Talking about mental health is so important. But knowing how to talk about it is just as important. Knowing what to say, and what not to say, can be really daunting. So, here are 5 things not to say to someone having a panic attack.
- “just try breathing normally.”
Trust me, we are. Controlling your breathing is one of the most important things you can do when having a panic attack, but also one of the hardest. The erratic breathing makes you panic, and the panicking makes your breathing worse. You see where this is going. It’s a dangerous and scary cycle. Instead of suggesting someone breathes ‘normally’, try being a bit more specific in helping them to slow down their breathing. Try saying, “let’s slow down our breathing together, breathe in for 5, hold for 5, and breathe out for 5.”
- “there’s nothing to worry about.”
Sometimes, anxiety has no logic. None at all. Someone could be in a safe space, with familiar company, and experience a horrendous panic attack. The body is a weird, and at times, wonderful thing, but also bloody annoying. Telling someone that there is nothing to worry about is a little patronising. Try saying, “you are safe and in control.“
- “you’re doing this for attention.”
I’ve had this one before, and at the time I was too anxious to really take it in. But retrospectively I’ve realised how awful it was. I promise you that someone having a panic attack would love nothing more than to, well, not be having one. They are not for attention. If there are lots of people around, then that might be making it worse. Try saying, “would you like to go to a quieter space?“
- “can you snap out of it?”
Another lovely line I’ve been told before. This makes panic attacks seem a choice. Which they’re not. As inconvenient as it might be for you to watch someone have one, I promise it’s worse for the person having it. It’s hard sometimes to know what the right thing is, but it’s easy to not be rude. So just don’t be. At all.
- “you seemed fine a second ago”
Panic attacks can come on really quickly. While some days you can feel anxiety building, other times it can catch you completely off guard. Also, people with mental health issues are often very good at hiding them. So, while to you it may look completely out of the blue, someone might have been feeling pretty rubbish for a while. Try saying “what can I do for you?“
Rather than just take my word for what warrants good advice, check out these very helpful resources.
Image provided by writer.