Panic attacks are tough things to try and relate to someone that has never experienced them. Where they might see someone who is being 'ridiculous' or acting 'weird' or 'erratic', or perhaps being a 'wuss' or 'freak' when having a panic attack, they fail to see that this is a true debilitating disorder, one that is very difficult to control and needs a lot of hard work and effort to overcome.
I wish I could say I knew the secret to getting someone else to understand what it's like to suffer from an anxiety disorder, but its almost impossible for them to fully comprehend it without actually living a day in our skin.
Nonetheless, I have pondered what I would say when trying to explain this disorder to someone, and below is what I have come up with, at least as far as panic attacks go. I'm not telling other people to use this, I'm simply sharing what I think might help in explaining the disorder at least for me. The real purpose of this thread though is for everyone to jump in and share what they think works (or might work) when talking about panic and anxiety to others who don't have these disorders.
Anyway, here's what I (think) I would say if I could get the words out:
I have a faulty sympathetic nervous system (SNS) response to anxiety-producing stimuli. Whereas a typical person may go into a normal heightened state of 'arousal' when something gets them nervous, an anxiety-disorder sufferer's body misinterprets things and jumps into 'panic' mode where it should normally produce general feelings of nervousness. The body sends signals to the brain that it is in a life-threatening situation when it truely isn't, and thus the mind tends to react by trying to mobilize the body to escape that situation. Also, it is very difficult for a person to think or behave rationally while in this panic-state, as the mind is focused on escaping whatever is causing those feelings. In addition, the feeling of panic itself too, or sensations that are similar to panic, can actually make the body even more panicked.
Anyway, after a few times experiencing this, the body becomes conditioned to respond that way given the same stimuli. In other words, just as Pavlov's dogs would unknowingly drool when he rang the bell (indicating 'time to eat') in his experiments, my body too produces an 'automatic' conditioned response to the given stimulus. And thus the vicious cycle continues.
..and there ya have it! hehe. let me know what u think - and share your own ideas of what to say thanks,
P.S. What I described isnt' exactly factual, but it does give a general idea to people of how things escalate to an extreme where they shouldn't.
P.S. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is a division of the autonomic nervous system, basically the 'automatic' nervous system that maintains states of the body and keeps the blood pumping and air flowing. The SNS comes into play in the 'fight or flight' reaction and puts the body in a heightened state of arousal while the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) returns it to its normal state. And if you don't know about Pavlov's experiments, you can read up on it here at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning.