Stop thinking about it! Don’t worry! You’re blowing this out of proportion! Be an adult!
People say all sorts of things to someone having a panic attack. Some comments are well intentioned while others are just mean. Here’s a list of what not to say as well as suggestions for how to be supportive. A must read for anyone who struggles with anxiety and has been told to “just stop worrying about it.” Also a must read for anyone trying to support a loved one or friend dealing with severe anxiety or panic.
I was recently asked to contribute to an article on this topic by Time Magazine’s health site, Health.com. I was happy to help since this is information I want to get out there and because I hear stories about this all of the time from my patients.
Before I tell you more about the article, let’s start with the basics.
What Is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is a combination of physical and psychological symptoms that make someone feel like they are facing imminent doom.
Common physical symptoms include racing heart, excessive sweating, tingling/cramps in arms and legs, nausea, blurry vision, and trouble breathing. People are usually terrified they are going to die, pass out, and/or throw up. They are also terrified that no one will help them.
Why “Stop Worrying” Doesn’t Work
During a panic attack, the rational part of the brain is shut down and the emotion focused fight-or-flight center is in full control. One problem: our fight or flight center isn’t wired to think or problem solve. It’s wired to get you the heck out of a situation that could kill you.
Bottom line: If the Person Having the Panic Attack Could “Stop it,” They Would
Unless someone has had Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) aimed at helping them deal with panic, it’s extremely hard to intervene and stop a panic attack. CBT for panic involves 3 key elements:
1) Learning what Panic Disorder is and how panic plays out in the body and brain.
2) Accepting the presence of physical symptoms triggered by the brain during panic. It’s like a cascade of dominos: Once you knock over the first one, the other ones are going down and there’s nothing you can do other than wait it out.
3) Managing the threatening thoughts that come up so that panic doesn’t become a full blown panic attack.
Unless someone has this training and practice with these skills, they can’t really do anything for themselves during a panic attack. Telling them to “stop it” is a lot like telling someone being mugged to just calm down.
What Do You Want People to Say To You?
When working with the reporter on the article, I wanted to make sure I provided a list of things not to say, explanations for how these comments can actually make things worse, and ways to be supportive.
I’ve posted the link to the article below so please go check it out! Post it, forward it, get it out there!
Before you head over, I’d love for you to e-mail me and tell me about your experiences. What have people said to you about your struggles? What do you wish they would understand and say?
Just click on the Email button in the right margin of this page. I read and respond to every email.
Finally, here’s the link to the article:
Whatever your struggles, stay strong.
You can do this.
Talk to you soon,