Why "Panic Attack" Is Not An Adjective

By: Paige Stevenson (@posipaige)


Mild trigger warning: description of panic symptoms.

“Oh my God, I think I just had a panic attack!” - a common phrase used by a lot of people which is thrown into conversations when someone is feeling a little nervous. If you are one of the people who use this sentence when what you have experienced is, in fact, just a little apprehension, hopefully I can show you by the end of this post how panic attacks affect the lives of sufferers of panic disorder and persuade you to use an alternative phrase. If it is stopped being used as an adjective, the stigma on panic attacks may start to reduce and panic disorder will be taken as seriously as it should be!

Firstly, you may not understand or have ever heard of what a panic attack is. A panic attack is when your body experiences a rush of psychological and physical symptoms such as: nausea, sweating, palpitations, feeling faint, overwhelming sense of fear and many more. Panic attacks affect people differently depending on the severity of the attack – however, it is generally agreed that there is almost always at least 3 symptoms affecting the sufferer at one time. Although panic attacks will not cause any long-term physical harm, it can rattle the person and leave them for a long time afterwards feeling constantly on-edge. Everybody has feelings of panic or anxiety at certain times of their life as it the body's natural response to any situations it deems to be stressful or dangerous. However, as you can see, panic attacks go further than feeling a little anxious.


Specifically, panic disorder is when you have recurring and regular attacks, often for no apparent reason. It is evident in, on average, 1 in 50 people in the UK so it is not as rare as many would think. Panic disorder can lead to other mental health issues such as anxiety or agoraphobia and everyone, including myself, who I have spoken to about their experience with panic disorder informed me that panic disorder made them feel terrified and like they would never recover from it, no matter how much support they had from family and friends. Panic disorder makes you feel constantly unnerved and agitated, as at most times, you are concerned about when the next panic attack could occur. It is truly a horrible thing to encounter which I would not wish on anybody.


Now you are aware of how panic attacks can affect lives, I feel confident that you will understand why using the phrase 'panic attack' in a throw-away tone or using it as an adjective can be highly frustrating and sometimes even triggering to those who have to deal with the consequences of panic disorder every day. I get that a lot of people do not know the true meaning of 'panic attack', and once they do, try not to use it which makes me feel extremely grateful, so if you go on from this post with a wider understanding of the topic and decide to not use it in a casual way, I want to say thank you. Panic disorder and panic attacks are indescribably hard to deal with – let's end the stigma and start taking it seriously.


If you suffer with panic disorder, want to learn more on the topic or are worried that you may have the condition, here are some useful links:

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/panic-disorder/pages/introduction.aspx – NHS website, reliable information on what panic disorder is.

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/panic-attacks/#.Vgav569dHIU – MIND website, informs on what a panic attack is and a video of people explaining their symptoms.

https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/get-help-now/anxietyinformation/anxiety-disorders/panic-attacks/ - Anxiety UK website, useful information on panic disorder including help and books to read.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Panic-Attacks-happen-about-Happen/dp/0007106904 – link to information on a book which really helped me with my panic disorder and how to control them. Also useful for people who want to learn more on what panic disorder is and how to help a family member or friend with it. It is called Panic Attacks by Christine Ingham.


Disclaimer: In no way am I trying to invalidate anyone who has experienced a panic attack. It is the case of a lot of people to have had a panic attack in their lifetime and not develop panic disorder from it. This post is aimed to educate on panic disorder and persuade people who have not panicked to refrain from using the phrase. Thank you!