Anxiety is difficult on a few levels for the individual that suffers from the disorder, but when it’s your partner, it can be challenging to help them get back to being themselves after having a panic attack. It’s scary, it’s confusing, and to some sufferers it can feel incredibly isolating. Let me iterate here that it is never your responsibility to “fix” what is going on, as it’s something only the sufferer can do, but sometimes it can be useful to know how to help your partner feel better. Here are a few things you can do to help your partner when they are having a panic attack.
If it is possible, help them get to a quiet place.
Noisy, over populated areas are very distracting and can make anxiety in someone worse. Removing them from the current situation is always ideal, so that if and when you talk to them, you can both hear each other well without having to raise your voice. Also, this privacy can help your partner from feeling embarrassed about it later.
Don’t try to undermine their feelings by saying that there isn’t anything to worry about. It might seem that way to you, but to them it sounds like “Stop being a baby.” Tell them that you are there for them, and are willing to listen. The way you say things can make the biggest difference. Also, please don’t tell them to calm down or get over it. That is the worst way to help, simply because if they could ‘get over it’ on command, then they would have already.
Remind them that they are safe.
Tell them that they are safe, and remind them that this anxiety attack is temporary. Assure them that they are going to be okay, because chances are they aren’t able to rationalize what’s going on at that moment. Anxiety can make a normally safe situation feel dangerous because of how the nervous system is affected during a panic attack. Encourage them to take their medication (in a polite way) or help them engage in coping skills if they are able to.
Sometimes the person might take medication to help them feel better during an attack, and encouraging them to take it might be a great solution. Remember to be kind when you say it, because a suggestion like that, if said incorrectly, can come off as condescending. If you know that they like to take walks, try to get them to walk with you; if they have an object that makes them feel better, like a blanket they curl up in or something like that, try to get it for them if it’s available, but remember it’s only if they want it.
Talk with them.
Try to engage them in conversation, to help them think of other things. Bring up things with caution, as you don’t want to re-trigger anything, but bring up that their favorite team is playing this weekend, or that you watched that funny video they sent you. Keep an eye on how they react though; read their body language. If it isn’t helping, then don’t continue with that topic.
Encourage them to breathe.
Have you ever noticed when you were nervous or scared that you forgot to breathe? Breathing directly affects our nervous system. When people panic, they have short shallow breathes usually. Try to have them breathe deeply. Do it with them and try to have them keep a breathing rhythm with you.
Be there for them.
It may be tempting to leave because it can get uncomfortable, but stay there with them. Remind them that they are loved. Stay by their side until they are able to calm down. They will be so appreciative of it when it’s over.
Having a panic attack is difficult on both parties but hopefully, with these strategies, it is easier to help your partner to a better state. Always remember that a panic attack can be complicated, and if you feel that you aren’t sure of what to do, just stay with the person, at minimum.