How to Help a Family Member With Panic Attacks – 10 Tips

how to help a family member with panic attacksEvery day people search for information on how to help a family member with panic attacks. They see someone they love struggle with anxiety, something they may not understand, and this is painful to watch.

A family member’s anxiety recovery can be a long process and sometimes relationships can be strained from the ordeal. Learning how to help a family member with panic attacks can help ease some of the strain and pave the way to understanding and harmony as well.

I mentioned some basic tips in another post: Caring for Loved Ones With Anxiety Attacks, which hold true today. (Be sure to review that post if you haven’t read it already). But I thought it would be helpful to expand upon these tips. Panic attacks affect millions of people, and most of these sufferers have families and loved ones that want to help. So with that, here are 10 tips..

How to Help a Family Member With Panic Attacks

1. Acknowledge their pain. People with panic attacks suffer a lot and they suffer internally. They struggle to do things they used to do and often this causes a lot of sadness and frustration and even shame. Their lives can be very, very difficult. While you may not be able to understand what they feel, you can certainly have empathy & concern for their situation.

2. Support their efforts to get better. If they are seeking help through therapy or by going to a doctor, be encouraging. Be proactive if possible. For example, if your spouse is seeing a therapist or counselor, ask if you can sit in on a session. The therapist may be able to give you his or her insight, as well as let you know the goals of the therapy.

3. Do not belittle the issue. Advice to “Just snap out of it” or to “Calm down, don’t panic” may be well intended, but this only makes the anxious person feel worse. It also conveys a sense that you don’t think panic attacks are a big deal. Believe me, if it were possible for an anxious person to just snap out of panic attacks, they certainly would!

4 Listen without judging. Sometimes an anxious person just needs to vent. Let’s say you went to a recent family gathering and had a nice day. Maybe your wife struggled and had several panic attacks. She may want to share about it on the way home or a few days later. I know I have bent my husband’s ear on a number of occasions about how I’ve struggled through family reunions and get
togethers. He has been an angel by just being there and listening to me without judgment. (thanks, hon :)! )

5. Don’t lose yourself in their anxiety. An anxious person’s problems can often consume their world. But this doesn’t mean it should consume yours. Remember to take care of yourself and not get so involved in your loved one’s problems that it brings you down. Get adequate rest and nutrition and maintain your hobbies and other interests. You need to be ok whether your family member is having  panic attacks or not.

6 Don’t do for them what they can do for themselves. Please don’t fall into the trap of letting a family member with panic attacks coerce you into doing things they should be doing for themselves.
If your loved one had to leave the grocery store in the midst of a panic attack, for instance, it would be appropriate and kind to offer to go with her and get the job done.

This does NOT mean you should take over the grocery shopping forever. Part of recovering and self help for panic attacks means the anxious person has to practice and master doing the things that make her panic (kind of a weird paradox). So while this is tricky, you want to be kind and helpful, but without enabling, coddling, or encouraging anxious avoidance behavior.

7. Don’t take it personally. A family member that has panic attacks is not a reflection on you. Because your loved one is struggling does not mean you are doing a bad job as a spouse, partner, sibling, parent or friend. If love was all it took to make us better, many of us would have been cured long ago. Please remember you are not responsible or the cause of another person’s pain, no matter how close or how much you love someone.

8. Be patient. The process of recovery from panic attacks takes time and it involves progress and setbacks. The time it takes to recover varies greatly from person to person. It involves a lot of factors, including: how long they have been struggling, how much their everyday life has been affected by their anxiety, as well as how consistent their effort is to get better.

9. Be a pal. Life isn’t- and shouldn’t– be all about the suffering and the struggle with panic attacks. Get out with your family member and have some fun. Laughing it up, going for hikes or bike rides, or just being out in nature are wonderful ways to reduce stress and relieve tension.

On a side note: If your family member with panic attacks is a young school age child, these same tips apply. However, panic attacks in children require that the parent be very involved and proactive with the school and family doctor. Also with a child you will have to be an active participant in their recovery- such as making sure they get on the bus or into school safely every day, communicating with teachers, and doing exposure work with your child. (For more information, see: Panic Attacks in Children & Childhood Anxiety Disorder Treatment.)

10. Congratulate yourself. This last tip may be the most important. Believe me, just being there and being concerned for your loved one is one of the best ways to help a family member with panic attacks. Because so many anxious people suffer alone and in silence, showing that you care is tremendously encouraging and a great gift as well.

On behalf of your loved one, allow me to say thank you for caring and helping! 🙂

I wish you peace,

Jill G.

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