How to tell someone you are having a panic attack (How to)

How to tell someone you are having a panic attack

In this guide, we will discuss “how to tell someone you are having a panic attack”, what you could say and what not to say or avoid saying when someone suffers from a panic attack. 

How to tell someone you are having a panic attack

How to tell someone you are having a panic attack is not really a simple question to answer and there is no unique type of answer, especially when we are talking about something as sensitive as your mental health, disclosing it will make you feel vulnerable but you may be considering it because you are done hiding it and would like to get some help. If you have decided to go through with it then here are some tips you can use when disclosing it to someone else.

How to tell someone you are having a panic attack (How to)

Probably you started dating and now you are confident enough about telling that special someone about having panic attacks, you want them to know and understand. It is now or never right? Probably you are thinking up to this point “they will eventually find out anyway” or “they need to love me with or without panic attacks”. It could be also you want to tell a friend, a colleague or your boss, but where to start? And most importantly, when? Assuming you won’t actually attempt to let someone know in the middle of a panic attack.

Well, you need to remind yourself that letting someone know about your panic attacks does not mean you need to disclose everything related to it, still can keep some things private. In addition, there is no specific place or appropriate time according to a textbook or scientific research, it needs to be when you are sure and confident about taking the first step, the rest will follow. It could be over a coffee or while having a nice dinner, the place and time are not really relevant but how you feel about it.

How can someone help when I am having a panic attack?

First, they need to know and understand what a panic attack is, how they seem to come suddenly and without a warning. Help them get familiar with the most common signs and symptoms, so they can recognize when it is happening and have an idea of how to act to support you. Also, make sure they learn about anxiety disorders, what they mean, so they can understand what you go through. 

How to tell someone you are having a panic attack (How to)

Here are some tips on how to describe and explain a panic attack:

  • Panic attacks are experienced with intense fear, physical symptoms as sweating, heart palpitations, tingling sensation in your face or extremities, difficulties breathing, chest pain, feeling like having a heart attack, headaches, among others. Similar to how someone experiences being in a threatening or potentially dangerous situation.

Moreover, ask them to remain open, patient and welcoming. Also, ask them to help you challenge yourself and celebrate any successes or advancements you make and you can even let them know how to better support you according to your situation and your needs. Here are some examples:

  • Could ask them to do breathing exercises with you, breathing as slowly and deeply as possible.
  • Could ask them to make you count slowly from a certain number.
  • Could ask them to reassure you that what you are experiencing is temporary and will go away. 
  • Ask them to remain alert and call for help if symptoms worsen.

Statements that are helpful when having a panic attack

The following statements are from the HealthLinkBC, they are intended to be used to help when someone is having a panic attack. However, they are just examples and you can adapt them to your own circumstances, but does not mean they will help in 100% of cases since everyone is used to hearing words that help them calm down and go through their panic attack, identify some and let them know.

  • “You can get through this.”
  • “I am proud of you. Good job.”
  • “Tell me what you need now.”
  • “Concentrate on your breathing. Stay in the present.”
  • “It’s not the place that is bothering you; it’s the thought.”
  • “What you are feeling is scary, but it is not dangerous.”

Advice them what not to say during a panic attack

When you are having a panic attack there are certain words or phrases that seem pointless and actually seem to make things worse. Remember that many people do not know that, and they can’t read minds! So let them know what are the words you don’t like hearing when they are supporting you through a panic attack. Here are some examples:

  • The famous (or infamous) “Calm down”. Many people have the misconceptions that by saying that we will automatically just feel relaxed, calmer and everything will go back to normal.  On many occasions, it can actually have the opposite effect. 
  • “It’s all going to be OK”. Yes, no one says it is not actually true but saying that while someone is having a panic attack sounds like you’re dismissing them. Remember, all the things someone is able to think about at that precise moment is how to get out of there or how everything translates to “Danger”.
  • “It is all in your head”. Even though it may be true, it does not mean dealing with it gets any easier and will probably make them feel embarrassed and guilty for having a panic attack in the first place.
  • “I know how you feel”. Unless they have also suffered from an anxiety disorder, it is unlikely they have experienced something like it and really understand what you are going through. However, just be willing to help them feel better.

In addition, it is important also to make sure you let the person you’re telling about your panic attacks, that it is nothing really to be afraid of, that they should not be afraid of you and you just want to feel supported by someone you trust. 

How to tell someone you are having a panic attack (How to)

Anxiety attack vs panic attack: are they the same?

