When Your Partner Has Anxiety: A Meltdown Guide

TW: I swear a lot in this article. 

What do you do when your partner is having a panic attack or a depressive episode?

It can be really scary and super frustrating watching someone you love go through an episode, especially if you don’t know how to be helpful.

This Meltdown Guide was created to help those of you who are in love with people who struggle with anxiety and depression to feel like you can be helpful when your partner seems to be spiraling.

Mental illness can be rough on any relationship, and it is truly no one’s fault. You do not have a responsibility to be super human and protect your partner from every little thing, including themselves. And it’s not your partner’s fault that they are struggling.

This guide was created to inspire those of you with anxiety and depression to communicate with your partner about what you need when you are spiraling, while you are in a better place.

Please take, leave, amend, and rip this list off to create a guide of what you think might work for you. Adapt it over time, and make sure to talk about it with your partner and make it available to them when needed.

So, your partner is having a meltdown. Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. Stick to the following guide, and they will calm their shit in no time. The rewards will be tremendous, and you will be rolling in the perks that come with a grateful and calm partner if you just follow these simple steps to helping them keep their fucking cool.

Understanding Anxiety: A Metaphor

It is important to understand that because of the neurological connections in your partner’s brain, that have been fired consistently, maybe for their entire life, your partner may respond to stress by exhibiting symptoms of PTSD.

A Metaphor:

Think of this reaction as akin to hiding in a bomb shelter: They can’t live in there forever but it is safe. It is protection from a real or imagined threat or stressor on the outside. It allows one to periodically peer out through the periscope, assess the situation and deal with it in pieces. It also makes it very hard to make real decisions or take real actions.

In these situations, think of your relationship as the ground that the bomb shelter is built in and surrounded by. If you fall away or retreat, it often will make your partner feel exposed or threatened. The threat has nothing at all to do with the surrounding earth, but the emotions and actions that are a reaction to the actual threat, are played out within the earth.

Under no circumstances are you, the stable bedrock, responsible or accountable for the stress occurring above. You are an innocent third party.

If you assume responsibility, then you embody the threat. It is like the earth that surrounds the bomb shelter falling inward and crushing the bomb shelter. Everybody dies. That’s no good.

Reacting To A Partner In Crisis

Depression, anxiety, and panic attacks should be treated with the same mindset as someone who has just been launched off their bike into a gravel pit. It hurts, and it’s gross and can be a bit frightening, but it will pass, wounds will heal, and it’s not a big deal, except for right when it is happening.

Getting upset about it does not make it go away. It has already happened, and now it is time to take care of business. Get your partner to a safe space, and start wiping up the blood and picking out the gravel.

Non-proximity Dependant Tips to Support Your Partner With Anxiety

No matter whether you are with your partner or not at the moment of crisis, these five tips will help get you both through it.

  1. DO remain calm. You are a fucking champion. This skill and these experiences will help you in every relationship, intimate or otherwise, that you will ever have, for the rest of your life.
  2. Don’t ask them to make decisions. They may be incapable of making any at all. Whether it is deciding if they want to go to bed, what they want for dinner, or if they want a glass of water, assume all decision-making faculties have been thrown out the window.
  3. DO take control. This can mean telling them to brush her teeth, put on pajamas, take a shower, eat their dinner, etc. Taking off the pressure of having to make decisions and having the foresight to complete simple tasks like plugging in their phone is HUGE.
  4. Don’t assume they can ask for what they need in that moment. Also, don’t assume you have to be a mind reader. You don’t, just try your best. You know your partner.
  5. DO try the proximal and non-proximal suggestions below if you are unsure of your next step.

Proximal Suggestions for a Partner in Crisis

  1. Sensations

    Disclaimer: Always ask for consent when touching a person who is having a panic attack. They may not be able to answer fully, but be aware of their body language and the subtle cues that they don’t like what you are doing, or that touching them is making it worse.

