What To Say When Someone Is Having A Panic Attack

Saying the wrong thing can do more harm than good.

Last updated on Apr 17, 2023

helping a person having a panic attack fizkes / Getty Images via Canva

Sometimes when it comes to panic attacks, there’s just nothing to do but get through it. Friends and family may try to help, but truthfully, they can make it worse.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 40 million people, ages 18 to 54, in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder. And if you’re not the one dealing with anxiety, it’s likely you know someone who is.


While it's essential to be compassionate with a person before, during, and after their panic attack, you may end up making the situation much worse. Because although you think you’re being useful by saying certain common phrases that seem helpful, you're not.

Instead of sticking with cliché phrases like "Calm down" or "It's not that bad," show a little empathy by knowing what to say to someone having a panic attack.

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What To Say To Someone Having A Panic Attack

1. "Is there anything I can do to help you right now?"

While most people would say, "Just relax" to someone experiencing a panic attack, telling them to do so will have the exact opposite effect. If it were that easy to relax, they wouldn't be in the middle of a panic attack.

Asking if there's anything you can do to help reminds your friend or loved one that they have someone next to them who is understanding. And being willing to run to the store to get a paper bag to breathe into can do wonders.

2. "Whatever happens, we'll figure out a way to make it right."

Many people have the urge to say, "It's all going to work out," and most of the time they're technically right. However, saying that to someone who is currently panicking just makes them feel like you're dismissing them.

Their head is spinning; they can't think rationally. Despite all signs pointing to good things, they will only see the danger. So instead of saying, "Everything will be alright," try reassuring them that they are not alone and that you will help them tackle whatever comes.


3. "I'm here if you want to talk about what's upsetting you and work through it."

"It's all in your head" — that is one of the worst things to say to someone having a panic attack! They know it's in their heads, but that doesn't immediately erase the panic they are feeling.

Being told it's in their head just makes people more embarrassed about what they are going through. Instead, offer help to work through the panic attack with them. An anxiety attack can be squashed just by breaking down all the moving parts into tiny fixable situations.

4. "I wish I could understand how you feel, but I don't. I respect your feelings and will do anything you need me to do to feel better."

Never say, "I know how you're feeling" because, most likely, unless you suffer from panic attacks yourself, you don't. Even those with anxiety may not know what that specific person is going through because the symptoms fall on such a large spectrum and vary from person to person.

Instead, acknowledge the feelings that person is having and offer help. Knowing someone is willing to help makes things a bit easier to swallow.


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5. "Try thinking about the big picture."

"You have a lot to be grateful for" is also a big no-no when it comes to comforting someone having a panic attack. It's very likely they already know they have things to be happy about, but it's also very likely it's those very things they're worried about.

Sometimes, people panic just thinking about losing everyone they love or even the roof over their heads. They get so caught up in all the tiny minutiae of life that it's hard for them to remember they have an entire world of good things. Don't tell them they have good things, but remind them of the bigger picture.

6. "Want to grab a bite to eat?"

During a panic attack, don't offer alcohol to the person, as some people self-medicate. Even though a drink or two may solve the problem momentarily, it's not a long-term fix and may even exacerbate the condition.


Don't offer drinks, because the person you may ask might not be able to say no either. Instead, offer food. It's a good opportunity to be distracted by people, music, eating, and a perfect place to talk things over, which is exactly what they need from you.

7. "I wish I knew a way to make you feel better. If there's anything I can do, just let me know."

Do not under any circumstances tell someone who is having a panic attack that it's annoying you or that they're annoying. Just don't. That isn't going to help them or you.

As a friend or relative, it's really rude and inconsiderate to say this to someone while they're suffering. It's harder on the person with anxiety than you. So be nice, and get over it!

Instead, offer your support and help. It sounds repetitive, but knowing someone is there to offer help in a moment of crisis means the world.


8. "Do you want to be alone? Do you want me to stay? I'll do whatever makes you comfortable."

Don't just walk away from them to "give them alone time." That can actually be very dangerous to some people having panic attacks. It makes them feel like they are all alone in the world.

Do not leave your panicked friend alone. Their mind is running wild and they need your support, even if it's just your presence. If you don't know how to handle the situation, your best bet is just to ask the person what they need from you.

Because sometimes they do want alone time, but not having someone just leave them in a haste. Asking what the person wants is a good way to connect and open dialogue.

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9. "You're doing great. You'll get through this."

Offering words of support to the person having a panic attack can provide some comfort. Along with encouraging them and letting them know they will get through this distressing moment, you can try distracting them in other ways.

Tell a funny story, a cute anecdote, or something you know they enjoy, but try not to invoke an emotion other than happiness.

10. Nothing.

When you have nothing to say or don't know how to respond, the best course of action is occasionally just keeping your mouth shut. Just be a quiet and peaceful presence for them to lean on. Don't say anything.

Don't offer your two cents on how they can help care for themselves, as this does nothing to help them at the moment. Offer help in any way you can, instead of providing suggestions.


Other Ways To Help Someone Having A Panic Attack

Every situation is different and every person handles anxiety in different ways. And now that you understand what you should and shouldn't say to someone in distress like this, there are other ways to help someone through a panic attack.

Offer your loved one a hand; don't force contact, but let them know your hand is free. Sometimes just holding someone's hand can be more calming than any words. It can also help that person ground themselves, and acts as another reminder that they are not alone.

Another way to offer comfort is to speak to them in short, simple sentences. Their brain is on high alert, meaning they don't have much bandwidth to have an in-depth conversation. Stick to yes or no sentences if you can.

Try to distract them by giving them a task to repeat like raising their right arm above their head. This distracts the brain by putting a focus on a single task rather than what they are panicking over. Remind them to keep breathing, perhaps guiding them in breathing exercises to lower their heart rate.


Most importantly, do not panic or crowd them. This person is already stressed out. You need to stay calm and give them space so as not to escalate the situation or make them feel trapped.

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Liza Walter is a freelance writer who has appeared in HuffPost, BRIDES, Bust Magazine, Ravishly, and more.