How Can I Help Someone in the Midst of a Panic Attack?

Stay Calm

Sadly, panic attacks continue to affect more and more people. If you are with someone in the midst of a panic attack, what’s the best way to respond? Dr. Ed Welch, counselor and faculty member at Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), shares some ideas. 

Ed Welch has been counseling for over 30 years and has written extensively on the topics of depression, fear, and addictions. He is the author of When People Are Big and God is Small, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, Blame it on the Brain, Depression—A Stubborn Darkness, and When I Am Afraid: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Fear and Anxiety. 

Ed said that if someone tells you about their panic attacks, you are a trusted confidant. That’s a great start and should be a comfort to you as you consider how to respond if you have to witness one. He then gave three practical steps you can take if you are with a friend when they suffer a panic attack. 

  • Go outside.
  • Look closely at them, and have them focus on your face.
  • Ask how you can do better next time.  

Have you ever witnessed a panic attack before? If so, what did you do? If not, what stood out to you from what Ed shared?
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Going outside and talking a walk can be helpful because panic attacks make the victim feel suffocated or constricted. What else might help your friend feel a bit of space when they’re under attack?
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Looking closely at your friend and slowing them down will help you both breathe and slow down. Saying, “I’m with you” is also powerful. People having a panic attack often feel isolated, so all of these gestures help them feel less alone.

What are some other things you might be able to say or do to help your friend feel less alone while having a panic attack?
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After your friend’s panic attack subsides, Ed said you can ask, “What did I do in the midst of that that was stupid? How can I help you better next time?” In other words, you likely won’t respond perfectly the first time, or any time!   

What did you learn about panic attacks in this post? Can you think of any other ways to respond that might be helpful? If so, what are they?
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The most important thing you can do for someone in the midst of a panic attack is be there for them and try to calm them down. We serve a God of peace, presence, and stillness, so think and pray about ways you can reflect Him the next time you encounter someone who’s in panic. 

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