If you’ve ever had a legitimate panic attack, then you know how completely debilitating they are. Panic attacks are a type of anxiety disorder that affects millions of people. The physical symptoms of a panic attack are sweating, racing heart, rapid pulse, feeling faint, the feeling of choking and the feeling of “going crazy.” Some symptoms of panic attacks are so severe, they are misidentified as a heart attack. They can happen in a matter of seconds and can last up to 10 minutes. For those who haven’t had a panic attack, imagine walking out of your door and standing face to face with a bear. A panic attack has that level of fear, but without the bear.
By claiming you had a panic attack before a hard test or when a friend unexpectedly grabs your shoulder when you have earphones on, you are belittling those who actually have panic attacks. That small drop in your stomach has no comparison to the gut-wrenching experience of pure fear and adrenaline. Panic attacks are in no way causal. Panic attacks are real and they are debilitating.
You may not have meant to be dismissive in your talk, as ‘panic attack’ has become somewhat of a slang expression. But words do have meaning, and by describing something minor as a panic attack you are taking the legitimacy away from those who really do have panic attacks. Some people do have panic attacks before tests, leaving them emotionally drained and affecting their test taking abilities. Some people have panic attacks just by stepping outside.
When facing something stressful, describe it as stressful. A panic attack leaves a lasting emotional scar that can takes weeks or months to fully heal. 80% of college students say they experience daily stress and 13% have been diagnosed with a disorder.
Be a part of those who fight against the stigma of mental health. If you hear a friend make a slang comment, try to remind them that having a panic attack is a legitimate health problem and not one to be taken lightly. With even a change of phrase, we could change someone’s whole life. By taking panic attack’s seriously, someone with an anxiety disorder could start to feel their problem is valid. And that is the one thing everyone needs, to feel valid.
If you or someone you know is having mental health problems, visit Cal Poly Counseling Services or call at 805-756-2511. There is also a 24/7 crisis line.