What To Do If You Have A Panic Attack On A Date, According To Experts
The challenge of a panic attack is that they can come out of anywhere, at any time, and without adequate warning. Although some panic attacks may be brought on by something that's happened in the moment, others can just pop up, unexpectedly, as you're going about your life and even having a great day. To say that panic attacks are unruly and rogue, might be an understatement.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, six million people suffer from some form of a panic disorder and more women than men are affected by them — twice as many to be exact. But even if you haven't been diagnosed as having a panic disorder, it doesn't mean you can't have a panic attack.
“Many people experience panic attacks without having an actual [mental health] disorder," an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University, Dr. Sheehan D. Fisher, tells Bustle. "Panic attacks can occur even with other mental health disorders, or in people who don't have any.”
But the problem with this is, if you've never had a panic attack, dealing with them can be really difficult. Not only that, but you can mistaken it for something else. I was a senior in high school when I had my first panic attack, and it had me running to the nurse's office, as I was quite sure I was dying of heart attack.
So what happens if you're on a date and you're suddenly mid-panic attack? Whether it's your first or your 50th date, here's what you can do to get through it.
1. Recognize What It Is – If You can
Although not all panic attacks are the same, especially since they can vary in intensity, when you feel one coming on, especially on a date, it's important to recognize it for what it is so you can, ideally, get ahead of it.
"If you are able to label what you are starting to feel as the start of a panic attack, you can start to use coping skills and calm yourself down before you go into a full-blown panic attack," psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez tells Bustle.
As any expert or anyone who's ever suffered from a panic attack will tell you, breathing is everything. When we have a panic attack, our adrenaline spikes and it's all about bringing ourselves back down to the ground, emotionally and mentally speaking. The way to do that is to breathe deeply and slowly, from the diaphragm, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
3. Be Honest About It
There's no shame in having a panic attack. If six million people suffer from a panic disorder, then you're not exactly alone. "Telling someone what is taking place can lessen the internal pressure and will take your mind out of defensive positioning," psychotherapist, author, and anxiety expert, Jonathan Berent, L.C.S.W., tells Bustle.
While telling someone on a first date that you're having a panic attack may not seem ideal, anyone worth seeing again isn't going to judge you for it. If anything, they can help you through it until you get to the other side — and you will get to the other side of your panic attack, because they usually only last a matter of minutes. Even if those matter of minutes can sometimes feel like an eternity.
4. Get Your Self-Esteem In Check
Perhaps easier said than done, but you are awesome and when you know that, it can be easier to handle a panic attack on a date.
"When your self-esteem is lowered creating you to feel insecure, any behavior that indicates losing interest can trigger anxiety and panic," Behavioral Scientist, Clarissa Silva, tells Bustle. "Conversely, when you have higher self-esteem you’re able to manage anxiety and expectation where dating won’t cause you to panic. When you feel a trigger arising remind yourself that you are determining if [they are] a good fit for you and not the other way around." In other words, tell yourself you have the upper hand.
5. See Dating For What It Is: An Experiment
If you can pinpoint that it's the date that's brought on your panic attack, then take a step back and realize that dating, in the grand scheme of things, isn't that big of a deal. It's not exactly a do-or-die situation, and if the date goes badly, then it goes badly. C'est la vie!
"Treat dating like it’s a social experiment," says Silva. "It really IS. What other decision takes decades to get right? Treat dating like you are collecting data on what you want and don’t want. See what combinations of qualities and characteristics better compliment you. Approaching dating as though it is testing out what I call, Your Happiness Hypothesis: Your Personal Algorithm can help minimize some of your own expectations. Create an equation that includes the elements that you absolutely require and the elements that you think you want. As you think about your ideal partner, focus just on characteristics, qualities and life desires."
6. Nip The Over-Idealization In The Bud
If you go into a date with the hope that it's going to blossom into a great relationship and have some wonderful Nora Ephron type storybook ending, then you're really piling on the pressure. Pressure, that could actually be contributing to your panic attack, even if you're not aware of it.
"Sometimes we over-romanticize love, people, relationships, and romance," says Silva. "A panic attack occurs when we over-idealize how the relationship should look in our lives and/or when we overlook red flags about the person. When this happens often times it means that you have de-prioritized yourself and your desires. Realize that you have decided that how the other person feels about you becomes the only world to you and their opinion of you is worth more than your own opinion of yourself. Ask yourself “Is that what you intended in your ideal relationship?” or “What does my self-worth mean to me?”
7. Go With The Flow As Much As You Can
Although having reasonable expectations for your relationship, your partner or date, and yourself is important, when you're first dating someone, expectations, especially if you have too many of them, can bring on panic attacks, or even sabotage your relationship before it even get started. Because of this, when you're newly dating someone, it's better to put those expectations on the back burner and go with the flow. If it evolves into a relationship, you'll have plenty of time to figure out expectations then. So relax, breathe, and enjoy this new person in your life.
“In the first three weeks of dating, [you] should go with the flow!" dating expert and matchmaker, Sarah Patt tells Bustle. "It is important to realize that the only expectations you should set, should be with yourself. One to remember is to always expect the unexpected. Putting expectations onto your date only complicates things... During this phase, the main thing to focus on is having fun and getting to know more about your date."
Although you may not be able to control a panic attack that's hellbent on invading a date, if you have a game plan for the "what if?" then you can handle it better than if you have no plan at all. All panic attacks pass and they're nothing to be ashamed of. Just remember, admitting to your date that you're having one, as opposed to keeping it to yourself, can really help in the situation.