How to Help a Classmate with Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are horrible and many people are unsure on how to deal with it. You might find that a friend or classmate is suffering from a panic attack and are unsure on how to help. Here is how to help your friend calm down and feel better.


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    Notice whether your classmate is having signs of a panic attack. Here are some of the symptoms that you may observe in them. Your classmate may have some but not all of the following...
    • Rapid, shallow breathing or other labored breathing
    • Appears frightened
    • Uncontrollable, nervous shaking
    • Clutching chest or stomach
    • Dizziness or clumsiness; may clutch their desk or surroundings for balance
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    Quietly get your teacher's attention. Your worried expression will signal to the teacher that something is wrong. If possible, beckon the teacher over and speak in a quiet voice. This will attract less attention from your classmates, and embarrass the panic attack victim less.
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    Ask your classmate if they are having a panic attack. They may be unable to speak, so watch for shaking their head or nodding. They may be unsure if they haven't had panic attacks before, or if the disorder is undiagnosed.
    • Asthma attacks and autistic shutdowns can also resemble panic attacks. In case of asthma, your classmate needs an inhaler and possibly medical help, and if it's an autistic shutdown, they need a quiet place to recover.
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    Ask your teacher if you can accompany them to the nurse's office. Removing your classmate from the room right away will help, because they won't feel pressure to remain composed in front of their peers. As this is a medical issue, your teacher will understand.
    • You may want to pack up your and your classmate's stuff to bring, especially if the bell will ring soon. It's best not to ask your classmate to carry anything, because they may not have full control over their hands and arms.
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    Offer reassurance in the hallway. Assure them that you're here to help, and use a patient and helpful tone of voice to make it clear that you aren't judging them. Offer to help them take deep breaths. Encourage them to place their hand on their stomach as they slowly inhale, and direct them to make their stomach expand as they breathe in. These "belly breaths" can curb hyperventilation and begin calming them.
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    Offer water. Drinking from a drinking fountain, or splashing cold water on their face, may help them feel safer and more grounded. If you see a bathroom or drinking fountain, point it out and ask if they'd like to stop there. If they think it'll help them, they will.
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    Engage them in idle chatter as you walk. They may do more listening than talking, which is okay. Ask a question or two about them, preferably one that can be answered with a short answer (as talking may be difficult for them). Find out something they like, and then talk about it;if they like dogs, mention your friend's lovable dog, if they like Disney movies, talk about your favorite Disney songs, and if their favorite class is science, talk about your wacky science teacher. Sometimes acting like everything is going to be fine will convince them that it really will be okay.
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    Explain what happened to the school nurse when you arrive there. Describe your friend's symptoms, and what you've done so far to help. The nurse may have questions for you and your classmate.
    • For example: "I noticed in class that Mark was breathing really heavily and he looked very pale. He said he was having a panic attack, so I took him here. We did some deep breathing together, and he got a drink from the drinking fountain on the way."
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    Stay for as long as needed. The nurse may send you back to class immediately, or you may stay with your classmate while they figure out what to do. Your classmate may go home, rest in the nurse's office for a while, or head back to class if they think they can handle it.
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    Act casual but reassuring if you are walking back to class with your classmate. They may not want to talk about the attack, so don't mention it unless they bring it up. Instead, continue with the idle chatter—it can be reassuring, and lets them know you don't think any less of them as a person.
    • If they want to talk about it, listen well and assure them that it wasn't their fault.
    • Be supportive if they mention seeing a counselor, doctor, or therapist about it. They may be afraid that this will mean something is wrong with them, so if you treat it like a normal thing, they might feel less worried.


  • Consider offering them a snack if you have any food in your backpack. Food, like water, can be calming.
  • Tell a teacher as soon as you notice something is definitely off. Intervening sooner can stop it from becoming any worse.

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Categories: Panic Attacks | School Stuff