Panic attacks are defined by a combination of mental, physical and emotional symptoms or feelings. Typically, these attacks start with a sense of impending doom, dread or fear. Feelings of terror often increase in intensity with the suffering person often experiencing physical symptoms such as:

  • Chest Pain
  • Sweating
  • Sickness / Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Shaking
  • Breathlessness or Rapid Breathing
  • Palpitations
  • Tinging in the extremities
Along side these uncomfortable and terrifying physical symptoms, people are often struggling with intrusive thoughts and emotions. This can result in a person believing they will lose control, have a medical emergency or even die.

People who have panic attacks often have no control over when their symptoms will strike and given that these attacks can happen at any time, well wishing people might try and help. Here are a list of things NOT to say to somebody having a panic attack.

1) Just Calm Down
Being told to calm down suggests that a person is in complete control of their symptoms, this absolutely not the case. If a person could stop having a panic attack and calm down, they would.

Instead, try and calm the person down by implementing a positive coping strategy such as:
  • Deep Breathing
  • PMR or Progressive Muscle Relaxation
  • Distration techniques, such as guided imagery
2) You have nothing to be nervous about
More often the person having the panic attack will be aware there is no reason to be anxious. When in a panic attack, a persons flight or fight response is triggered, making their mind and body prepare for a perceived threat. If you reinforce a persons perceived threat is unfounded, you can actually increase their anxiety.

Instead, try being a voice of encouragement. Use soothing tones and offer that you are there for them.

3) Telling somebody they are embarrassing you or themselves.
A person having a panic attack already feels like everybody is looking at them, many people are already uncomfortable and embarrassed about having an attack in public. Do not be insensitive and focus any more negative attention on them.

Try being supportive and offer encouragement such as:
  • I am here for you
  • You are doing a great job
  • You can and will get through this
  • This is not your fault
You will help a person feel more confident at their most vulnerable.

4) Stop Overreacting!
This goes without saying as a not helpful comment. You will direct more negative emotion towards the person already having a panic attack. Most people suffering with panic attacks are unable to control the emotion, so telling a person to stop overreacting is really not helpful.

Instead, try the encouraging comments from point 3.

5) Do not freak out about their panic
Getting upset or panicky about a persons panic is not helpful and may make the situation worse. The worst thing you can do is and contribute to the anxiety.

Instead, listen to what the person needs and do your best to accommodate. It is possible to take direction from the person themselves. Panic attacks feel different for every person, as a result people need different things to help them cope.