How to Help a Friend Through A Panic Attack

Panic attacks can be scary for both the person panicking, and for the friend of the panicker. But what you, as the friend of the panicker, need to have in mind is: they are way more scared than you, and they need you to bring them back to reality. Below describes what panic attacks are, and how to help a friend through a panic attack.

What does a panic attack look like?

The person panicking might be shaking or twitching, hyperventilating (or just not breathing well at all), unable to speak, have a stomach ache, and possibly be screaming or crying. Sometimes, they might be in a hunched over position (sitting or standing), with hands at their head, heart and chest, or stomach.

In more severe cases, their body temperature might change (from feeling literally on fire, to completely freezing in the snow), they might lose their vision, black out, scratch their skin, and compulsively cut or consume drugs and alcohol.

What causes a panic attack?

Some call it an anxiety attack, others call it a panic attack. They can last a few minutes, or hours and they can reoccur multiple times in a month, week, or day. Sometimes panic attacks are caused by a build up of stress, or because they encountered a trigger point (a word, smell, person, place etc. that reminds them of a bad memory or of a prior panic attack), or randomly.

How to Help A Friend Through a Panic Attack

(on the phone/text and in person)

If you’re with the panicker, and they’re panicking in a public place, TAKE THEM OUT OF THE PLACE!! If possible that is…sometimes they really can’t move. Help them walk – it will be difficult. Take them somewhere private and help them with the following steps.

1. Focus on a moving point (your thumb) and breathe 

Have them focus on your thumb. This may take a bit to get their eyes to sort of lock in on your thumb. Ask them to inhale as you move your thumb up towards the sky, and to exhale as your move them thumb down. Keep reminding them to watch your thumb. Once they have even-ish breath, move your thumb slowly on their exhales. Exhalations activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is in charge of the bodily function to rest and digest.

2. Reassure them 

“You are okay. Everything is okay. I’m here. You are safe.”
Sometimes humor helps with this too, “The zombie apocalypse isn’t here yet, I promise!”

3. Circular back rubbing
This naturally calms the nerves.

4. Humor and talk about your day. 

Depending on the severity of their attack, sometimes all they need is to be humored! You can tell them a ridiculous story about how your dog pooped in your room. Talking about your day distracts them from their panic attack, and also brings them back to reality. You can literally talk about your day’s routine and mix in some humor. If you hear a giggle, keep talking because it’s working.

5. Give loving, but strict instructions

Give them something to do. Again, this depends on the severity of the attack and works best if someone calls you panicking. Most of the time the person will be in a very protective, curled up position, or lying down completely stiff. Both are extremely hard positions to breathe in, and when they’re panicking, they need more breath. “Get up, go get some water, and watch Bob’s Burgers because that shit is hilarious.” or, “Get up, and do 20 jumping jacks. Then get some water and call me back.”

6. Describe a beautiful scene to take their mind to another place.

This doesn’t work for me, but it’s worked for some of my friends. I usually describe a warm beach, and how their toes feel in the sand, and how the mellow waves come in towards the shore, and slowly melt back towards the sunset. The imagery of the movement of the waves tends to help relaxing their muscles and connect their breathing with the waves.

How to Help a Friend Post Panic Attack

After they’ve calmed down, and can talk normally, offer them water and ask,”Would you like to talk about it? Or talk about/do something else?”

If they choose to talk, let them talk without interrupting. Don’t offer advice unless they ask. If they choose to talk about something else, talk about something humorous or lighthearted. If they choose to do something else, give them options. “Would you like to eat some food? Watch a movie? Take a walk?”

All of the options I suggested above to help a friend through a panic attack are trial and error. A lot of times the panicker knows exactly how they’d like to be helped. So after they are calm and have been focused on something else for awhile, ask how they would’ve liked to have been helped.


Do not…

1. Ask “What’s wrong?” “Are you okay?” “Why are you sad?” “Tell me what’s wrong.”

Firstly, all those questions provoke MORE negative thought cycles, and trigger increased panicking.
Secondly and more obviously, they’re panicking. They obviously can’t function, so OBVIOUSLY they can’t answer your questions.

2. Blame yourself for the reason they are panicking.

“I’m sorry!! I’m so sorry!!” “Are you seriously panicking because of me?” “Did I say something to upset you?”

THEY are panicking. Not you. Don’t make the situation about you, Mister.
“I bet you think this [panic attack] is about you! don’t you! don’t you,” – “You’re so Vain” by Carly Simon lulz

Also, there could be a million and one reasons why they are panicking! Perhaps a word you said or an argument you guys were having finally was the last straw, and they panicked, but you are not to blame for them panicking.

3. Say you understand their situation

This statement might infuriate them even more when they’re already having thoughts of, “I’m alone. No one understands me. No one has misery like me.” Every human being is different, so I bet ten bucks you really don’t understand their situation.

4. Do not hug/kiss during their attack. Save that for afterwards <3

This is for boyfriends/girlfriends <333 You don’t want to get them used to your embrace and affection during a panic attack. What if you are not around? They will crave your touch as the only solution to end their misery.

Also, a hug could potentially worsen the attack anyways since it suppresses their chest and may be even harder for them to breathe. (And they’re already having difficulty breathing so….don’t add to it!)

5. Freak out, get angry, or yell.

All those are a given…I hope….
Stay calm. Their brain is off in another universe of darkness, so you have to think for two!


Hope this helps you <333 If you have any other methods that have worked in your experience, please email
Sending ++posi vibes++
-Shay of TSIB


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