If Your Loved One Has Severe Panic Attacks, Here Are 6 Ways You Can Help

A woman having a panic attack in public - top tips for overcoming panic attacks

We all experience feelings of anxiety and even panic at certain times in our lives. It’s a natural response to situations that pose a threat or put us in danger. Sometimes, however, people can feel stressed and anxious even when there is no danger present. The level of anxiety they feel might be mild, moderate or severe. When a person is experiencing severe anxiety, they might have a panic attack.

What is a panic attack?

Panic attacks are episodes of intense fear, as though something terrible is happening right now. Anxiety, in comparison, is more like a fear of what might happen.When someone has a panic attack, they suffer an intense rush of mental and physical symptoms. These can include:

  • A racing heart
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling lightheaded, dizzy or faint
  • Dizziness and sweating
  • Feeling sick or needing the toilet
  • Sweating, chills, or hot flushes
  • Feeling like they are choking
  • Shortness of breath
  • A dry mouth

And many other symptoms. Sometimes people having a panic attack think they will die. Most panic attacks last between 5 and 20 minutes but can last much longer.

Are panic attacks dangerous?

You can think of panic attacks as being like a terrifying false alarm. Like a fire alarm going off in a hotel, but there is no fire. While panic attacks they can be petrifying, they’re not dangerous: no one has died from a panic attack. Many symptoms of panic attacks are like those of more severe conditions, such as heart attacks. It’s easy, therefore, to see why panic attacks feel so dangerous. The wonderful news is that panic attacks are treatable. It takes work, but you can overcome them.

What’s it like having a panic disorder?

Having a panic disorder is like living a life that’s temporarily out of your control. Some people have panic attacks once or twice a month, others several times a week, and some have one panic attack, then never have another. Often, though, once someone has had a panic attack, they can live in fear of having another.

How can panic attacks impact a relationship?

Having a partner with panic disorder can be a significant challenge, and it will affect your relationship. Both of you might have to make some substantial adjustments.

Think about the usual rough patches that all couples experience. Well, they can be a little rougher with panic attacks thrown into the equation.

However, like any hardship, this situation can offer you both a significant opportunity to grow, too. Your shared struggle can help to strengthen your relationship and build trust between you. You might also learn fresh ways to communicate and connect. Thus, the path toward healing may bring you closer together than ever. 

6 Ways You Can Help a Loved One Who Has Severe Panic Attacks

1. Reassure your loved one

If fear controls their life, they will need reassurance. Let your partner know that you’re not blaming them for their illness. Tell them you still love them and will work together to find healing. It will give them one less thing to fear.

2. Educate yourself about panic disorders

The symptoms of panic attack look an awful lot like many physical issues—including a heart attack. Do the work to know what’s going on and why. Share those lessons with your loved one. Act on them. 

3. Don’t enable

There’s a fine line between support and enabling. Be there when necessary but make sure your partner is doing their part. Therapy—for both of you—can be very helpful for this step.

4. Practice tolerance and forgiveness

In case you haven’t already noticed, dealing with your loved one’s disorder can be difficult. Sometimes you may get angry or frustrated. But it is your responsibility to rise above it. Your partner does not deserve resentment. They deserve understanding and forgiveness. Take breaks when necessary (see #6).

5. Get others involved in the process

Educate and actively include friends, coworkers, and family members. Let them know what’s happening and find out what they can do to help. Make it a team effort!

6. Take care of yourself, no matter what

You must be at your best to do what you need to do and provide practical and emotional support. Therefore, you need to practice good self-care (exercise, sleep, eating habits, etc.). Make time to live your own life, finding solitude, expressing your feelings to your partner, seeking a support system, and getting professional help, if needed.

Always remember, panic attacks can be treated. Your partner can learn to live their life free of them; but it may be a lengthy journey. It might be helpful to encourage your partner to begin therapy as soon as possible. Also, couples counselling might empower you both to win this battle together.

Taking the next step

Overcoming panic disorder is often a lengthy journey. But, like all journeys, you can only take one step at a time. We hope that the 6 tips we have offered will help you take the next few steps together. If you feel that you would like some support, whether it’s as a couple,  or for either of you individually, please reach out. You can call us on 0151 329 3637 or email enquiries@counselling-matters.org.uk. Alternatively, you could fill out our online referral form and we will get back to you. Whichever way you prefer to get in touch, we look forward to hearing from you.



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