If you are around when someone you know is having a panic attack, it may seem like there is very little you can do to help. But quite the opposite is true. In truth, there is a great deal you can do to help someone who is going through a panic attack.
In order to help someone who is having a panic attack, you first have to understand a little something about panic attacks. That’s why it pays to do your homework ahead of time and educate yourself just a bit on what a panic attack is (and isn’t), what it can (and can’t) do, and what to do (and not to do) to alleviate one.
So when you find yourself in the presence of someone going through a panic attack, first get control over yourself. Make sure you’ve taken a couple of deep breaths and are relatively centered yourself, or you’re liable to make the individual experiencing the attack even more panicked. Once you’re sure you have a clear (enough) head to proceed (evident if in no other way than by your recalling these steps) then you can move on to the next step…
…which is to ask the person (if you don’t already know) if this is the first time they’ve experienced these symptoms. If it is, then you should immediately seek medical aid to make sure that these really aren’t the symptoms of a greater problem.
If it’s not the first time this person has experienced a panic attack, help them to a seated position (if they’re not already seated) and help them to take a few deep breaths. Then speak with them to find out if they know the cause. If they can establish a cause for the attack then, depending on what it is, you can either remove them from the situation or discuss the irrationality of their fear with them rationally. Do not, however, invalidate their fears or belittle them. Do not give the person any reason to feel ashamed for their state. All you’re trying to do is calm them down right now. And often this is enough to alleviate the attack.
If it’s not, just stay with them, calmly holding their hand, looking into their eyes compassionately, and listening to them if they feel the need to talk. If what they’re experiencing really is a panic attack, it should subside in 20 minutes (though some may last an hour). If it last considerably longer, then once again the best advice is to seek medical assistance. This is one of those many cases where it is a lot better to be safe than sorry