Having a partner who suffers from an anxiety disorder can be challenging, especially if you yourself have never suffered from one. It may be difficult for you to understand her mindset or know what to do when she has an anxiety attack. While there are plenty of things you SHOULDN’T say to someone has anxiety, there are also many things you can do to help ease her attack.
- Speak assertively and calmly. Hearing a familiar voice speak clearly and confidently may help her to stop from panicking.
- Use words and actions to help validate her feelings. Let her know that she is loved and it’s okay that she’s upset and that her anxiety attack will pass.
- Know the places that help her feel more calm. Open spaces and places where you are able to see the horizon (i.e. a lakefront or flower field) sometimes help people who suffer from claustrophobia and anxiety. For others, just being home in a familiar and safe setting helps. Know what places makes your partner feel relaxed.
- Know her triggers. If you know that your partner’s anxiety worsens when she is around crowds, it’s helpful in knowing that she may need some extra care and consideration during your work Christmas party.
- Know what medications she takes. If your partner takes anxiety medication, know what she takes and how much. If she’s having an anxiety attack, it may be a big help for her you to be able to grab some water and her medication.
- Let her know you’re not in a hurry. The feeling of being rushed or thought of disappointing the people she cares about can make her anxiety paralyzing. Unless there’s a dinosaur chasing you both and it’s a life or death situation, allowing your partner a few minutes to compose herself will be helpful to all involved.
- Know some calming breathing techniques. A common breathing exercise to help coach your partner with involves breathing in through your nose for 5 seconds, holding it there for a few seconds more, and then letting it out slowly through your mouth (over about 7 seconds.) Many have found that this animated photo to be a helpful tool to accompany this technique. While the shapes expand (much like your diaphragm), you breathe in. When the shapes fold inward, you release your breath.
- If she needs to leave, let her. Sometimes she may need to step away or be alone or leave a gathering. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to be with you or that she’s being selfish; she may just need some time to catch her breath and get herself together.
- Know that she still loves you and wants to be with you. One day you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of an anxiety attack and she will be angry, sad, or any combination of the three. Do not forget that anxiety is a battle she is fighting every day in her head. Sometimes that battle escapes and you’re her partner fighting against that dark place.