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How do I help others to understand what it's like to have a panic attack when they have no idea?

18 Answers
Last Updated: 12/07/2021 at 12:10am
1 Tip to Feel Better
Moderated by

Paola Giordani, Psychoanalyst

Licensed Psychoanalyst

I have helped and am helping people cope with loss, divorce, anguish and parenting. Depression is also a major issue that comes up.

Top Rated Answers
August 4th, 2015 9:29pm
Tell them it's like you're sitting on a chair, all comfortable and safe and then all of a sudden the leg from under the chair breaks and you fall back. It's like that panic, but it happens out of no where and it doesn't go away. I hope that helps :)
March 14th, 2015 12:31am
I would describe it as almost drowning. I think everyone has had a least one experience where they have been in water and felt like they weren't going to reach the top in time. Your internal walls start to cave in and you feel helpless.
April 15th, 2015 5:21pm
What I have tried to do when explaining what its like to have a panic attack is to describe the physical symptoms as well as ask them if they have ever experienced something similar and to also include the emotional symptoms and how they relate to your physical symptoms. Ask the person questions and just try your best!
February 26th, 2015 12:18am
I think it's extremely difficult to get someone to understand something that they've never experienced. I like to use analogies. Comparing a panic to something that the person may have experience may help them understand where you're coming from. Perhaps ask them if they were ever holding their breath, underwater, and were running out of air and were questioning if they would make to the top in time.
April 29th, 2015 11:37am
They might not be able to understand but you can try to compare how you felt to things they can relate to. For example when after I had a panic attack people wanted to know how it felt and one of the things I told them about was the trembling/shaking I experienced. I compared it to an earthquake in my body, something I wanted to controls, to stop, but the tremors wouldn't go away. You may tell them to read on panic attacks and gain a some knowledge on them from the internet, books, counsellors and so on.
May 20th, 2015 10:34am
Panic attacks are very difficult things for people with little or no experience with them to understand. It might help you to start by explaining to these people what the warning signs of you having one are, and then explaining what they can do to help you when you have one.
June 3rd, 2015 3:03am
the best you can do is explain how you feel. What happens to you? Where do your thought go? Most people will be able to grasp the idea better if you do that.
June 29th, 2015 8:28am
This is always very tricky, as people have a hard time understanding a feeling or set of feelings that they have never experienced. Sometimes it can be helpful to link people to articles or studies (these can be found very easily), or you can try explaining your symptoms to them in the best detail possible. However, you have to also keep in mind that no matter how many articles the person is shown or no matter how well you explain it, they still may not understand unless they experience it firsthandedly.
August 4th, 2015 6:18pm
People who haven't experienced a panic attack will probably never fully understand but you can help them to by directing them to informative websites, having them come to your therapy/GP with you and giving them as much information as possible. Also, telling them what can help you during an attack could be beneficial.
March 1st, 2016 12:36pm
Explain to them it's like a elephant sitting on your chest, it's a tingling all over and a dizzy feeling in your head, your chest begins to tighten and it feels like your heart is going to stop beating. Tell them it's scary and exhausting.
April 26th, 2016 10:17am
I guess the best way to tell them is use similes, so I guess say: it's like running a marathon and not being able to breathe afterwords, like the apocalypse has just broken out infront of you but behind you everything's still normal.Those were just examples, Then explain how it feels for you since everyone is different
June 28th, 2016 10:34am
Not all people will understand so don't think every person will. The people who care about you will trust you and will take your thoughts and feeling to consideration.
August 16th, 2016 11:17pm
It's hard for people to understand what a panic attack feels like when they haven't experienced it first hand. Use similes/metaphors to try to get what you feel across
August 23rd, 2016 3:38am
I always ask someone if they have ever experienced getting hit in the gut really hard being left unable to breathe for a moment. It's like that, but it keeps going on for much longer. Or like you've been standing naked in the freezing snow while it's raining, that trembling and shaking you get, that continues to go on too. You feel frozen like you can't move and have no idea what to do next. That's the only way I can explain it to people. Maybe not everyone experiences that, but those are a few of my feelings.
September 20th, 2016 11:48pm
The best way is too explain to them what happens to you when you experience a panic attack. The physiological symptoms ad well as the psychological ones.
July 3rd, 2017 11:00pm
I say "it's like the adrenaline feeling you get when you almost fall, but it lasts longer and can be very scary, you also may have symptoms like hyperventilating, trembling, sweaty palms, and more.
May 5th, 2020 11:08am
Having a panic attack- From personal experince can vary greatly, but for me stems usually from a large subject or problem that I cannot fix, such as Death, or the ender of the universe, So being honest I would reccomened comforting the person that experienced the panic attack (E.G saying that it'll be alright, that they're strong, ect.), and also perhaps asking them if they could do anything that would calm them down or take their mind off the subject, and if the worst comes to the worst, just reccomened a relaxing mediatation/deep breathing video if you absolutely need to.
December 7th, 2021 12:10am
It’s hard to describe mental symptoms to people who have not experienced it, so I try to focus more on physical symptoms that they can understand. These include heart pounding, fist clenching, dizziness, excessive sweating, muscle tensing, etc. Once they understand that, often times they can easier understand the mental toll that comes alongside it. (Racing thoughts, an impending feeling of doom, inability to concentrate) It can be difficult for someone who has not experienced these symptoms to fully understand the extent. But once they realize to what extent it can affect a person, often times they are much more willing to try.