© 2017 The Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland, LLP.

Panic Disorder & Agoraphobia: 

Suggestions For Loved Ones Who Want To Help

Common Reactions of Loved Ones:

  • Bewildered "How can this be 'only' anxiety?" "This makes absolutely no sense!"

  • Fearful "What if she/he really is dying or going crazy?" "What if the doctors really have missed something?"

  • Angry "Will she/he ever be well again?" "This is not the person I married!"

  • Helpless "I don't know how to be of any help!" "Nothing I say or do is right!"

  • Resentful "What about my needs, feelings and anxieties?" "She/he is exaggerating--She/he is trying to control me!"

  • Trapped "I can't leave when she/he is so ill." "She/he smothers me--I have no freedom."

  • Depressed "We never have any fun any more." "We are never really happy."

  • Guilty "Is it my fault that she/he got like this?" "Is there something seriously wrong with our relationship?"

  • Worried "Will she/he want to leave me after recovery?" "Will our children turn out like this?"

  • Lonely "I can't burden her/him with my feelings." "I can't tell others what we've been through."

Guidelines for loved ones who want to help:

Strive Not to Say:

 

"Relax! Calm down!" "Control yourself!" "Think of something else!" "Do something to distract yourself." "Don't be anxious!" "Don't be a coward!" "You can fight this!" "Let's see if you can do this yet. (test) "Don't be ridiculous!" "You're just being a hypochondriac!" "Are you okay?" (checking) "You have to stay!" "It's no big deal to get anxious-- I get anxious, too!" "Don't embarrass me!" "When are you going to _____?" "What are you going to do next?" "Aren't you sick of living this way?"

Remember to Say:

 

"You can do it no matter how you feel." "Slow down and think of your options." "Tell me what you need now." "Face the fear and it will disappear." "Go ahead and have the panic now-- I'm here for you." "Stay in the here-and-now." "Don't anticipate." "Don't add the second fear." "It's not the place, it's the anxious thought." "I know it feels dangerous but it is not dangerous." "Don't fight it." "Don't what-if." "Remember your coping skills." "Breathe low and slow." "I'm proud of you." "You're courageous."

  • Don't make assumptions what she/he needs--ask!

  • Be predictable.

  • Let her/him set the pace for recovery.

  • Strive to find something positive in every effort.

  • Don't enable avoidance--negotiate one step forward.

  • Don't sacrifice your own life and build resentments.

  • Don't panic when she/he is having panic.

  • It's okay to be anxious yourself and to say so.

  • Be patient and accepting, but don't settle.

  • Reassurance has its limits.

  • Setbacks are an integral part of recovery.

  • Although she/he may feel miserable during a setback, people don't go "back to square one."

  • Nothing is learned about coping if there is no anxiety; but, little can be learned when anxiety overwhelms. Practice should aim for moderate levels of anxiety.

  • Remember that she/he is usually giving a best effort: She/he is trying to survive, not control. She/he is not resisting recovery--she/he is afraid. She/he is not being selfish--she is self-focused. She/he is much angrier at herself/himself than at you.

  • New assertiveness may offend you or mix up the status quo. Distinguish between support and co-dependency. Take care of your own "stuff."

  • Seek counseling for yourself or for you and your partner jointly if needed.

  • Participate and support when asked, but don't get involved unless wanted.

  • Try to avoid motivating with guilt.

  • Read about panic disorder to further your understanding.

  • Remember that your partner is the authority on what she/he feels.

 

SW