Experiencing a panic attack isn’t ever a walk in the park — especially when others say “harmless” things that can actually be pretty hurtful. If you live with panic attacks, you might be familiar with some of these “harmless” comments.
Sometimes these comments offer a suggestion (Just calm down and breathe!). Other times, they come in the form of a question (This again?). No matter what form they take, “harmless” comments like these can make a person experiencing a panic attack feel worse — even if the person saying them “means well.”
Comments like these often come from a place of misunderstanding, which is why it’s so important to understand the mental health condition your loved one is diagnosed with. Knowing more about their condition and what is helpful to say or do can do a world of good when someone is having a panic attack.
We wanted to know what “harmless” comments people who experience panic attacks have heard from others, so we turned to our mental health community to see what they had to say.
It’s important to remember one person might react differently to these comments than another person might, and having these different emotions and reactions is part of what makes us unique individuals. Your feelings are valid and if you ever need support during or after a panic attack, you can always reach out to our Mighty community by posting a Thought or Question using the hashtag #CheckInWithMe. We’re here for you and you deserve support.
1. ‘There are people who have it worse than you.’
“Any of the ‘There are people who have it worse’ [or] ‘Be grateful for what you have.’ Anything that implies that I am ungrateful because I’m feeling a certain way… involuntarily.” — Brandon D.
“‘You think you’re the only one with problems?’ Absolutely not, but right now I’m experiencing an intense and, to be honest, terrifying range of physiological responses, don’t yell at me. You don’t see a bloke having a heart attack and yell, ‘Your heart hasn’t even stopped, stop moaning!'” — Alyx P.
2. ‘Control your emotions.’
“Because my anxiety often presents as anger/frustration, I’ve been told multiple times to ‘Control your emotions, it’s not that hard.’ Hearing that hurts, there is nothing more that I want in this life than to be fully in control of my emotions.” — Amber L.
3. ‘Pray about it.’
“I’m super religious and have a ton of trust in God, but people telling me to ‘pray about it’ drives me nuts. It feels like they are questioning my faith and telling me I need to trust in God more. It hurts.” — Tami G.
4. ‘Don’t think about it, you’re only getting yourself worked up.’
“My husband: ‘Oh great. Now what’s upsetting you?’ (I respond) ‘Well if you didn’t think about it then maybe you wouldn’t have gotten yourself so worked up.’ Every word out of his mouth is dripping with apathy and disdain. He will always bring up an ‘episode’ only to make me feel guilty about ‘wasting his time.’ It has affected me to the point where I just have shut down. I lie to him all the time and say I’m fine.” — Kimy L.
5. ‘There’s no point in worrying.’
“‘Well you can’t do anything about it anyway so there’s no point worrying.’ That’s exactly why I’m panicking! Because I am powerless and can’t do anything about the situation!” — Brittany B.
6. ‘Positive vibes only.’
“‘Positive vibes only’ — this drives me nuts. I understand their good intentions but this has never helped, ever. It often makes things worse because I’m already trying to be as positive as I can, during an attack, I just can’t handle things anymore and I’d like to know that it’s OK to not always be positive.” — Reyna D.
“‘Stop being so negative, just think positive.’ This does nothing but increases the downward spiral and makes me think something is wrong or I’m broken and can’t be fixed. Or another one is, ‘Stop, I don’t like it when you talk like that.’ This one makes me feel unwanted and unloved. That they don’t really know or love me. Really breaks my heart, especially when it’s from my partner.” — Jeff B.
7. ‘Man up.’
“‘Why are you sad? Man up.’ Well, thanks for the biology lesson that men can’t feel. Seriously though, progressive as it may seem, the world really does not fully understand how the mind and emotions work.” — John B.
8. ‘What’s wrong with you?’
“‘What’s wrong with you?’ ‘You’re fine.’ ‘It’s going to be OK.’ None of these are helpful for me during an anxiety attack. Ever. But I hear them the most.” — Jennifer B.
“From a nurse: ‘So what exactly is it that’s upsetting you?’ said in a very irritated way when I was mid panic attack. I felt so guilty.” — Laura M.