Let’s imagine you have told a friend or a loved one about having panic attacks, and they say something like “Oh, I know what it feels I used to have anxiety attacks also”.  However, even if both terms are used without making any difference and basically share some symptoms, they are not the same. 

Panic attacks are considered to be more intense than anxiety attacks as well as having an “unpredictable” factor, where anxiety attacks tend to be associated with a trigger. As Jane Leonard indicates “symptoms of anxiety are linked to numerous mental health conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and trauma, while panic attacks mainly affect those with panic disorder.

In addition, one of the main key characteristics is the duration of each episode. For panic attacks, they usually subside after 20 to 30 mins but anxiety attacks can remain for long periods of time. 

How to tell someone you are having a panic attack (How to)

Why is this blog about how to tell someone you are having a panic attack important?

The answer to the question “How to tell someone you are having a panic attack?” really depends on you, meaning you chose when is the most appropriate time to do it and you decide the amount of information you would like to share. In addition, letting someone know you have panic attacks involves also educating them about the signs and symptoms, so they can actually understand a bit about what you go through.

In addition, it is important to remember what are the things you really do not feel comfortable listening to and how they can effectively help you while you are having a panic attack.

Please feel free to comment in the comments section!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about how to tell someone you are having a panic attack

What should you not do when someone is having a panic attack?

Here are some recommendations on what we should not do when someone is having a panic attack:

– Do not tell them to “relax” or “calm down”, this will only make things worse.

– Avoid feeling angry, frustrated or freaking out when someone is having a panic attack. It will only add more stress and anxiety.

– Avoid being judgemental or criticizing their episode. This will only make them feel embarrassed and afraid of having another attack when you are around.

– Do not help them avoid places or situations because they fear they may have a new attack. Slowly and gradually, help them overcome their fears. 

How can you tell if your having a panic attack?

You can tell you are having a panic attack if you manifest some of the following symptoms:

– Feeling dizzy

– Sweating

– Shaking/trembling

– Fear of losing control or going crazy

– Nausea

– Upset stomach

– Feeling like having a heart attack (chest pain)
faster than normal heart rate

– Shortness of breath

How do you calm panic attack 5 things you can see?

Calming a panic attack with 5 things you can see is considered a very useful exercise where you use your imagination to go to your safe place. There you attempt to engage your senses where you describe what you can see, hear, feel, taste and smell. This will help you engage the areas of the brain that are involved in decision-making and rational thought. 

When should you go to the ER for a panic attack?

You can go to a hospital for a panic attack but if doctors do not find a health issue then they will just send you home and stay alert if symptoms persist or change. Most panic attacks are said to last between 20 and 30 mins and symptoms can resemble having a heart attack.

How do you talk someone down from a panic attack?

To talk someone down from a panic attack it is necessary to be aware of your breathing, so learning breathing exercises can help you calm down and reduce the physical symptoms. In addition, challenge your thoughts and reactivate the decision-making areas in your brain by rationalizing your thoughts or being aware of the details/characteristics of your surroundings such as smell, colors, textures, etc

Recommended reading

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Anxiety: A Skills Guide to Manage Your Emotions, Overcoming Anxiety, Panic Attack, and Worry
  • Anxiety: Panicking About Panic
  • Panic Attacks: Stop Panic Attacks and Overcome Anxiety. Take Back Control of Your Life
  • Anxiety Workbook: Stop Worrying And Regain Control Of Your Life. Learn How To Manage And Overcome Panic Attacks, Phobias, Social Anxiety And Depression
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple: CBT Beginners Guide to Managing Depression and Anxiety, Overcoming Panic Attacks and Stress with Simple Strategies. Rewire Your Brain and Reach Happiness Now

References 

Reachout.com. “How to help a friend with a panic or anxiety disorder”.

Healthlinkbc.ca. “Helping Someone During a Panic Attack”.

Walter, L. (2019, Oct.) Do You Know What to Say When Someone Has An Anxiety or Panic Attack? Retrieved from Psychcentral.com.

Leonard, J. (2020, Jan.) How do you know if you’re having a panic or anxiety attack?

How to tell someone you are having a panic attack (How to)

Daniela Paez

Daniela Paez is a Clinical Psychologist with an MSc. In Clinical Neuropsychology from Bangor University. She has vast experience in working with children with disabilities, adolescents and their families, in extreme conditions of poverty and vulnerability. Additionally, she owns a private practice where she provides neuropsychological evaluation for children and adults, and treatment for mood disorders, anxiety, couple therapy, among other conditions.