When your partner talks about it, they use words like “dread,” “suffocating,” or “escape.”

And you try to imagine how a normal room full of people can inspire such fear. Or how nothing at all can all of a sudden become a moment fraught with tension and panic.

It’s clear that the person you love is suffering from something internal, private and terrifying when the panic hits. It’s just frustrating not to be able to help.

You want to offer the magic words or special touch that will ease away the surges of disruptive panic. You want the ‘normal’ fight-or-flight sensations that keep you both safe to be your only dealings with anxiety.

But that’s not the way it is.

You love your partner. You want to compassionately cope and comfort them. What can you do?

First, recognize that panic attacks do make your partner feel miserable. They feel unbearable and interminable…but not for long. In truth, panic attacks are a deceptive wash of sensations. You needn’t worry that your partner is in danger. You need only find ways to help them ride the emotional wave and remain a solid support.

Let’s look at several ways to do so:

1. Remain aware of your own responses

Essentially, it’s important to stay cool and collected. When panic overcomes your partner, they need you to stay kind, calm and collected. Panic feels catastrophic to them. You know, however, that their response is blown out of proportion.

Your role is to comfort and soothe. Not to agree with the panicked perception or try to fix anything. Do your best to be there for your partner. Patiently be there, without getting sucked into making everything okay.

2. Educate Yourself

Learn more about the psychosomatic symptoms your partner is experiencing. Sit in on a support group or check out online forums to help you empathize and gain more clarity about what’s happening to your partner. Gather ideas about taking care of you and your relationship. Find out what it takes to maintain your connection despite the stresses of recurring panic.

3. Be a person your partner can count on to “get it.”

Your partner doesn’t need a critic or admonishment. It may be a relief to you both to simply allow yourselves to be understanding without a lot of explanation, apology, or blame. Be there for him or her. Take the opportunity to make your relationship a safe place where you both belong, warts and all.

Avoid diminishing or ignoring your partner’s challenges. Be a great listener and student of his or her emotions.

4. Keep a sharp eye out for resentment or contempt.

Undoubtedly, panic is intrusive. If you let it, it can eclipse your relationship. Try to maintain perspective. Your partner is not the problem. Panic is the challenge to navigate. You both will need to keep working against judgement, resentment, defensiveness and disconnection. Take time on your own to recharge when you need to.

Take time, too, to do more than anticipate and manage the panic attacks. Your relationship will be stronger if you actively practice gratitude, celebrate small victories, and do your best to see each other as whole people with a challenge to face together.

5. Establish some lifestyle flexibility, open communication and relief valves

Your partner’s world can be upended unexpectedly at an event or in social situations. As you do life together, be flexible. Remain open-minded to shifting gears, but don’t live life controlled by the panic. Just try to keep in mind that your partner’s overactive mind requires sensitivity, compromise, and mutually thoughtful communication and consideration.

6. Offer fewer “shoulds”. Support seeking more encouraging shoulders to lean on.

Because you know your partner well, it may be easy to start directing his or her recovery or treatment with techniques they should try, therapists they should call and supplements they should take. Ease up a bit.

The best encouragement you can offer is that of professional treatment. Gently assure them that you want to see them relieved of fear and worry. Offer to be by their side as they seek help. This allows you the freedom to be an encourager instead of a nag locked in a test of wills. Do talk about visiting a therapist and trying treatment. The good news is that panic can be resolved in a relatively short period of time and without medication. Offer your help to make sure helpful recommendations are followed. Consider counseling or a support group for yourself as well. Don’t take it personally when your partner balks. Simply let him or her know how much you admire his or her efforts without drawing undue attention to the problem and making panic worse or more prevalent.

All told, be intentional about the support you offer your mate. Also, be as carefully intentional about the support you secure for yourself. Reach out for help individually and as a couple. Try to remain present and mindful of who you are as a team. Panic is a problem you can cope with and successfully grow through together.

Take the first step…

There are many ways to treat panic and anxiety these days that do not involve medication or years of therapy. You can truly get to a point where your panic is a thing of the past.

If you’re ready to take a step toward dealing with your anxiety, I would like to help. Please contact me by phone or by email so that we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Linda K. Laffey, MFT

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