For those who suffer from panic attacks, they can be completely de-habilitating. But if you don't have them yourself, it can be difficult to know how to really help if someone is having a panic attack. If your partner has them, it's crucial to understand just how how traumatic they can be.
"Panic attacks [...] are feelings of overwhelming anxiety, shortness of breath, feeling an immediate need to escape, feeling like you are going to pass out, even feeling like you are going to die," Dr. Joshua C. Klapow, licensed clinical psychologist and host of The Web Radio Show, tells Bustle. It's not just about catching your breath, it can really feel like the world is closing in.
But if your partner is having a panic attack, how can you help? If your partner suffers from panic attacks regularly it's important that you tell them that they can always tell you when one sets in — and that you want to help. Some people feel uncomfortable and try to hide when they're having one, but that can just make the situation worse. "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. So if you know that this is something they suffer from, you should talk to them about it at a time when they're not having a panic attack to learn about their needs and how you can be most helpful. Then, when one comes up, here's what you can do, according to experts.
Have A Plan Of Action
If you know that it's a regular occurrence, talk to your partner about what will most help — and not help them — during an attack so you can be prepared. "If you or your partner suffer from panic attacks the best thing you can do is make a plan of action," relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW tells Bustle. "If it begins to happen, your partner should know that you'll spring into action with whatever their preferred soothing technique is."
Tell Them Not To Fight It
The number one thing to remember when someone is dealing with a panic attack is that fighting it doesn't help — if they start to panic about the panic attack, it can get worse. “A big piece of anxiety is the worry and apprehension about the anxiety or panic attack, which thus induces more anxiety and can increase the risk of having a panic attack," Fisher says. "So when it comes down to it, a person needs to learn how to accept and let go of that worry that they could have a panic attack, because it only puts them at more risk.” So instead, tell them that it's OK, that they can give into it, and it will be over soon.
Explain That It's Just Your Body Acting Up
For some people it can be helpful to remind them that they're not dying, that it's just a biological process playing up. “A panic attack is a spike in adrenaline activated by a perceived threat, which can be both a conscious and non-conscious dynamic on the part of the sufferer," Jonathan Berent, L.C.S.W., a psychotherapist, author, and anxiety expert, tells Bustle. "The key to controlling an anxiety attack in any environment is the paradox of accepting, versus fighting the adrenaline." So remind them that it's just a rush of adrenaline and that it's not something they need to be afraid of.
Don't Take It Personally
Keep in mind that when your partner is having a panic attack, they may be irritable. "One important thing to bear in mind is the people who are having panic attacks are often angry, tense, or scared," Hartsein says. "If they snap at you or can’t really talk to you be sure not to take it personally."
If your partner suffers from panic attacks, it can put a strain on both of you. Just remember to let them tell you what they need and stick to a plan — you can work through them, together. And never be afraid to get professional help.