What Not To Say to Someone with Panic Disorder

The 5 Worst Things to Say to Someone Who’s Having a Panic Attack

It can be difficult to understand what it is like to live with panic disorder. You may find it hard to relate to anxiety and panic attacks if you have never experienced these feelings yourself. However, it is important that you try to speak thoughtfully and sensitively before you inadvertently say something that may hurt, frustrate, and otherwise upset a person with panic disorder.

Listed below some of the worst things you can say to someone who is having a panic attack or other panic-related symptoms. These statements are followed by suggestions for better ways to approach someone with panic disorder.

1
“It’s all in your mind.”

There are many myths about panic disorder that unfairly stereotype those struggling with this condition. One of the most common misconceptions is the idea that feelings of panic and anxiety are only the results of the person's imagination. The truth is that panic disorder is a real and diagnosable condition that often involves intense physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. These symptoms can be extremely difficult to manage and are not a sign of a weak-minded person.

Better response: “I am here for you.”

Telling a panic sufferer that it’s all her mind, suggests that the she is to blame for her symptoms. Such statements can contribute to issues such as feelings of loneliness, increased stress, and lowered self-esteem, that people with panic disorder are already prone to experiencing.

Instead of blaming the person, try to convey the message that you are there for him if he needs you. Sometimes just letting the person know you are available can make him feel more safe and secure when he is faced with panic and anxiety. Additionally, such positive and supportive statements can give the panic sufferer the extra boost in confidence needed in order to cope with panic symptoms.

2
“Control yourself and calm down.”

This is probably one of the most insensitive statements to make to someone with panic disorder. If a person with an anxiety disorder could simply “just calm down,” believe me, he or she would. Unfortunately, managing fear, anxiety, and panic attacks is not that easy. It may seem irrational to an outsider, but a person experiencing severe anxiety or going through a panic attack, is dealing with a lot of challenging symptoms that are difficult to control.

Better response: “Can I help you?”

Telling the person to calm down implies that you are embarrassed of her. If you are around a person who is having a panic attack or experiencing high levels of anxiety, the best thing to do is be supportive. Let the person know that you are there to help if needed, but that your are also willing to provide him with any desired space. Showing your willingness to be of assistance may be all that is necessary to calm the panic sufferer down. The person may just need some time alone to utilize her coping skills to calm the panic and anxiety.

3
“You are overreacting.”

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to suddenly experience a sense of overwhelming anxiety. Your heart races as you begin to excessively sweat. Your body shakes and trembles as you find it difficult to breathe. Your chest tightens and you start to feel nauseous. You are embarrassed that others will notice your symptoms. You begin to fear that you will completely lose control of yourself. You wonder if you are having a heart attack or if you are possibly going insane.

Better response: “You are doing the best you can.”

As someone who is not experiencing these symptoms, it may appear as if the person is just overacting. However, this imaginary scenario is reality for many people with panic disorder. If you are ever around someone who is experiencing overwhelming anxiety or a panic attack, one of the most helpful things you can do is remain encouraging. Let the person know that you believe in his or her ability to work through the panic.

4
“You need to just face you fears to get over them.”

It is not uncommon to mistakenly believe that a person with panic disorder should force themselves into feared situations. However, making panic sufferers unwillingly face his or her fears is rarely effective. 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 behaviors.

Better response: “Take it at your own pace.”

Many people with panic disorder develop a phobia known as agoraphobia. This separate mental health condition involves a fear of having panic attacks in places that it would be difficult and/or humiliating to escape from. When it comes to facing feared situations, a person with panic disorder with or without agoraphobia should practice gradual exposure. By slowly learning to deal with anxiety-provoking situations, the person can build his or her sense of self-reliance and learn how to effectively cope with fears one step at a time.

5
“You are ruining things.”

If your loved one has a panic attack that impacts your plans, you may feel understandably upset. However, shaming the person for his or her panic symptoms will only cause more feelings of hurt and embarrassment. People with panic disorder are already prone to feeling ashamed about their symptoms. The person will only experience added stress and guilt if you point this out to him or her.

Better response: “I know this is difficult.”

Instead of insulting and attacking your loved one, try to respond to her empathetically. Express that you understand how challenging it must be for him to get through these panic attacks. Even if you are feeling disappointed, saying hurtful statements will not make the situation better. Try to remain empathetic and understanding to the panic sufferer’s struggle.

Whether intentional or not, your words can hurt, aggravate, and cause a great deal of stress to a person with panic disorder. If you are around someone who is having a panic attack, you can be helpful by remaining positive, understanding, and supportive. Try to choose your words wisely and think compassionately when speaking to someone with panic disorder.

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