Seeing your partner go through a panic attack can feel overwhelming. You want to help, but you aren’t sure how. Maybe you’ve tried so many different ways – but it usually doesn’t feel that helpful. You’ve tried reminding him to breathe, maybe even breathing with him. You’ve tried telling him that “everything is okay” and “you are okay.” It’s a pretty bad feeling to know that you keep trying but aren’t sure what to do. There are times when you get frustrated or even angry when you aren’t able to help.
Your partner may get angry during the panic attack or cry. Maybe he calls you on the phone, and all you hear is his heavy breathing and repeated statements of overwhelm and worry. You want him to call you. You want to support him. But at the same time, it’s not all that helpful much of the time. Or at least you worry it isn’t.
One way to help your partner during a panic attack is to pull back from problem-solving and just be there.
When we see someone we love struggle, it becomes our instinct to “fix” the problem. The reality is that a panic attack is a difficult one to fix for someone. It’s so scary, overwhelming, and real for the person that it’s like she isn’t really there. If it’s a minor panic attack, it may be easier for her to listen and take it in. But many times, it’s pretty tough in the moment.
Try pulling back from fix-it mode and just be there. This can look like rubbing your partner’s back, repeating “I’m here” and “it will be over soon.” It’s a good idea to ask her what she thinks would be most helpful during a panic attack. This way, you can use her suggestions to help her in the moment. Most importantly, know that just being there may be the best thing for her.
Help your partner during a panic attack by speaking to him slowly in simple sentences.
During a panic attack, your mind can feel like it’s racing a mile a minute, maybe even that things are moving around you. It’s really hard to take in external information. This is why speaking to your partner slowly and in short sentences is so helpful. When doing so, you are doing the opposite of what the panic is doing to him. Panic tends to lead to racing thoughts, whereas if you speak slowly, you are counteracting that. This will also help you keep calm, so you are not “catching the panic” yourself. Otherwise, you may find yourself speaking quickly or trying to rush the panic away. Make sure to breathe and remind yourself to keep it slow.
Help your partner stay calm during a panic attack by breathing with her and counting to 10
Try to help her count to 10 very, very slowly, and breathe along the way. This will help her refocus her mind on her breath and counting. The trick is that it needs to be very slow. It can feel hard to keep it slow with the panic around you, and you may be tempted to pick up the pace. Don’t. Work on breathing and counting slowly. Remind yourself that you want to help her do the opposite of what the anxiety is telling her to do.
Make sure to be predictable yourself
If you and your partner decide on a plan on how to deal with a panic attack as it surfaces, then stick to it. Try to be the person who offers predictability throughout the panic attack. If you find yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed, try to recenter yourself so that your reactions are predictable and calm. During a panic attack, the person’s mind goes in so many directions, and all the “what if’s” arise. The more that you respond, communicate, and connect in a predictable, calm way, the more likely you can be a support to him.
Get the help you and your partner need
Panic attacks and overall high anxiety can feel overwhelming for all involved. Sometimes the best course of action is to get professional help. Therapy for anxiety and marriage counseling are ways to help you both ease anxiety and work together as a team to live a more present and happier life.
Seeing your partner go through a panic attack can feel overwhelming and confusing on how to be of support. Allowing yourself to just be there, speaking to him or her slowly in short sentences, breathing slowly and counting to 10, staying predictable, and getting help are all ways to help support your partner (and you!).
About the Author: Dr. Donna Novak is a licensed clinical psychologist in Simi Valley, Ca. She is a part of Simi Psychological Group, offering child therapy, teen therapy, anxiety treatment, depression therapy, marriage counseling, and neuropsychological testing. Her website is https://simipsychologicalgroup.com.
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