    • When touching, I find that skin to skin is best, face to face. Alternate between whole-body holding/constricting and light back circles with head petting.
    • Blankets in a quiet, warm, and relatively low-lit atmosphere can be soothing.
    • Platonic-ish kissing is good but mostly appreciated on the forehead, head, and upper back and upper arms. Neck kissing is too sensitive and sticking your tongue in their mouth will be overwhelming and inappropriate.
    • Keep your voice low, either quiet or whispering.
    • Extra special holding technique: Cradling in any form is exceptional; particularly if it allows the one doing the cradling the ability to whisper, rock back and forth in some way, and allows for gentle stroking or petting of the non-sexual variety. Think holding a baby.
  2. Activities
    • Distractions can be good once the initial episode is over and it is time to recover. Music may be too emotionally triggering. I find cartoons are best.
    • Read to them, anything.
    • Bath or shower.
    • Do not fucking fall asleep. They will hate you forever.
    • Tell them about your day, or a mundane topic. Dumb facts about penguins or elephants work here. Do not expect a high level of participation but they are listening, and they do care. This is super helpful and can be very soothing.
  3. Nourishment
    • Start with a glass of water, and if that is good, move to warm beverages – NOT alcoholic, or super creamy or sugary.
    • Encouraging words, “It’s okay, it’s okay.”
    • Breathing together.
    • Make sure they have eaten in the last 3-5 hours.

When You Can’t Be There

You can’t always be there when the shit hits the fan. That is not your fault nor is it your responsibility to babysit your partner. When you can’t be there, here are some great tips to get you and your partner through it.

  1. Sensations
    • Hearing your voice can be soothing. If they don’t answer the phone, leave a message. If you don’t know what to say or talk about, just talk about yourself or your day.
    • Send a photo of wherever you are, or whatever you are doing. This relays that you have stopped to take a picture to send it to them because you are thinking about them. You can also send a picture of yourself making stupid faces, or take a picture of a horrible drawing of a whale you just did. Anything that brings them back into the moment with you. You get the idea.
    • Affirmative statements.
  2. Activities
    • Be available. You’re in a relationship, and if you were going through stuff, you know they would be there for you. If you don’t want to make yourself available, you probably shouldn’t be in this relationship. Obviously, if you are at work, this is an exception, but don’t decide it’s not your concern. You are partners so act like it.
    • Make a plan. Don’t dwell too much on what is happening but tell them what is going to happen NEXT. Don’t ask for help making the decisions. Take the initiative to make the decisions about what is going to happen with the rest of their day. This will give them something to look forward to and is extremely helpful. Knowing that they will be taken care of is almost as good as being hugged right at the moment.

Go forth!

Now you know the basic steps to help the prettiest or handsomest, sweetest and loveliest person in your world handle their shit.

This list is in no way exhaustive, but it is a really healthy start. Every person is different, and what they need in the moment is going to vary – so talk about it, gosh darn it.

Remember that everything you do is deeply appreciated and it is strengthening your bond in ways nothing else could. You are also learning a lot about nurturing and being a better friend and lover. It’s not pretty, but it’s important. 

Do you want to support those struggling with mental illness get the care they need, while supporting Mental Health Research? I am teaming up with the Canadian Association of Mental Health and Addiction to raise money for their campaign, #OneBraveNight! Click here to find out more and donate. 

If you liked this, please think about subscribing to my newsletter so you will be the first to know about posts like this. Also, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.  

Disclaimer: 

If it wasn’t already super obvious, I’m not a mental health care professional.

 I have an entire team of healthcare professionals that help me.  That’s right,  a team. Like so many healthcare professionals. The insight for this Meltdown Guide only came after working with them and on myself. This is not medical advice. I thought that was pretty obvious. If you experience anxiety or depression, please seek help from a professional you trust (doctor, counselor, veterinarian, whatever). It is the most important thing you can do for yourself.

 

 

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188 thoughts on “When Your Partner Has Anxiety: A Meltdown Guide

  1. I was just Looking up what to do for anxiety attack or as I call it major meltdown!
    I am so glad I found this I’m at my roughest ! See neurologist more often now . I’ve started a journal now but sometimes it makes it worse. I have started meditation and calm time it’s a nice app.
    Very interesting comments and I love the words that everyone is thinking but never threw them out:)

    Like

  2. “Be available. You’re in a relationship, and if you were going through stuff, you know they would be there for you.”

    How I wish that was true. While I am always there to catch my wife when she falls, she is in a perpetual state of crisis, whether acute or small background noise. When I am going through stuff, it exacerbates the situation. So I am left to deal with it on my own in silence. This is the single hardest thing for me.

