What Not to Say When Someone is Having a Panic Attack

By:Ariba Khaliq, Onlymyhealth Editorial Team,Date:Nov 19, 2014

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Witnessing a loved one have a panic attack can be challenging. You feel helpless in what seems like a very simple situation and say things that can make your loved one feel worse. To help the attack pass as swiftly as possible, know what you shouldn’t say to the one suffering.
  • 1

    Panic Disorder is Difficult to Understand

    If you are someone who has never experienced extreme bouts of anxiety and panic attacks, you may find it hard to relate to these feelings. However, if you know someone who has a panic disorder, you should be careful about saying something inadvertently that may hurt, frustrate, and upset the person going through an attack. Listed here are some of the worst things you can say to someone who is having a panic attack; the next time you encounter such a person, speak thoughtfully and sensitively.

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  • 2

    “It’s all in your Mind”

    It is a myth that panic and anxiety are only a result of the person’s imagination. Panic disorder is a real and diagnosable condition. The affected person may exhibit intense physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. These symptoms can be extremely difficult to manage and shouldn’t be taken as a signs of a weak-minded person. Saying “it’s all in your mind” to a person having panic attack may suggest that you’re blaming them for their symptoms. “I am here for you” is a better response.

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  • 3

    “You should calm down”

    You don’t want to be insensitive to a person who is already going through an emotional turmoil. If people having  panic attack could actually “just calm down”, believe us, they would. Unfortunately, it is not easy for them to manage their fear, anxiety, and panic attacks. Telling a person to calm down suggests you are embarrassed because of them. Instead, ask, “Can I help you?”

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  • 4

    “You’re overreacting”

    Imagine yourself in a situation where suddenly your heart starts racing and you sweat excessively, your body shakes and trembles and you become breathless, your chest tightens and nausea overpowers you. There is a sense of overwhelming anxiety and you’re embarrassed about others noticing these symptoms. Would you be overreacting then? No. Similarly, a person going through all this in real also isn’t. So, stop being judgemental and reassure them by saying “You’re doing the best you can.”

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  • 5

    “You just need to face your fears”

    It is a common mistake companions of people affected by panic disorders make. They want the sufferers to force themselves into feared situations. Contrary to this false belief, pushing a person into a feared situation often backfires. Facing fears when unprepared to deal with them can actually lead to increased anxiety and avoidance behaviours. Be with them and reaffirm that they can recover at their own pace.

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  • 6

    “You’re spoiling things”

    A panic attack in a loved one that ruins your evening plans can sure make you upset. However, you wouldn’t do a good thing by shaming the person for their symptoms and cause them hurt and embarrassment. They are already ashamed about their symptoms and the truth is they can do nothing about it. Empathise and express that you understand that this is difficult for them.

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  • 7

    “You’re freaking me out”

    Being panicky over your loved one’s panic makes them all the more vulnerable to their state of mind. You are the one in control of your emotions and you should act like that. Don’t panic and contribute to overwhelming emotions that are already occurring. Even if you do, don’t state that to the concerned person. Be strong and listen to what they need. You will be able to handle the situation better.

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  • 8

    “I’ll be back in a minute”

    Being left alone during a panic attack is the worst nightmare of a sufferer. Many of the panic attacks spark from over-thinking and it’s helpful to have another person to bear with them, not only for medical reasons but also because it’s helpful to have another person around to force them to think about something other than the noise in the head. Try telling them a story or sing to them to distract their attention from anxiety.

    Image: Getty

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