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Explaining Your Condition to Friends and Family

Answering Questions About Panic Disorder

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Updated August 06, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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 with panic disorder. 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. However, 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.

Explaining panic disorder:

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.

Clarifying what panic attacks are:

Panic attacks involve many physical and emotional symptoms. When I have a panic attack, I get chest pain, my heart races, I sweat a lot, I feel afraid, and _________ (add any symptoms that you often experience with panic attacks).

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 others think you are overreacting or not trying your best:

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. Panic disorder is a real condition and I am doing the best I can to deal with my symptoms. Please do not try to force me into feared situations. I am getting professional help and over time I may be more comfortable in feared situations.

Explaining your experience with agoraphobia:

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).

Getting the conversation started about treatment for panic disorder:

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

Talking about medications for panic disorder:

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:

  • Being prepared with answers to common questions can help you feel more confident when addressing your loved ones about your condition.
  • If there is something you are uncertain about or if you prefer not to talk about your condition, it is okay to let a loved one know that you are not certain or that you would rather not discuss it.
  • Be prepared to face that not all of your loved ones will accept your answers. Also, be careful about who you choose to discuss your condition with. Some people may not be as trustworthy and understanding as others.
  • Stay up-to-date and continue to learn more about panic disorder symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.
  • Be willing to share additional resources about panic disorder with your family and friends. You can always e-mail or print out articles that you believe may be of interest to them or that address their questions directly.
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