Panic disorder affects approximately six million adults in the United States, which means that these people experience panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden feeling of intense fear, and it is a serious problem even though it isn’t technically life-threatening.

Signs of a Panic Attack

One of the biggest problems with helping someone during a panic attack is that they can display physical symptoms that are also signs of a cardiac episode. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Numbness
  • Chest pains
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath

If you think someone is having a panic attack, ask if they’ve had one before. If they haven’t had one or they think it’s something else, call 911. You can also look for a medical alert bracelet or necklace to see if they have a medical condition that isn’t related to their anxiety.

What to Do When Someone Has a Panic Attack

If you see someone who might be having a panic attack, ask them if they really are having a panic attack and what they think you can do to help. Don’t assume that you will know what’s best for them. It’s best to remain calm and assure them that their life isn’t in any real danger. Tell them what they are feeling will pass. Speak firmly and in short sentences to make yourself easier to understand, but remain calm. Panicking yourself will only make the situation worse.

It’s also important to remember that actions will be more helpful than words during a panic attack. Be sure you are providing the best reassurance you can, and take action in helping them relax. You can lead by asking them if they want to sit down or go somewhere else. Even merely engaging in light conversation to take their mind off of their anxiety can help at the moment. Remember that you should still never assume that you know what to do for someone having a panic attack; always ask what you should do first. They usually know what is happening and what helps even though they are in crisis.