    Like

  3. I just read this to my husband, he’s actually been doing all of the above for the entire time I’ve known him. He’s the only guy that ever has, which is why he’s my husbsnd! I’m going to spread this far and wide because people need to hear this whether they are going through it or not or don’t know someone who is. I’m very grateful you put this out there!

    Like

  4. I am always so glad I read these types of blogs but I am struck at how I as the non-anxious one is supposed to care for them but where do I get support? Rarely can you find support groups for people living with people who are depressed and anxious. So when I am able to take care of myself who is supporting me?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dee,

      I second that. These articles are great refreshers after I’ve been through an emotional storm. I too often wonder where my strength must come from as the less anxious one.

      Not sure if you’re a man or woman, but nevertheless I’m here for you pal!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Your partner, and the people you choose to include in your life. To me that means a type of therapy . Join a gym, fight for a cause, go out with friends. To me communication is everything. If your struggling than maybe you too are dealing with depression and anxiety. Life is complicated especially when lost or feelings and emotions take control. I have been dealing with it as long as I can remember. But the last 3 months have swept me from my feet. Without my partner in my corner I don’t know where I would be at physically and emotionally. But I also recognize my partner struggling and it’s articles like this that give power to those who need it, allows for growth if applicable to your own needs and who knows even yourself. Tell you what if nothing else is working. Go to a homeless shelter and donate your time or give change to those humans standing in the cold with a cardboard signs, visit an A A meeting even if your not an addict to drugs or alcohol I guarantee your addicted to something like approval or love or work. We all battle with it and we all have needs, wants, desires that make us who we are. I have lived with this my whole life and am lost most of the time. My partner shared this with me. I know she read this on her lunch and I know she struggling being here for me and her self. This article is filled with things you can apply to your own well being and grow. The light is always at its brightest at the darkest times, be the light and others will follow. I don’t know if that helps at all I’m fucking crazy.

      Like

  5. I rarely comment on these kinds of articles that pop up in my Facebook feed but this time I’m making an exception.

    Thank you so much for this article.

    I myself suffer from rather frequent anxiety attacks/panic attacks, and my wife has been doing almost all of these things for me without any knowledge of the “right” way to treat me; just acting out of pure instinct and love for me. It’s very reassuring both for her and me to read this and see that yes, she is doing what’s best, and I am being taken care of when I’m at my most vulnerable. I frequently don’t even remember most of my attacks, so I talk to my wife when I wake up again and discuss what happened, and… well. I don’t know where the hell I’m going with this, but I want to thank you for writing such a spot on article about a topic I care deeply about.

    Like

      1. If you’re a high school student who experiences frequent anxiety or depression, you may need to have a co versatile with your principle and teachers so that you can all set up a system that best supports you. The system can be as small as allowing you to “use the bathroom” more frequently than other students and just step outside, or go to quiet space to calm down, or even have a specific teacher/ counselor who you can hang out and do your work with during the school day. Legally, as a student, your school will have to make appropriate accommodations, so dont Be afraid to ask. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for sharing. I lost my first born and only son 11/24/13. I had a nervous breakdown. I now suffer from depression, anxiety with exetreme panic attacks, ptsd and I’ve always had OCD. My husband of 18 years just retired from the army due to not being able to deploy anymore be at cause my psychiatrist wrote a letter saying that I could not be alone that there was a very high chance of me taking my life. He was at 20 years so he dropped his retirement packet and ugly walked straight into a management job at Amazon. The army was very supportive when it happened he was always able to come home if I was having a bad day. On the anniversary he was always off the day before the day of and the day after I’ve come to find out that Amazon does not care for the first time in three years I had this been the third year anniversary alone and have been spiraling out of control since. My has been is always been my rock my reason to live I say that my soul died with my son but my heart beats for my husband and my daughter. Every day I can’t wait until bedtime because that is one day closer to death. I have been having a major bipolar issue and he doesn’t know for the first time how to help me. He read this and understand more than he ever has I truly can’t thank you enough for sharing. On December 10 of this year I had a stress induced seizure and was found laying in my garage on the floor we do not know how long I was there there was a huge puddle of blood my hair with that was saturated with blood and I had busted my head open needless to say with the hospital stay. I cannot seem to bring myself out of this it has been longer than it has ever been I also suffer from agoraphobia now I never leave my house without my husband I feel suffocated and I feel like I’m losing my mind I can’t go ask for help inpatient because we have eight dogs that nobody could take care of while my husband is at work. Yes I want to be with my son every day but I can’t harm myself because I cannot leave this pain with my husband and my daughter that I suffer every day.

