How To Help Someone Experiencing A Panic Attack

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated November 26, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Learn How to Help Others Cope With Panic Attacks

Panic attacks can be frightening for both the person experiencing them and those around them. If someone in your life is living with panic attacks or other symptoms of anxiety, there are tangible ways to support them while caring for your needs.  

What Does A Panic Attack Look Like?

The symptoms of a panic attack often mirror the signs of other serious medical issues, which can make them especially unnerving. In some cases, the person experiencing the panic attack may fear that they’re dying or losing control of their mind.

While panic attacks are intense, their symptoms usually come and go very quickly. The attacks usually last 5 to 20 minutes, and people may experience some or all of the following symptoms during that timeframe:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

  • Racing heart

  • Sense of doom or terror

  • Numbness or tingling sensation in limbs

  • Sweating

  • Shaking and trembling

  • Nausea or abdominal pain

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Experiencing chills or overheating

If you're with someone experiencing any of these symptoms and you’re unsure whether it’s a panic attack, ask the person if they have a history of anxiety. If it’s unclear whether the person is panicking or experiencing a more serious medical issue, do not hesitate to seek medical help. Many of these symptoms are consistent with those of a heart attack, a severe allergic reaction, or other life-threatening medical events. While panic attacks are not dangerous, it's important to rule out the possibility of a more serious condition. 


How To Help Someone Experiencing A Panic Attack

If you are with someone who is having an anxiety attack, there are several things you can do to help them both during and after the episode.

  1. Ask: “How Can I Help?”

Sometimes, the individual may not know whether they’re experiencing a panic attack. In this scenario, gently ask how you can support them: this might be with words of encouragement, deep breathing, or other soothing exercises. In other instances, a person may already have experience with panic attacks and a default set of tools to manage the symptoms. Whatever the case, your calm, helpful presence can often carry them through the worst symptoms. 

Some people may prefer physical support, such as gently rubbing their back or holding their hand. Always ask for consent before providing any physical comfort and respect any requests to stop touching immediately. Sometimes, people simply need space to focus on their thoughts and regain their composure.

  1. Stay Calm. 

For an onlooker, staying calm can be the hardest part of witnessing a panic attack. Remind yourself that panic attacks are not life-threatening and usually short-lived. If it reassures both of you, calmly let the person know that you think they’re experiencing a panic attack; remind them that they’re safe and that the episode will end in a matter of minutes.

  1. Try Breathing Exercises. 

Breathing exercises are a simple yet powerful tool to reduce panic and slowly return the body to a baseline level of calm. Encourage the person to take deep breaths in as slowly, deeply, and gently as they can through the nose; then, breathe out in the same slow, gentle manner, but this time through the mouth. With each breath, it may help to close the eyes and focus entirely on breathing. If a person is prone to panic attacks, it’s also helpful to ask them if they have any preferred breathing exercises when they’re not panicking. With these tools in mind, you’ll know to use them in the event of a panic attack.

  1. Validate Their Symptoms. 

The mental and physical symptoms of a panic attack are not life-threatening, but they’re very real and frightening experiences. While you may not have the same fears and sources of anxiety, this is an opportunity to get to know the person and better understand their fears and thought processes. In the midst of a panic attack, use encouraging phrases that affirm their experience, such as:

  •  "You're doing great." 

  • "I'm right here with you." 

  • "You can do this." 

  • "I know you're scared right now, but I will keep you safe.” 

  • "You're going to be okay."

Learn How to Help Others Cope With Panic Attacks

5. Seek Help After The Panic Attack 

During the episode, if the person is unsure whether they’re having a panic attack, call for help. In these situations, it’s best to ensure their safety. If the person confirms that they’re experiencing a panic attack, remain with them until the symptoms subside. Check in throughout the episode, but be sure to check in afterward, too. If their panic attacks are frequent, the person may appreciate your future support at a doctor’s appointment or assistance in researching other options for mental health support.

6. Take Care Of Yourself

If your friend or loved one is experiencing regular panic attacks, supporting them can be emotionally challenging. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and uncertain of your role, remember to take care of your needs first. If possible, enlist other people (and, ideally, mental health professionals) to offer additional support. Talk to others about your feelings, and set appropriate boundaries. If you invest too much energy in helping another person, you may lose the emotional capacity to take care of yourself and your other relationships and commitments.

7. Develop Strategies To Prevent Future Panic Attacks

In some cases, people can reduce the likelihood of panic attacks through stress-reduction techniques like meditation and mindfulness. Other people may use a combination of therapy and medication to manage the symptoms of panic disorder. Ultimately, the first step is to encourage the person to meet with a doctor and therapist, who can design a treatment plan tailored to their needs. 

Therapy For Panic Attacks

By meeting with a licensed therapist, people who experience panic attacks can learn to manage their symptoms and improve their overall mental health. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is widely recognized as an effective therapy for people who live with panic disorder and other anxiety conditions. If you’re interested in online therapy, studies suggest digital CBT is as effective as in-person CBT sessions. 

In a study of therapist-supported online CBT, researchers evaluated the efficacy of online CBT in treating symptoms of anxiety disorders in adults. The report includes results from 30 studies with over 2,000 participants and examines the effects of online CBT on panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and other related conditions. The researchers concluded that online CBT is an effective treatment for anxiety disorders and can help individuals manage their symptoms by evaluating negative thought patterns that may lead to panic attacks.

In general, online therapy is a convenient, affordable option for those experiencing panic attacks and loved ones who want to learn how to support them. With an online platform like BetterHelp, you can seek professional help on your own terms. These qualified mental health professionals are trained in a variety of therapeutic approaches, and many are familiar with CBT and other strategies used to treat panic attacks. Below are reviews from people who have learned how to manage their anxiety with the guidance of a BetterHelp counselor.

Counselor Reviews

"It's amazing how beneficial therapy is. As a result of my work with Keith I went from too scared and anxious to leave the house with crippling panic, to being able to enjoy walks with my husband in the park, garden and we have even traveled by plane, and train. I've been able to leave some toxic relationships that weren't serving me, and now feel equipped to not only face life but to enjoy the richness and fullness of it. I highly recommend Keith as a counselor and the EMDR sessions."

"She is so kind, and patient, and caring. And she's encouraged me to use the messenger part more (we do phone sessions; I'm an elder millennial lol), which has been surprisingly helpful. It's like texting a friend when you're in panic mode. Except you don't have to worry about freaking out your friend or overwhelming them, and she replies so quickly. Not immediately, because people have lives. And always in a way that makes me feel validated and less alone with my problems. Honestly, just the fact that I took the time to write this says more about how much I appreciate all the support and work we've done together. Cause I always forget to do reviews, and I've got a lot going on. But talking to her makes things become reasonable again. Not fixed, or gone. She reminds me of my skills and power, and struggles I've gotten through, so I'm confident I'll get through this difficult time too. I really hope this doesn't sound like a commercial. I just really like this app, and this therapist specifically. I can sit on my own couch, or lie in bed, and still get the same quality I used to get when I could afford traditional therapy. Alright, gonna wrap this up. Dr. McGrath Fair is so great for me, I hope she is for you too."


Panic attacks can be scary for everyone involved – but with the right tools and therapist, you can learn how to become a helpful onlooker to someone experiencing a panic attack. To help yourself and those around you, consider connecting with an online counselor who can listen, offer unique insights, and encourage you to meet your mental health goals.

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