What to do when someone next to you is having a panic attack

Cover credit: Prevention

Cover credit: Prevention

A panic attack is one of the various manifestations of anxiety disorders.

They are characterized by a sudden episode of fear and nervousness, accompanied with physical symptoms such as sweating and tachycardia or racing heart.

During a panic attack, a person usually has a feeling that they are going to die or go crazy. Small things may stimulate their anxiety and lead to their panic attacks, but sometimes panic attacks might occur suddenly, out of the blue and without any trigger.

The exact causes of a panic attack are still unclear. In fact, it is probably a combination of biological, familial and environmental factors.

Some damaged areas in the brain have a role in the occurrence of panic attacks. Major stressful situations and life transitions are also included in their etiology.

When left untreated, panic attacks can lead to more severe problems and might even cause giving up several activities.

Treatment includes medication and psychotherapy. Usually, a combination of both is most beneficial for the patient. A cognitive behavioral therapy is suggested to work on modifying thinking patterns and adjusting them to improve the patient’s ability to overcome fears and, eventually, panic attacks.

Helping someone having a panic attack can be hard, but some tips on how to do it can make the task easier.

Following are eight sentences to avoid saying when someone is having a panic attack:

  1. “Get over it.”

  2. “Calm down. Why can't you just relax?”

  3. “There is nothing to worry about. It's all in your head.”

  4. “You're overreacting. You just want attention.”

  5. “I know how you feel.” (You don’t really know how.)

  6. “I've been through worse and I’m fine.”

  7. “It's not that bad, just think happy thoughts.”

  8. “There's nothing wrong with you.” (At that moment, they are feeling the complete opposite.)

Following are eight sentences to say when someone is having a panic attack:

  1. “I'm here for you.”

  2. “I'm proud of you.”

  3. “This is temporary. You will get through this.”

  4. “What can I do to help you?”

  5. “Breathe. Stay focused on the present.”

  6. “This is scary, but not dangerous. You are safe.”

  7. “You are not alone.”

  8. “It will be okay.”

Panic attacks are very common but people avoid talking about them because they fear being criticized or hearing sentences they do not need to hear.

Some people having panic attacks might even like to be held by the head or hands and told they are going to be fine. Hugging them can also be beneficial -- even if they resist at first, they might relax eventually. Having someone to count on is very important for the patient to feel better.