Everything's fine one second, then out of nowhere your partner starts to shake and hyperventilate. They say their heart is racing and they're nauseated.
Your partner is likely experiencing a panic attack. You might even start to panic too, and your partner might feel bad for making you worry.
But hope is not lost: you can prepare in case it happens again!
What Is A Panic Attack?
A panic attack is a sudden, intense, and overwhelming feeling of fear without any actual danger present. They usually last about 10 minutes or less, but can be longer and multiple attacks can happen in a row.
A combination of symptoms indicates a panic attack, including:
Sense of impending doom, danger, or death
Feeling detached from reality
Rapid heart rate and chest pain
Chills or hot flashes
Dizziness or faintness
Numbness or tingling
Right Off The Bat
Watching someone experience a panic attack (let alone the person you love) is really hard!
You might be having some of the following thoughts:
Did I do something wrong?
How can I help?
Will I make it worse?
The most important thing to remember is that it is not your fault, or your partner's fault. They just need to know they have your support.
I'm here to help you through this!
Create a supportive environment that makes your partner comfortable. Speak in an even tone.
Ask your partner what they need
Would you like a blanket?
They might want water, a pillow, a hug, a tissue, or nothing at all! If they have trouble speaking, ask yes or no questions.
Breathe with your partner
In, 2, 3, 4 ... out, 2, 3, 4...
Count 4 to breathe in, and 4 to breathe out. Repeat as many times as needed - it will feel good for both of you!
Do a grounding exercise
Can you name 5 things you can see right now?
Ask your partner to sit with both feet on the floor or lay down and list:
5 things they see
4 things they feel
3 things they hear
2 things they smell
1 thing they taste
This is an effective distraction that focuses attention on concrete things.
Don't take it personally
Fine, I won't help you then!
Your partner is experiencing the world differently. If they are irritable with you, just shake it off and ask what they need.
Don't force your partner to do anything
You have to drink water!
Your partner is still the one who knows their body best. If they say no to a sip of water, let them be the final judge.
Don't blame your partner for making you feel bad
Ugh, I guess I can't do anything right!
They aren't having a panic attack on purpose, and will likely worry that it will happen again. They don't need external pressure. If you need to discuss how it made you feel, do it in a non-judgmental way when you are both feeling well.
Make A Game Plan
This is Marcel. He experiences panic attacks from time to time due to a panic disorder.
This is Hugo, Marcel's partner. When he and Marcel are together and an attack happens, they have a plan.
Marcel does not like to be touched during a panic attack so Hugo gives him space.
Marcel's typical symptoms are shaking, hyperventilating, and sweating so Hugo encourages him to sit and brings him water and a towel.
Marcel responds well to grounding techniques, so Hugo asks him to list things he sees around the room.
Marcel appreciates distractions, so Hugo tells him about his day.
Your partner starts to complain of chills, a racing heart, and a feeling of doom. You identify that they are having a panic attack. What's the best approach?
The odd attack can happen to anyone, but if you notice a pattern of panic attacks it's time to seek professional help. There might be something bigger going on.
Encourage your partner to make an appointment with their doctor and/or therapist to get started.
Look up the information, dial the number, and drive them to the appointment if they need help!
Panic attacks can happen to anyone, anytime, but can definitely be managed.
When you're both feeling well: