If your partner ever experiences severe anxiety and panic attacks, then they know what it’s like to feel the world closing in on them. During the onset of a bad attack, your loved one might feel like their soul is separating from their body. They might fear that they’re going crazy and that their mind is betraying them. Your partner might even feel like they’re dying, or like the ground beneath their feet is opening up, ready to swallow them whole.
Panic attacks come in so many different forms and intensity levels. And those who suffer from them feel real, physical symptoms. Real pain in various parts of the body, real heart palpitations, and real shortness of breath.
And, don’t forget the real, mind-crushing fear.
It can become a major problem in a relationship, and it can tear couples apart.
So often, you might find that you have no clue how to help the person you love when a panic attack hits them. Doing everything you can to learn about what they’re going through is one of the best things you can do. The worst is staying in the dark about it, assuming they can control their condition through sheer willpower or hard work.
Researching ways to help, or even going to counseling together to learn more about what they are dealing with and methods to cope, will help you become a more loving, understanding partner. And together, you’ll be a stronger couple in the long run.
Effective Ways to Help Your Partner
There are plenty of effective methods to navigate a panic attack. As the partner or spouse, your job is to learn about these and help your loved one however you can. It’s definitely not a pleasant experience for anyone involved, but actively seeking information about anxiety-induced panic attacks and understanding how they affect a person’s physical and mental state is your first step.
Consider the following dos and don’ts when you are trying to help your partner work through a panicked state.
1. If your partner is going through a panic attack, clearly and directly ask what they need from you.
They may need to stop the car, pull over, and get some fresh air. They may need something to distract them, like a backrub or taking a walk. They may say they need nothing other than for you to hold them. And, if their symptoms don’t eventually pass, they may tell you they need to seek medical care.
Don’t get annoyed at requests or start an argument over it if your partner is having severe symptoms. That will only heighten their stress and anxiety. Yes, panic attacks are extremely annoying. They’re extremely scary as well. But as inconvenienced as you might feel by your partner’s disruptive panic attack, the frustration and anger and pure mental anguish they are going through is a thousand times worse.
Sometimes, just being there with your significant other and offering to do whatever they need is a big help, even if they just want a hand to hold.
2. Keep checking in, but don’t overwhelm.
Someone in the middle of a panic attack can have trouble vocalizing their needs (because it’s a terrifying and mind-numbing experience), so it’s important to encourage them to communicate with you if there is anything you can do to help.
At the same time, it’s important to be patient with them. Give them a moment, and if they are really having a hard time getting words out or don’t know what they should do, offer a couple of suggestions—but not so many that you overwhelm them.
For example, when a panic attack sets in, you might ask your partner, “Are you okay? Do you want to go outside and get some air?” And then take your cue from there. If they prefer to just stay quiet for a minute, be respectful of that. But do check back in again a short while later and ask what you can do, especially if their body language suggests things seem to be getting worse
3. Never brush off your partner’s panic attack.
Be ready and willing to help your partner with any reasonable request they have. If they insist they need to visit an emergency room, don’t shrug it off and tell them it’s just anxiety.
Be supportive, and take them to the hospital to get checked out if things get to that point. Sometimes, getting a thorough medical evaluation to rule out any serious physical ailment is the most helpful thing for a severe panic attack, which can often mimic the symptoms of a heart attack or other physical illness. It’s better to be safe and get checked out than to assume it’s a panic attack when it could be something far more serious.
On the flipside, if your partner feels the need to visit the emergency room for every single panic attack, it might be helpful to try to talk them down. Ask them if their symptoms are the same as other experiences they’ve had. Offer them suggestions of things that could ease their symptoms.
You could talk to them about different grounding techniques, like breathing exercises or naming objects they can see around them in the room, as a method to try to redirect focus.
Whatever the case, remember that accusing your partner of being overdramatic or overly concerned is the least helpful thing you can do. Becoming argumentative or emotional (showing disappointment or frustration) will only add to their stress and could make the panic attack more intense or longer lasting.
Actively Love Your Partner
Experiencing the healthy emotion of anxiety is a regular part of life. But if your partner has an anxiety disorder, they are facing a very real and challenging medical condition. They are feeling disproportionate amounts of nervousness and panic that messes with their body and interferes with daily life, causing them to avoid certain places and situations.
If your partner’s panic attacks are frequent and disruptive to your daily routines, your relationship is going to be impacted. Therapy and possibly medication are often necessary courses of treatment, but the condition can often be helped by maintaining self-care habits, like a healthy diet, exercise, and lots of stress relieving activities.
Help your partner help themselves. Work out together. Take care of the kids for a while and give them time to relax. Help with the housework.
Relationships are give and take. At times, you’ll need your partner to step up and help you too—so always be willing to lift a hand and actively love them when they need it most.