Explaining Your Panic Disorder to Friends and Family

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If you have been diagnosed with panic disorder, you may be all too familiar with the impact your condition can have on your relationships. It can be difficult for loved ones to understand your experience. For example, friends and family may not acknowledge that you have a real mental health disorder. Some loved ones may not realize how difficult it can be to deal with panic attacks. Others may have false assumptions about anxiety disorders in general.

Considering the many misunderstandings and myths about panic disorder, it can be difficult for your family and friends to understand your condition. They may have many questions that are hard to answer. But telling others about your panic disorder does not always have to be such a challenge. Here you will find simple ways to answer common questions that your loved ones may have about panic disorder. Use these explanations to help you get the conversation going when discussing your condition with family and friends.

Introduce Panic Disorder

Explain that panic disorder is a real and diagnosable type of mental health condition known as an anxiety disorder. The main symptom of panic disorder is panic attacks.

Describe Your Panic Attacks

Panic attacks involve many physical and emotional symptoms. Tell your loved ones how panic attacks feel.

"When I have a panic attack, I get chest pain, my heart races, I sweat a lot, and I feel afraid."

"Sometimes when I have a panic attack, I feel as though I am having a heart attack or dying. Please get emergency medical help if I ever ask for it because I would rather be safe than ignore a potentially serious issue."

"I have unexpected panic attacks, meaning that I can have a panic attack at any time without notice; there is not any type of situation that causes them."

"I have expected panic attacks whenever I ________ (drive, fly in an airplane, leave my home, or whatever type of situation often causes you to have a panic attack)."

"When I have a panic attack, it may appear that I am overreacting, but I’m not. I would not choose to feel that way. Please do not try to force me into feared situations."

Share Your Fears Surrounding Panic Attacks

Explain that panic disorder is diagnosed as occurring with or without agoraphobia. If you experience agoraphobia, describe what that means for you.

"I have panic disorder with agoraphobia. This means that I have fears of having panic attacks in certain situations." (Let them know what situations cause you the fear, such as driving or being in large crowds).

Talk About Treatment

Your loved ones may be unfamiliar with treatment options. Share with them what you've learned, and if you're comfortable, share the treatment plan you've decided upon for yourself.

"There are several treatment options for panic disorder. I have decided to ____________ (go to therapy, take medication, or both)."

"I am getting professional help and over time I may be more comfortable in feared situations."

"Antidepressants can also be used to treat panic disorder. My doctor has prescribed ________ for me, which helps me manage my panic and anxiety symptoms."

"Sedatives can help reduce the severity of my anxiety and panic attacks. My doctor has prescribed _______, an anti-anxiety medication that I take for panic attacks."

Other Considerations

  • If there is something you are uncertain about (or prefer not to talk about), it is okay to let a loved one know that you would rather not discuss it.
  • Be careful about with whom you choose to discuss your condition; some people may not be as trustworthy and understanding as others.
  • Be willing to share additional resources about panic disorder with your family and friends. Consider e-mailing or printing out articles that address their questions directly.

Being prepared with answers to common questions can help you feel more confident when addressing your loved ones about your condition. It's also important to stay up-to-date and continue to learn more about panic disorder symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for yourself.

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