from them.
  • Give the person space: It is best to make sure that the person has enough space. You can suggest going to a quiet place nearby and sitting down in a comfortable chair or sofa.
  • Help them breathe: help them to breathe slower and deeper, not so much by insisting on this but mainly by leading by example.
  • Keep talking in a friendly and positive tone, so you can distract the person from the symptoms. Simple calculation exercises can also help to shift focus.

The don’ts

  • Avoid statements like “stay calm,” “try to relax,” or “there’s nothing wrong.” 
  • Do not downplay the other person’s fear, because it is very real to him or her. 
  • Do not pretend to know what the person needs, but instead ask what help he or she needs.
  • Don’t ask too many questions and keep it simple with short questions.
  • Do not confirm negative comments.
  • Stay with the person until he or she recovers. If the other person insists on being alone, it is best to keep an eye on things from a distance until the attack is over.
  • Do not give a paper bag to breathe in, because with that technique someone can faint.

Don’t hide the problem

After the panic attack, it’s a good idea to talk about what happened and how to prevent new panic attacks. Do not muffle the problem away, but support the person to confront it and possibly seek professional help.

Erica Delaney

An experienced nurse, Erica focuses on subjects related to pregnancy and infant health. She enjoys dancing and playing the piano in her free time.