How To Help A Friend Through A Panic Attack

Photographed by: Alexandra Gallivet.
If you've ever suffered from a panic attack, you know how debilitating they can be. But if you haven't experienced one yourself (or even if you have, actually), watching someone else go through it can feel like one of those dreams in which you have the key to a mysterious door, but you still can't open it.

"A panic attack is like a test of the emergency alarm system in the body. There’s no emergency, but the alarm goes off on its own," explains Tamar Chansky, PhD, author of Freeing Your Child from Anxiety. "Your body is reacting as if you're being confronted by a tiger, but there's no tiger."

As a bystander, your first instinct is probably to remind the person to simply relax. But it's basically impossible to do so when your friend or loved one is involuntarily experiencing such a sudden and extreme burst of anxiety for no apparent reason, along with physical symptoms such as blurred vision, sweating, heart palpitations, and light-headedness.

In other words, even if you recognize that a friend is in crisis and you know that they will be okay (Good to know: Panic attacks don't have any long-term physical effects), those words mean very little in the situation. So, what are you supposed to do?

Of course, if your friend is having recurrent panic attacks, it might be best to recommend seeing a doctor. But in the meantime, we've outlined what to do — and what not to do — to help a friend get through a panic attack and feel better.

If you are experiencing anxiety and are in need of crisis support, please call the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.