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How to comfort a panicer?

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First up panic attacks are not my problem. I have other different problems, not bigger or smaller, but different.

However someone dear to me is a first rate panic attack sufferer.

Sigh! I guess I haven't always done it right, but then I'm not sure what is Right, so help me here...

I've done the obvious, soothing, reasonable, reassurances.

I've done cuddles, and kisses.

I've done the less obvious, blatantly denying the possibility of things going wrong.

I've done probably the Totally wrong thing (except when it works)... losing my temper and told her not to be so damn stupid.

I've done the exhaustive contingency list with what we'll do in each eventually.

I've done the vacant yes yes dear, I'm sure it'll be alright...

I've tried the shield her and wrap her in cotton wool.

I've tried the make her face her fears so she finds for herself they are not real.

I've done all these, as you may guess, many many hundreds of times in thousands of variations.

a) It appears none of these approaches really work. Some have been, duh, in cooler hindsight, (as I say, except when they worked) pretty counter productive.

b) I realize her problems are real. Block your airways with a wet cloth or something to feel the panic she feels.

c) After all these years, sigh! I can't tell you what the best way, (or even if such a thing exists), to help her handle her fear is.

So here's idea number 10002... I'm asking you other panic attack sufferers what can a Significant Other best do to comfort you through an attack and help you get on and live your life?

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This may be overstating the obvious, but have you asked HER what you can do to help her when these come? Is she getting professional help?

Not too obvious, was a year or two before I thought of that.... :-) (Ok, so one of my problems is I'm socially stoopid) ...but eventually I did. She didn't know. I suspect that is part of her problem, as she seems incapable of that class of introspection.

Yes, she has had professional help on and off. That added an exciting period where the thing she was most afraid of was her therapist... sigh! Guess it made a nice change from ATM's.

Currently she has a supply of xanax... I worry a little bit (don't tell her :-)) about the addictive properties of that. So on the quiet I try what I can to calm her so she doesn't have to resort to xanax, but I don't fuss about it if she does.

Guess I'm a little frustrated... I want to help, and I'll keep helping, but this xkcd webcomic, having been in that situation once, reduced me to tears...


Especially the"mouse over" 'Title' text on the original which is "Oh, look, the 'make everything better' button was here behind the bookshelf all along."

Guess I'm still looking for the "Make everything better Button".

Seriously, the main thing I'm hoping for is a sense of "Which Way is Up", which things work for others and which don't.... as I never really know whether I'm not succeeding because I'm doing it wrong, or I'm am succeeding as best as can be expected, but the panic is getting through anyway. Or I'm stuffing up gloriously and am the cause of the anxiety.

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as I never really know whether I'm not succeeding because I'm doing it wrong, or I'm am succeeding as best as can be expected, but the panic is getting through anyway.
My guess would be the latter. We can't save the ones we love, however hard we might try. I suspect you know that. I know it, but it hasn't stopped me from trying like hell in the past, either.

Maybe you can work with your therapist to figure out how you can feel less like shit for not being able to help her.

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Well, sometimes instead of asking "How can I help?" it can be more helpful to give some sort of choice, or menu of selections.

e.g. "Is it better if I hold you, or if I don't touch you?"

I think everyone's kind of different. It sounds like you've tried almost everything. In this case, it seems like a therapist could really help, because even though she can't tell you what she needs you to do, a professional might be able to help her figure something out.

Of course, there's always the possibility that there's nothing you can do except wait it out. If she's still having panic attacks, and she's just relying on the xanax, it sounds like she could do with some less sporadic professional help. Just a thought.

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I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. The best way for you to help sometimes may be different each time, depending on the reason for the panic attack that day.

My husband knows I get very anxious and panicky when I have to go to a new place. So he helps me by driving me there the day before so I know exactly where I am going. We actually pull into the parking lot and we drive past the door I will enter so I know exactly where to go.

But honestly, a lot of times I have a panic attack and I really don't know exactly why. So then just knowing my husband is there for me helps.

So, if you know somethings that set her off, try to make it less of a panic time.

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First, I agree with unwell, tryp and s9 that asking your partner either before the attack or during what would help. Offer several options (sit and hold you, listen to music while we sit together, do you want to be alone (most don't), massage, hot shower, breathe into paper bag if hyperventilating.

When I'm having a panic attack I want a few things:

1. company (misery loves it, ya know)

2. reminder that it will go away

3. security (hand holding, hugging, etc.)

4. prn benzo

5. helpful reminders from hubby about things I've done in the past to feel better

6. hubby taking care of immediate things that need to be done

I would suggest a soft voice and no sudden moves, too.

Hope this helps.



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I have a lot of concern over the xanax use. I took it for about 5 months to help with panic while I got my SSRIs and SNRIs settled. I had a horrible time coming off of it and I was taking a very low dose towards the end (.25mg 1x per day). Upon stopping I had horrible vivid nightmares where I'd wake up screaming and I felt sick during the day. So to make a long story short, the xanax should not be a daily med (if she is taking it daily). There are much better meds that are not addictive that she can take daily to prevent the panic, or at least lessen it. She should see a psychiatrist for this, NOT a family doctor.

What I've found, after years of suffering panic on and off, and now professionally is that it requires the right medication regimen from a psychiatrist and a regular therapist who is well versed in cognitive behavioral therapy. A good therapist will teach her what to do when she is panicking and how to help prevent them.

I applaud your effort, but you are not her therapist. All you can do is provide support. Nothing you do will cure her of this. The one thing that helped me most when I felt like that was just to have someone by my side to be there and to distract me a bit. My husband has no clue how to help me. He is a great guy, but he is ready to hide when I am not doing well. My guess is that it's very unpleasant for you to see her in agony and you just want something to make you both feel better. Unfortunately there is no quick fix, but I was greatly helped by learning techniques to control the panic. I wish you the best of luck. ;)

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One more suggestion:

Structure, structure, structure, structure.

I can't say it enough. What I mean is, if she is feeling panicky, sitting around doing nothing is the worst thing. Having a structured day with plans and a timeline helps a lot. When I am busy or have plans to do things, I think less and therefore am feeling less panicked. As much as I hate going to work, it keeps me sane. I am not sure what her panic triggers are, but see if you can get her dressed and out of the house, even just for a short ride in the car.

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Wow I really just wanted to say how lucky she is to have you! I think other people have made some really good suggestions- especially finding a cognitive therapist that she is comfortable with. I guess the classic is carrying round a paper bag to regulate her breathing. If a person's breathing is right it is almost impossible for the PHYSICAL signs of a panic attack to take over. I imagine it would be helpful to run through a breathing exercise together. Talk her through one eg. take a deep breath in for 5 counts then breathe out for 10 counts. The key is to breathe out for longer than you breathe in.

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.. that asking your partner either before the attack or during what would help.

Thanks for so many helpful and kindly responses...

I'm trying them all.

Including encouraging her to get her self referred to the local anxiety disorders unit. (Apparently quite a waiting list.)

Alas, your responses and discovering the xanax box was remarkably vague about the recommended dose, got me even me worried on that front. (I think she has been running at about 50mg/day for a month or two)

Asking her what currently her main problem is, it seems to be continuous low grade fear anxiety / misery. Alas, given the current global economic mass idiocies... I can't truthfully tell her that her fears have absolutely no grounds... merely that I believe we can navigate them without too much pain...

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