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The Panic Secret

Keeping Your Panic a Secret May Not be Good for Your Health


Updated July 13, 2009

Many people with panic disorder or other anxiety disorders go to great lengths to keep their symptoms a secret. Although they may disclose their condition to a few select friends or family members, the majority of people in their lives may not have any knowledge about the difficulties they are going through. Many suffer quietly, feeling the need to avoid disclosing their secret at all costs.

The Root of Secrecy

At the root of secrecy is shame and embarrassment. Keeping the secret perpetuates both. What happens next? It is likely that self-esteem will plummet. Social withdrawal and avoidant behaviors may lead to agoraphobia, making the sufferer’s world smaller and smaller.

The Side Effects of Secrecy

David Carbonell, PhD, proposes that just as medications have certain side effects, so too does keeping the panic secret. These side effects include:

  1. Imagining the Worst

    The operative word here is “imagining”: in effect, forming a notion of what may happen without adequate basis. Such worst-case scenarios often involve fearing others will react to the secret with possible disgust or ridicule. What role do such negative predictions have on one’s emotional health? You’re likely to feel worse about yourself and your problem.

  2. Feeling Like a Fraud

    Harboring your secret from others can affect how you feel about your accomplishments and abilities. Indeed, it may be hard to accept praise for accomplishments when deep down inside you’re thinking, If they only knew how defective I am.

  3. Increased Worry and Anxiety

    When you feel the need to keep your panic disorder a secret, the result is increased anxiety. Inevitably, those with panic disorder or other anxiety disorders find themselves in fearful situations. Worrying about keeping the secret only adds to the anxiety and detracts from enjoying the situation at hand.

  4. Social Isolation

    Unfortunately, declining social invitations by using excuses to keep your panic a secret will cause your friends to form their own opinions about what’s going on. Perhaps they will assume you just don’t want to socialize with them. Eventually, the invitations stop, and you may become socially isolated.

The Benefits of Self-Disclosure

It is not necessary to disclose your secret to everyone. What is important is that you choose to disclose your secret based on how it will help you in your recovery from panic disorder and agoraphobia. To illustrate, let’s look at these examples:

  1. You accept an invitation to dinner at a local restaurant with a close friend. Immediately, you begin running through scenarios surrounding how you will get through the dinner without your friend finding out about your secret. You develop a plan that may include ways of getting out of the situation momentarily or altogether. For example, going to the restroom or taking separate cars, so that you can make a quick exit if need be. You don’t enjoy the evening, because you are consumed with worry about keeping your secret.

  2. Let’s say before the scheduled night out with your friend, you meet with him or her to talk about your anxiety and panic. You explain why you have had to cancel so many get-togethers in the past. Your secret is out and your friend has been positive and supportive. When you go to dinner, you no longer need to worry about your friend finding out about your secret. You may still be apprehensive about sitting in a crowded restaurant, but you find a sense of comfort knowing that you are with a supportive friend and don’t have to worry about keeping your secret.

It’s easy to see how the second scenario will likely mean less canceled social events, less worry and an improved ability to reclaim enjoyable activities.


Carbonell, David, PhD. "Panic Attacks Workbook." 2004 Berkley, CA: Ulysses Press.

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