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How is dealing with an oncoming panic attack different when you're in public, when you're around friends you trust, and when you're alone?

13 Answers
Last Updated: 08/13/2018 at 12:58am
1 Tip to Feel Better
United States
Moderated by

Jessica McDaniel, LPC, LCPC

Licensed Professional Counselor

I have been practicing cognitive behavioral psychotherapy since 2007 with a diverse group of adult clients with various diagnoses, all races, and socioeconomic classes.

Top Rated Answers
June 8th, 2015 7:13pm
Panic attacks are never easy and from personal experiences, the situation definitely alters the severity of the attack. In public, myself (and others I know) have experienced a great deal of shame and embarrassment from panic attacks. However, we ourselves have NO reason to feel embarrassed. Mental health problems are a stigma often overlooked by those who do not understand, and in the future, I hope that others will become more educated into the world of anxiety. Anyways, when dealing with a panic attack in public I will always get a warning (a feeling/physical reaction etc). When I get this warning, I will immediately remove myself from the situation I am in and take myself somewhere quiet and alone. If I have to leave a room or leave company, I will politely say, "if you can just excuse me for a couple minutes", and step outside. Once alone I can concentrate on myself and my breathing, and will often close my eyes and listen to music to distract myself. After doing so, if I feel ready I will return myself to the situation. If not, I try not to dwell on the past or think of what others are thinking, but promptly take myself home where I can re-focus my mind. When I'm with friends I trust, I am very open, though I know not everyone will feel comfortable doing this. Sometimes I will say, "just give me a few minutes, I don't feel good" or "I feel very agitated". Giving my friends warning is enough and they know what to do from there. I find that when in a calm state of mind, it helps to tell your friends what works and doesn't work for you. I.e. they shouldn't be offended if you leave the room, or if you cry, let them know that you don't want to be held, only reassured. Allowing your friends to be educating in offering the right support will make them feel more helpful and put your mind at ease that they're not judging you or offering too much support. Finally, when alone, my attacks are usually more severe as I do not have the thoughts of being in public or around others. I always try to deal with my panic attacks when I experience the initial triggers, as opposed to mid full-blown panic attack. When I feel the triggers coming, I usually take my jumper etc off to cool myself down, get a class of water and put on some relaxing music. If I can, I will try some deep breathing exercises. I also have colouring books and jigsaw puzzles which work great for me as it's a soothing source of distraction and relaxation, and occupies my mind so much that the attack gradually reduces. Panic attacks are never easy but I hope this has provided some guidance into managing them.
January 22nd, 2015 11:00pm
It's harder to control when I'm alone, I've found, when I'm with friends I have someone to help keep me grounded. In public it kind of varies depending on where I am.
January 24th, 2015 6:01am
I believe that when you are in public, it feels more embarrassing and scary with everyone around. You may feel like you are trapped. Around friends you trust, it is less scary, because you have people there to comfort you and help you through it. When you are alone, I feel as though it is more painful. It can take longer for it to stop (at least in my personal experience).
May 4th, 2015 1:25am
In public dealing with the panic attack is the worst. Mostly because you want to hide it, which makes suffering even worse. With friends you can even laugh about it, if they are strong and know your condition well. When you are alone it's easy, - the pillow is here for you ;)
September 13th, 2015 7:58pm
Everybody is different. Nobody is the same, there is no one answer fits all. You have to find whatever works for you. You can look up things or use things that have worked for you in the past to help you calm down. If you are still having trouble then perhaps you can speak with someone such as a counselor or therapist.
September 15th, 2015 7:40am
When dealing with an oncoming panic attack alone, you're able to do all the self-care you need, for yourself, without criticism. If your self-care routine when getting a panic attack is punching a pillow, you're able to do it. If it happens to be rocking on the floor, you're able to do it. This differs when you're in public, because not only do you have the panic attack oncoming, you also have the people around you who may be judging you (and with anxiety you often feel that they are, whether they actually are or not). With friends, it's more similar to when you're alone, because they presumably know about your panic attacks and know how to help you. They might even be able to help you calm down afterwards faster, as they know what works for you!
November 10th, 2015 8:35am
It's very different! It's harder to have panic attacks when you're alone or when you're in public than when you have someone you trust with you. When you're alone, you don't get any support/help and it's hard. When you're in public, you tend to look stupid/crazy because no one understands and it's hard to accept help from people you don't know/you don't trust. It's somehow easier when someone is there to help/support and understand you duting a panic attack.
May 2nd, 2016 12:27am
In public, it's more of an embarrassment. You don't know how strangers will react or how bad the panic attack will be. It's not easy having random people staring at you and feeling judged. Around friends you trust, it's easier because if they know this happens, you don't have to hold back as much because they'll be there for you. When you're alone it's the best situation to let it all out and you don't have to be afraid that anyone is going to see.
June 21st, 2016 6:23pm
It depends on what brings it on. But, when you're alone, you can break down crying, rock back and forth, whatever helps, in front of other people means you have to hold back some of those immediate emotional responses, in front of friends you can kind of release those feelings, but in public you could be worried about how you might look if you broke down, so you have to adapt to your situations
August 2nd, 2016 1:06am
When you're in public it's about how can I not start a scene. For me my heart is racing really hard and I go into lockdown mode where my jaw is set and my tongue is on the roof of my mouth. I tend to grab my earbuds and play some music to calm myself down while I imagine myself knitting. With friends it's more of oh dear I don't want to freak them out - so I take a break for a minute if I can (often to "go to the bathroom" and calm myself down) and then I return once it's over or I'm feeling enough in control. When I'm alone it's the worst because I start bawling really really hard and I just let it happen. Otherwise I clench and unclench all of my muscles to get myself to relax.
April 17th, 2017 10:45pm
When you're in public, panic attacks become much more difficult to handle. You're surrounded by strangers, adding to the feeling of discomfort and not being in control of yourself. The best tactic is to get in a quiet place, a bathroom or your car, to be alone and to calm down without others seeing you. When you are around friends you trust, you still may struggle with feeling like you will be out of control, but depending on who you are, being with them may fend off the attack and calm you down quicker. It all depends on how you feel about being in the midst of a panic attack in front of others. When you are alone, you may either be more comfortable, and ba able to pull yourself back together more quickly, or you may feel lost and alone- heightening the attack. It all depends on who you are and what/who calms you down.
May 9th, 2017 5:25am
When I have a public panic attack, I immediately seek somewhere private (a corner, a bathroom, empty classroom) and wait for it to pass. If I'm with friends or family I make sure that they know about my condition. They either help me through it or leave me alone if they are not sure of what to do or how to handle the situation.
August 13th, 2018 12:58am
Always use a little psychological trick. The one that works for panic attacks is as follows; Count down from 10 to 1 slowly. This will trick your brain into focusing on the logical problem of counting down and you'll stop focusing on whatever is initiating the panic. This may not work 100% of the time.