A panic disorder can cause someone to experience intense anxiety that is difficult to control. However, you can help a friend cope with a panic attack in several ways.
Many people deal with bouts of anxiety so intense that it causes them to feel terror when no real danger exists. Individuals who consistently experience panic may be grappling with panic disorder.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, panic attacks are a telltale symptom of panic disorder. They typically bring about dizziness, a rapid heartbeat and breathing difficulties. They can happen anywhere, anytime and without warning.
Having a friend or loved one with panic disorder can be frightening — for both you and the individual experiencing the anxiety. However, learning how to help someone with panic disorder can ease their symptoms.
How to Recognize Panic Attacks
A panic attack can cause anxiety or discomfort that lasts for several minutes. People often feel helpless while experiencing this sensation. In many instances, people witnessing the panic attack do not know what is occurring.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, symptoms of a panic attack include:
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath
- Feelings of choking
Not all symptoms of panic attacks are visible. For example, people might not be able to recognize heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea, numbness and abdominal stress — all symptoms of panic attacks.
Steps to Help Ease Panic Attacks
Watching a friend experience a panic attack can cause you to feel helpless. However, you can assist someone in managing their intense anxiety in several ways.
1. Remain Calm
If you recognize that your friend is experiencing a panic attack, stay as calm as possible. The appearance of calm might provide comfort to your friend in distress. If you remain calm, you are also more likely to make more rational decisions that can benefit this person.
2. Stay With Your Friend
Do not leave someone having a panic attack alone. According to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, staying with a person experiencing a panic attack can reduce their stress and prevent the situation from worsening.
3. Move Your Friend to a Quieter Place
If your friend is having a panic attack in public, move them to a quieter, less congested area. Relocating to somewhere quiet can help prevent a passerby from reacting negatively to the situation, which could create more stress.
4. Speak in Short, Simple Sentences
While remaining calm, help the person experiencing a panic attack focus by speaking in short, easily understandable sentences. You could offer words of encouragement, such as, “Concentrate on your breathing,” “You can get through this,” or, “This is scary but you’re not in danger.”
5. Count Slowly
According to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, counting slowly to 10 can improve the breathing of someone experiencing a panic attack. Counting can help this individual focus on something other than their intense anxiety.
To learn additional ways to assist a person in dealing with a mental health crisis, read about strategies for offering mental health first aid.
How to Talk to Your Friend About Getting Treatment
Mental health disorders like panic disorder can make completing everyday tasks difficult for many people. However, some individuals with panic disorder avoid treatment. They may fear the stigma associated with treatment. In other cases, they might not think that they need treatment.
However, treating a mental health condition is important to help people better control their psychological distress. If you believe that your friend could benefit from treatment, start a non-confrontational conversational with them. Be sure to start this discussion when your friend feels safe and comfortable.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, you could ask or tell them:
- “I’ve been worried about you. Can we talk about what you are experiencing?”
- “How can I help you find more information about mental health problems?”
- “It seems like you are going through a difficult time. How can I help you to find help?”
Also consider researching the benefits of treatment for panic disorders. Afterward, talk to your friend about how treatment can help them cope with their panic disorder. If your friend is dealing with panic disorder and substance abuse, treatment is particularly important because it can reduce the chances of an overdose.
If your friend or loved one grapples with substance abuse and a mental health disorder, contact The Recovery Village. An admissions representative can talk to you about how treatment can help your friend better manage their psychological distress and drug or alcohol misuse.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Symptoms.” (n.d.). Accessed January 8, 2019.
C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. “Helping Someone During a Panic Attack.” The University of Michigan, September 11, 2018. Accessed January 8, 2019.
Mentalhealth.gov. “For Friends and Family Members.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, September 26, 2017. Accessed January 8, 2019.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.