How To Help A Partner Through An Anxiety Attack

How to help someone having an anxiety attack
I’ve been debating whether to post this, as it’s something that I think is really important to talk about, but is also not the easiest of topics to tackle due to the significant scope of anxiety. This is because people not only suffer in different ways, but also need support in different ways too. 

The post below is written by my partner Liam. It is unedited, and is his account of how he helps to support me when I am suffering from an anxiety attack. 

“I’ve been telling Cat for a while now that her blog needs more posts about me. I just didn’t realise I’d be the one writing them.

Gotta be honest – I was a bit taken aback when Cat first approached me with the idea of writing about how I help her when she’s suffering an anxiety attack. Me? Help? I was most surprised to hear that she considers what I do as actually helpful.

Now, it goes without saying that everyone is different, and the way Cat suffers will be intricately different to how anyone else may suffer from anxiety. It seems, from what I’ve observed at least, that anxiety has this awful ability to boot logic and reason out of the window whilst it preys on fears and subconscious thoughts.

For Cat – a young lady with a penchant for thinking through any situation from a million different perspectives simultaneously – anxiety hugs the worst of any conceivable potential outcome. Consequently, how I help Cat most likely won’t transfer to how others could potentially be helped. But you never know. I have watched every episode of Frasier.

All joking aside, before we go any further – and this really will become abundantly clear very quickly – I am not an expert on this topic. All I can do is talk from experience and provide examples and hope it all helps. It’s a sucky situation to find yourself in, and an even suckier situation for the sufferer to be dealing with, so above all else remain calm.

So, anxiety. That little attention-seeking monkey from a bad background who craves negative attention because hey at least it’s attention. It can strike without warning and sometimes with very little reason. The first thing to do is try and recognise the early signs.

Usually with Cat it will be a shortness of breath and a need to sit down immediately. Quietly I rapidly think back through the last few things I said to try and determine if I’ve recently done anything to make the situation worse. I’m cursed with speaking before thinking, and depending on if my mouth has behaved or not determines how I must respond.

If I’m in the all clear I sit with Cat and hold her hand. I can’t get any closer because trying to hug her while she’s struggling to breathe, well, you’re gonna have a bad time. So no getting up in her grill but she does need to know I’m here for her.

With a hand firmly held the next step is to try and get the breathing under control, which is much easier said than done. And to be honest, I have the easy job – I can’t even imagine how scary it must be to have your respiratory system actively rebelling against you. Sod that.

Not to make this all about Liam, but it is terrifying for me too. Seeing someone you care for fighting for breath is not a particularly pleasant experience – and it’s even worse when you don’t really know how to help. Between you and me, I’m utterly useless and the very best outcome I can hope for is to not make anything worse… which is usually easier said that done.

For Cat, I try to help her get her breathing in check by simply sitting with her and trying to talk calmly and slowly whilst also not letting any panic slip into my own voice. I keep the topic pretty simple, as this is not the time to give her a quick update on how awesome I’m doing at my PlayStation game or what Clark and Lex are bickering over in the latest episode of Smallville because seriously those two just need to get over themselves and have a smooch already.

Now is also not a good time for me to sing. Not now. Not ever. Shake It Off may be Cat’s favourite T-Swizzle song, but it is surprisingly not what she wants to hear during an attack.

“Breathe in,” I say. “Breathe out.” I lead by example and try to demonstrate how it’s done. “And in…” Try and hold it for a smidgen longer, but we’re not trying to set any records here. “Now out.” This is the part that takes the most time. Be patient. It doesn’t suck for you half as much as it sucks for them.

If it helps, try and picture it like this: they are a ship in the midst of a squall and you are the anchor stopping them from getting swept away. I know what you bloggers are like, so throw Ariel and Sebastian in that visual image and you’re golden.

After Cat has wrestled the breathing under control – that is when we can look into damage mitigation. Are there tears or snot? Be a dear and grab them a tissue. It might at this point be okay to put an arm around them – depending on how much tears and snot they have to deal with. Once Cat’s face is all clear and the panicking has subsided I know it’s safe to go in for a hug. Sometimes I mistime this and come away with a wet shoulder. Hope it’s just tears.

The next stage is where the most tact must be employed. For me, this is where I’m most likely to get it wrong. Delicately attempt to approach the topic of what triggered the attack. Calmly and rationally talking this through should hopefully help. If they’re not ready to talk about it just yet, that’s fine too.

By this point you should be through the worst of it. Good job! I like to give myself a little mental pat on the back.

Alternatively, if I have said something wrong (imagine that!) then there’s only one thing for it. If I’m at fault then I can’t really help get Cat through an attack since she most likely doesn’t want me anywhere near, so first thing first – make it right, dummy! A well-timed and sincere apology should do the trick. Then refer to previous steps. If you can’t make it right – what did you do?! – umm… maybe in future don’t be a dick.

And that is how I haphazardly help ‘more about Cat’ become less about anxiety.”

Comments

  1. Angela B

    This couldn't have come at a better time- I had my second attack yesterday! Both times it's happened to me, it's hit me out of the blue and all I want whilst I struggle to breathe and keep hold of some sort of calmness in the midst of it, is somewhere I can sit or lie down quietly and tell myself that it'll be over soon and to ride it out. It's horrible!

  2. Cat Fyson

    I'm sorry to hear that hun, I know how tough it can be. It hits me out of the blue sometimes too, although over time I have gotten a bit better at feeling the attack coming and attempting to calm myself down when no one else can help. There are certain support lines and even apps (I've been recommended Headspace) that are good distractions to help you calm down – I'd recommend giving those a go if you can. x

  3. Angela Entwistle

    Really good post – and well done for deciding to publish it. They're the worst thing – so debilitating at times. I used to suffer with them badly – far less now thankfully. Once I understood (which took a long time but I'm getting there) that they weren't going to harm me and (as you say) the anxiety feeds on fear they became less frequent. I also found playing games, something simple like "I went on a picnic and took…"so a memory game, helpful because it stopped me focussing on how rubbish I was feeling.
    Angela x

  4. Sally Loving Life

    Some great advice here. I'm glad you have someone who's there for you at what must be a scary time. Thanks for linking up to #LifeLovingLinkie I hope you come back and share some more articles. I've taken some good advice from this one and will have an idea of what to do should I be in Liam's situation.

  5. Cat Fyson

    Thanks hun. Sorry to hear you have suffered with them, but glad to hear it's not as bad any more. It is very difficult to cross that barrier of knowing they aren't going to harm you – I am getting better at suppressing them too. Not sure how well a memory game would work for me, but I've read another post in the past that recommended drinking a cp of tea and that wouldn't work for me either! x

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