What Not To Say To Someone Having A Panic Attack

There's nothing quite like having a panic attack and for folks who've experienced them or experience them regularly, you know just how difficult they can be to endure. Like so many terms over time, the term, "panic attack," has become something that more and more people use as slang, and as a result, many people have an inaccurate understanding of what it really means to have a panic attack

While some people may use it this way, a panic attack isn't simply another way to say "freaking out." A panic attack is a period of panic and panic-induced physical symptoms that happen in the absence of an actual threat and can often come on without warning, per Mayo Clinic. If you see someone having a panic attack, there are things that you can do and say that will help, as well as things that you can do and say that will likely make it worse. 

What to avoid saying

The first thing you should never say is one simple word: "relax," per Verywell Mind. It's important to keep in mind that having a panic attack isn't necessarily a symptom of how seriously someone is taking a specific situation. Often the person experiencing the panic attack has no idea why they're experiencing it. Telling them to calm down or relax may feel like an obvious bit of advice for you, but for them, it won't help at all, and will probably make them feel worse.

It's very likely that you'll have the impulse to tell the person having a panic attack that they are alright or that things are okay, per The Mighty. This is a natural response. They are okay, and everything is okay; right? Not necessarily. People who are experiencing a panic attack likely don't want to hear from an outside source that they are okay, as this might also make them feel like you aren't fully understanding or validating of what they're in the middle. Don't tell them that the panic attack is an overreaction or that there's no reason to be upset. Whatever you do, make a conscious effort not to overwhelm them even more.

Now we know that there are plenty of things you shouldn't say, but that doesn't mean that you should turn around and walk out of the room or stare blankly when someone's in the middle of a panic attack.

How to help

There are things you can do to help, and many of them don't have to do with what you say, at all. Offering a hug or bringing the person something that may help can work wonders, per The Mighty. Certainly not everyone wants to be touched during this time, but others may get great comfort from a hug. You can also get your friend a glass of water, a cup of tea, or a soft blanket. It'll give them a moment of space and can supply them with something they want without requiring them to talk about it. 

There are also some things you can say that will help the situation, per Parade. Remind them that this will pass. When you're in the middle of a panic attack, it can be easy to forget that it won't last more than a few minutes. It can be helpful to let them know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can also encourage them to keep themselves connected to the world around them. Tell them to keep their feet flat on the floor or focus on their senses in order to ground themselves. Lastly, let them know that it's okay to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes your body can't let you ignore things that your mind can. Assure them that it's okay to not always be in control and that they're handling their situation with strength and courage even if it doesn't feel like it.