“I feel extremely hurt/triggered when someone says, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ because there is nothing inherently wrong with me. I just live with anxiety and this is how I am. It just feels like when someone says that, they are inferring that there is something wrong or not normal about you.” — Brianna S.
9. ‘Just breathe.’
“‘Take a deep breath.’ Thanks for reminding me that I physically can’t right now.” — Jennifer K.
“‘Just breathe’ because obviously, that’s what I want to be doing. Telling me while I’m like this, however, doesn’t help one bit.” — Emily M.
10. ‘Calm down.’
“‘You’re being dramatic.’ ‘If you can’t have a rational conversation then we should not talk right now.’ ‘Calm down.’ ‘Relax is not that serious.’ ‘You’re overreacting.’ Those words really hurt my feelings and made me question my own reality and the validity of my emotions and the right to feel the things I do.” — Pamela P.
“‘Just calm down.’ If I damn well could, I would! That’s not how this works.” — Amanda C.
11. ‘You’ll be normal again soon.’
“My dad says all the time, ‘One day you’re gonna wake up and this will all be gone and you’ll be normal again.’ That’s not how recovery works.” — Evonne P.
12. ‘It’s all in your head.’
“‘There’s nothing wrong with you, it’s all in your mind.’ That made me really sad because of who said it.” — Jenny M.
13. ‘Maybe you need to change your medications.’
“‘You need to get your medicine fixed!’ The person had in fact been the problem.” — Morgan C.
14. ‘You’re too sensitive.’
“The one I hate so much is ‘You’re too sensitive.’ Makes me not want to open up and keep everything bottled inside. I hate not feeling understood or like they don’t care. Makes me panic and obsess more and become really paranoid.” — Heather C.
15. ‘Stop using your anxiety as an excuse.’
“”I’m so sick and tired of you letting anxiety be your excuse to not live your life.’ Ugh just get over yourself! At the time I had recently found out I had PMDD and it broke my heart and I felt like my disorder was my fault and I actually apologized for having PMDD.” — Cindy L.
16. ‘Pull yourself together.’
“‘Pull yourself together’ I think is a classic to everyone but when it comes from close family members it can be absolutely heartbreaking and what small amount of confidence you have mustered together is gone. I have a certain family member in my life who is a severe trigger. A person who is supposed to love and accept you for who you are.” — Zoe R.
“‘Pull yourself together.’ Very much the ‘it’s your fault this happens’ message. Also referring to my panic attacks and other strong reactions as ‘meltdowns,’ like I’m a child misbehaving.” — Becky A.
17. ‘I can’t take you anywhere.’
“‘I can’t take you anywhere,’ [said] after a panic attack that caused me to have to leave a supermarket mid-shop and be taken home. I do try to cope but the panic attack comes from nowhere and I can’t stop it. It’s embarrassing enough.” — Jac J.
18. ‘Grow up.’
“My anxiety often manifests as uncontrollable crying for seemingly no reason. I literally can’t stop. I can’t even explain the amount of times I’ve been told, ‘Stop feeling so sorry for yourself,’ ‘Grow up,’ and my personal favorite, ‘Your fits are so annoying.'” — Kellie B.
19. ‘Don’t be so dramatic.’
“‘Enough with the drama,’ [said by a] family member. It just solidified how I can’t talk to this person about my mental health and made me feel like maybe I am just an overdramatic person.” — Jessica T.
“‘Can you stop being dramatic and think of other people’s misfortunes?'” — Sarah C.
20. ‘Did you take your medication?’
“‘Could you not have just taken a pill?'” — Natalie F.
You’re not alone if someone has told you any of these “harmless” comments during a panic attack. No matter what anyone says, it’s OK not to feel OK. To give and get support from those who’ve “been there,” you can always post a Thought or Question using the hashtag #CheckInWithMe.
If you have said one of these “harmless” comments before, consider asking your loved one what would be better things to say or do when they’re having a panic attack. There’s no harm in asking how to help — in fact, they may appreciate it.
For more on understanding panic attacks and how to help someone struggling with them, check out these stories below:
- The Best Way Someone’s Helped Me Through a Panic Attack
- 7 Important Ways to Help During a Panic Attack
- The Realities of Living and Coping With Panic Attacks
- The 7 Types of Panic Attacks I Experience