A panic attack is a sudden surge of overwhelming anxiety and fear. Your heart pounds and you can't breathe. You may even feel like you're dying or going crazy. If you’ve ever experienced this unfortunate attack, you know that the response of individuals around you greatly affects the severity of your attack. With this in mind, here are a few things that you should NEVER say to someone having a panic attack.
If the person having a panic attack could collect their thoughts enough to calm themselves down, they would. A panic attack is completely irrational, meaning the individual isn’t thinking clearly, so yelling or saying things like “calm down” can come off as condescending and can do more harm than good.
Do: Offer your support and let the individual know that you are there to listen and comfort them. Use understanding phrases like, “Can you tell me more about what you’re experiencing?” Talking things through can help alleviate some stress and anxiety.
“There's nothing to worry about”
This kind of approach can seem like a good idea, reminding someone that they shouldn't be fearful. But saying that there’s nothing to worry about dismisses the individual's feelings at a time when you should be acknowledging them. It’s more about comforting the person rather than proving them wrong.
Do say: “Everything will be okay. I’m here for you.”
“You’re acting crazy”
Even though behavior during a panic attack can be irrational, do not share that information with the person having a panic attack. A safe environment free of judgement will help to calm an anxiety-ridden person. Otherwise, those comments can contribute to the stress and fear that they are already experiencing.
Do: Remain calm. One of the worst things you can do is panic and contribute to the high level of emotions already occuring.
When someone is experiencing a panic attack, the best thing to do is to be empathetic. Validate this individual's feelings, but do not feed into their fears. Be there to listen. In the end, it’s not what you say that helps, but how supportive you come across. Be willing to listen and offer your time to that individual; it means more than you can imagine.