How to Help a Loved One With a Panic Attack, According to a Psychiatrist

When a loved one goes through a tough time, the first thing we want to do is be there for them.

More specifically, if a loved one has ever experienced a panic attack, chances are, you've wondered how to help. What do you look for? What should and shouldn't you say? How exactly do you help a loved one when they have a panic attack?

We spoke with Dr. Mark Rego, professor of Psychiatry at Yale, who answered our questions.

What is a panic attack?

"A panic attack is an episode of anxiety that comes on suddenly and lasts an average of 15 minutes (but can be anywhere from five minutes to an hour). It has two components: one is a physical component and the other is a psychological component."

-Dr. Rego

panic attack

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Common reasons why they might have a panic attack:

  • Panic Disorder—they have an anxiety disorder.
  • Depression—they likely have other psychiatric symptoms.
  • Trauma—something terrible happened, like a death, accident or assault.


Common phrases they'll use if they're having a panic attack:

"I can't breathe."

"I have chest pain."

"My arm is paralyzed."

"My fingers are tingling."


The best things you can do for a loved one when they're having a panic attack:

  • Speak very calmly with them. Do not raise your voice (even if you get frustrated) and just be with them.
  • Have them sit down, take their hands and tell them to take the deepest breath they can take (which won't be very deep at first). Keep doing this with them until their breathing eventually slows down.
  • Reassure them they're okay and that you're with them.
  • If there's something that's obviously triggering the panic attack (for example, a crowded room), remove them from the situation and take them to a place where they feel safe.

panic attack

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Things you should never do when a loved one is having a panic attack:

  • Don't tell them to snap out of it.
  • Don't shake them by the shoulders.
  • Don't tell them they're being illogical.


Common misconceptions about panic attacks:

  • The person is overreacting.
  • The person is crazy.
  • There isn't actually anything wrong with them.
  • Their hormones are going wild.
  • It's just a phase.

panic attack

(via Shutterstock)

All in all, don't underestimate the severity of a panic attack. Anxiety can be very serious and seem intolerable to the person dealing with it. If you or a loved one is suffering from panic attacks, anxiety or depression, reach out to a professional.


Need some more advice? Click HERE for the seven pieces of advice from your mom you should listen to.