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Helping Someone During a Panic Attack

Topic Overview

If someone you know has a panic attack, he or she may become very anxious and not think clearly. You can help the person by doing the following:

  • Stay with the person and keep calm.
  • Offer medicine if the person usually takes it during an attack.
  • Move the person to a quiet place.
  • Don't make assumptions about what the person needs. Ask.
  • Speak to the person in short, simple sentences.
  • Be predictable. Avoid surprises.
  • Help the person focus by asking him or her to repeat a simple, physically tiring task such as raising his or her arms over the head.
  • Help slow the person's breathing by breathing with him or her or by counting slowly to 10.

It is helpful when the person is experiencing a panic attack to say things such as:

  • "You can get through this."
  • "I am proud of you. Good job."
  • "Tell me what you need now."
  • "Concentrate on your breathing. Stay in the present."
  • "It's not the place that is bothering you; it's the thought."
  • "What you are feeling is scary, but it is not dangerous."

By following these simple guidelines, you can:

  • Reduce the amount of stress in this very stressful situation.
  • Prevent the situation from getting worse.
  • Help put some control in a confusing situation.

You can offer ongoing help as the person tries to recover from panic disorder:

  • Allow the person to proceed in therapy at his or her own pace.
  • Be patient and praise all efforts toward recovery, even if the person is not meeting all of the goals.
  • Do not agree to help the person avoid things or situations that cause anxiety.
  • Do not panic when the person panics.
  • Remember that it is all right to be concerned and anxious yourself.
  • Accept the current situation, but know that it will not last forever.
  • Remember to take care of yourself.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Lisa S. Weinstock, MD - Psychiatry
Last Revised September 7, 2012

Last Revised: September 7, 2012

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