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Explaining Panic Disorder to Your Friends

Help your friends know the symptoms

Tell your friends about the symptoms, so that if they are with you when you have an attack, they can recognize what is going on and offer you help. Symptoms of a panic attack, as described in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Volume Four (DSM-IV), include:

  • chest pounding or increased heart rate
  • sweating
  • tremors or the shakes
  • feeling short of breath or as if you are being smothered
  • choking sensation
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal discomfort
  • feeling dizzy, light-headed or faint
  • feeling as if you or the world is unreal
  • fear of going crazy or losing control of yourself
  • fear of dying
  • tingling feeling in extremities
  • chills or hot flashes

Guide your friends in appropriate action

By being aware of these symptoms, your friends can be educated about what a panic attack is. Tell them not to rush you to the hospital unless you describe symptoms that are different from your typical panic attack. Tell them that being reassuring during the experience generally is enough.

Here are some other pointers you might want to give:

  • Don’t assume what I need, ask me.
  • Let me pace my recovery, but encourage me to get help.
  • Find something good in my achievements. When I overcome an obstacle (such as driving on the highway), make a big deal of it.
  • Don’t let me avoid life. Help me take the baby steps to live life to its fullest.
  • Don’t give up your own life to protect me. We only will grow to resent each other.
  • Don’t panic when I panic. I need you to be confident that I will get through this.
  • Don’t tell me to “Calm down” or “Get a grip on yourself.” If I could do that, don’t you think I would?

Panic disorder is a difficult problem for everyone involved. But, with care, patience and some help from your friends, you can overcome it.

Explaining Panic Disorder to Your Friends

Steve Bressert, Ph.D.

Steve Bressert, Ph.D. is a retired professor and clinician in clinical psychology. He writes occasionally for Psych Central and other publications.

APA Reference
Bressert, S. (2018). Explaining Panic Disorder to Your Friends. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 20, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.