6 Ways To Help Your Partner When They're Having A Panic Attack

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How To Help Your Partner If They're Having A Panic Attack
Health And Wellness

Panic attacks are terrifying to experience and just as scary to witness, especially if the person going through the attack is someone you care for.

Regardless of whether you’ve experienced one yourself, knowing how to help someone during a panic attack can be difficult.

You want to help but you don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. What can you do?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.”

Many people will have one or two of these attacks in their lifetime, while others suffer from recurrent panic attacks. These attacks are normal and are nothing for you or your partner to be fearful of, but it does help to be prepared.

If your partner experiences regular panic attacks, it helps both of you to know how to react. Arming yourself with knowledge is the best way you can support your partner and guide them through their feelings of panic. 

Here's how to help your partner if they're having a panic attack, in 6 steps.

RELATED: What Is Panic Disorder? 5 Ways To Train Your Brain To Stop Panic Attacks Before They Start

1. Learn the signs of a panic attack.

If you’re not someone who suffers from panic attacks, you may not understand or recognize when your partner is having one.

Panic attacks commonly begin with feelings of dread or fear, shortness of breath, a pounding heart, dizziness or shaking, and choking feelings. These signs are not the same for everyone, so it helps to ask your partner what they typically experience during a panic attack.

It’s also important that your partner's panic attacks don’t catch you off-guard. 

Once you familiarize yourself with their behaviors, it becomes easier to remain calm in situations in which your partner is experiencing panic. It may even help you (and them) stop a panic attack in its tracks before it takes hold. 

2. Have a plan of action.

Knowing what to do and how to help in advance is the best way you can support your partner once a panic attack happens.

Have an open discussion with your partner in which both of you share what helps (and what doesn’t) when each of you is feeling anxious or panicking. It’s also important to discuss potential triggers so you know what might instigate a panic attack.

Some people react badly to crowds, small spaces, or particular conversation topics. However, a lot of people don’t know why exactly they have panic attacks. So, understand that your partner may not want to discuss their triggers. 

3. Remain calm.

Panic disorder affects around 6 million adults in the US. Understanding that panic attacks are normal and nothing to fear will help you assist someone experiencing one.

There’s no need for both of you to be freaking out! You can’t help anyone if you’re also panicking, so check in with yourself and stay calm.

Speak to your partner in a soothing tone. Let them know that they are experiencing a panic attack and it will pass.

Labeling panic and surrendering to the process prevents people from building more uncertainty and fear. Fighting a panic attack only heightens the fight or flight instincts that trigger panic attacks in the first place. 

RELATED: I'm Writing This During A Panic Attack So You Know You're Not Alone

4. Put action behind your words.

Saying the right thing is important, but doing the right thing is even more helpful when someone is experiencing panic or anxiety.

Ask your partner what they need. They may want to sit or move locations. Some people want to be held while others need space.

Focusing on their needs will distract them from their panic and help them order their thoughts. Deep breathing is also a great way to ease feelings of panic.

If your partner is having a panic attack, both of you should place a hand on your own chest and breathe deeply, focusing on the rise and fall of your ribcage. This is a silent exercise that will give your partner time to recentre themselves. As panic subsides, it may help to engage in some light, distracting conversation.

Your words should have meaningful action when you’re trying to talk someone out of a panic attack. Remember, the words “Stay calm” almost never help someone stay calm.

RELATED: 20 Quotes That Describe What It's Like To Have A Panic Attack

5. Be understanding and show compassion.

Panic attacks can sometimes be a source of shame or embarrassment for people who suffer from them. And, yes, it can be frustrating when your partner’s anxiety ruins a night in or attracts attention in public.

But making someone feel bad for a situation they can’t control won’t help you or them.

Panic attacks are born out of fear, so if your partner snaps at you or can’t really talk, don’t take it personally. They might just be experiencing personal anger or frustration and taking it out on you.

Understand that your partner might be as bewildered by their anxiety as you are. It’s more beneficial to be compassionate and empathetic than it is to try and force your way to the root of their problems.

Let them know that their feelings are legitimate and valid. 

6. Know when to get help.

If your partner is prone to panic attacks, don’t rush to call for assistance because this could make the situation feel more stressful for them.

It’s easy to feel useless when supporting someone through a panic attack, especially because there’s no quick fix. Even though sticking around and waiting for the panic attack to pass might not seem like much to you, it will mean a lot to your partner.

That being said, you may need to reach out for emergency help if they have a pain that feels like squeezing in their chest and moving to their arms and shoulder, or if panic attack symptoms persist for longer than 20 minutes with no improvement. 

RELATED: What You Should (& Should Not) Do When Someone You Love Is Having A Panic Attack

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Alice Kelly is a writer with a passion for lifestyle, entertainment, and trending topics.