How to Help Someone with an Anxiety Attack

image of a woman comforting her friend who is having an anxiety attackAn anxiety attack is a sudden rush of anxiety and fear that causes intense emotional and physical responses. Triggered by a situation, person or memory associated with deep feelings of fear or danger, the brain’s natural fight or flight response clicks into gear. Whether there is any real, present danger or not, the person who suffers from anxiety is in crisis. How do you recognize an anxiety attack? How can you help?

Symptoms of an anxiety or panic attack include:

  • Intense fear or worry
  • Sense of doom
  • Ruminating thoughts
  • Fear of losing control
  • Feelings of shame or guilt
  • Heart palpitations
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
  • Nausea or abdominal pain
  • Chills
  • Feeling light-headed or faint

The physical symptoms of an anxiety attack can look much like a medical crisis. If the person suffering the attack doesn’t recognize what is happening to him, he may feel like he’s having a heart attack, though true anxiety attacks are not physically harmful.

Here are some ways you can help someone when they’re having an anxiety attack:

  • Be calm and present.
  • Speak in a normal, unhurried tone.
  • Remind her to find, or remain in, a safe place.
  • Encourage her to breathe. Breathe with her, if that is helpful, inhaling and exhaling in a slow, controlled manner.
  • Ask her to count to ten. Count with her to help regulate her breath and to focus on something besides the fear.
  • Remind her that the anxiety is causing her heart to pound, but that her heart is fine.
  • Ask her what she’s feeling and what precipitated the event.
  • She may feel embarrassed. Assure her there is no judgement and that she is supported.
  • Remind her that what she is feeling is temporary. Despite how intense her anxiety feels; these attacks do not last forever.
  • Be encouraging; avoid minimizing or denying her symptoms and feelings.
  • Offer physical support. Rub her back, offer a hug, or hold her hand. If she needs personal space, respect her needs and stop touching her immediately.
  • Stay with her until she’s feeling better.

Because the symptoms of severe anxiety attacks can mirror those of a physical/medical crisis, do not hesitate to call emergency services (911). If the person suffering the attack calms, encourage her to seek professional counseling for anxiety, its underlying causes, and to learn techniques to manage the symptoms of anxiety. Help is available and treatment is effective.

If you or a loved one are in need of treatment for anxiety, please give us a call. We are here to help.




Haven Hills Recovery – Trauma Informed Care for Women