Tips for supporting someone through a panic attack
It goes without saying, having an anxiety attack is distressing for the person experiencing it. But witnessing a loved one in a state of panic can also be a very stressful event for the observer. Naturally, we want to be helpful to someone we care about when they are experiencing that level of distress, and often it is difficult to know how to best provide support. Here are some tips:
1. Do your best to remain calm yourself. If you become anxious or stressed by the situation it can add to your loved one’s panic. Try breathing slowing and deeply, and concentrate on feeling relaxed.
2. Encourage the person who is panicking to breathe with you. This will likely be more difficult for them, so be patient and remain calm. Keep encouraging in a soothing voice.
3. Remind the person they are safe, and the panic attack will pass.
4. If they are able to talk, do not try to discuss the anxiety in the moment; try distracting from it instead. Talking about something positive and unrelated can help to distract the person from how they are feeling.
5. Remember, it is not your job to fix the problem or make the anxiety stop. You are there to provide support for the person experiencing the panic attack. Feeling like you need to control it will only make you anxious yourself, which will not help the other person.
6. Most importantly, every person is different, and what is considered helpful will vary depending on the person experiencing the anxiety. The best way to know what feels supportive to them is to have a discussion about it when both of you are calm. Be open to feedback so you can learn how to best support them next time.
-Laura Gross, LMSW
Laura Gross is a fully licensed social worker who specializes in teen mental health issues. Contact her at:
Marsh Psychology Group: 248-860-2024