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    1. Sorry for all the spelling errors, I was talking text and can’t edit it. Hope you can figure out the mistakes and understand what it’s suppose to say.

      Like

      1. Shawna, there is literally no words to express my sorrow and sympathy for you. You are brave for even writing what you did. Since you feel the most comfortable at home, have you ever tried meditation? It’s simply a state of thoughtless awareness. I’m sure that beautiful mind of yours never stops racing and peace seems like the most distant thing in the world. But, if you’re up for it, I would say to research it a bit and try it out everyday. Let it be your safe place. Let it be the place where you communicate and connect with your son. I’m not an expert on the topic by any means but I know it has tremendously helped my depression in ways that I will never be able to explain. Love is within you because of your son. You are never without him. Physical ties are temporary, spiritual ties are eternal. He is in you, always. Sending all my love and peace to your aching soul 💞

        Like

    2. Shawna, my heart went out to you when reading your comment. “Every day I can’t wait until bedtime because that is one day closer to death.” rang so loud and familiar to me.

      You are such a brave soul, even if you feel fragile, you are brave and strong.

      Can I please make a suggestion? Please, please look into the herbal supplement kratom, I have CPTSD, depression with bi-polar swings & anxiety on top of chronic pain. I was basically house-bound and very close to agoraphobic with my anxiety, for the first time I feel consistently “normal” and capable of being mobile and social without burning out very quickly or needing to rest for days afterwards.

      Kratom has given me my life back, and for the first time in 23 years I have balanced regulated moods, a clear sharp mind, restful sleep, and freedom from pain. I would recommend it for anyone struggling with intense depression & anxiety. You do need to take it mindfully and with a structure (it has very mild addictive tendencies, like coffee basically – so as with anything effective you do need to use thoughtfully to avoid issues), but it is non toxic, doesn’t have terrible side effects and is immediately effective. I have NEVER had anything prescribed work even close without nasty side effects or debilitating brain fog, or feeling like a zombie.I hesitate to say “miracle” but it has been pretty close for me. That daily wish for death to arrive hasn’t crossed my mind in over 6 months since I started taking just 2.5g of kratom almost every day (I take a day off a week, along with the supplement agmatine that avoids any raise in tolerance).

      You can find a reputable online vendor (I would suggest socal herbal remedies, search for “speciosa”) and get a sample pack and see if it works for you if your research makes you think it would be right for you. I would suggest white, gold or green for what you describe, reds are more for physical pain.

      I am wishing you all the healing and peace. You are beautiful.

      Like

  7. Kyla, this is brilliant. Not only does it apply to partners but most of it can apply to children and other loved ones with anxiety too. I am going to share it with my community and use it myself. I especially love your vulnerability in the end when you mention your team of mental health professionals. I have one too. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, and I suspect the same is true of you. Keep doing what you’re doing!

    Like

  8. Thank you for this. My girlfriend has very severe anxiety, and I’m discovering that resources for people in relationships with those who have anxiety are actually hard to come by. I’ve tried looking around for support groups, articles with advice on it, etc, only to find there’s really not much. The majority of what I’ve learned has been from learning more about anxiety, and trial and error (which I feel is a HORRIBLE way to figure stuff out with someone who has anxiety). This is probably the single most useful thing I’ve found so far, and mirrors a lot of what she’s said on the occasions I can even get her to talk about it.

    Like

  9. Thank you for writing this up.
    This summaries a whole lot of my own feelings for me.

    I find myself every now and then with my girlfriend suffering from these episodes of depression and anxiety, where I find myself just as written here. Some days are better and some are worse, of course, but I try to be more supportive thanks to finding and reading your helpful words.

    And thank you for not softening it up either. It’s a difficult and rough situation emotionally, both for the one suffering and any relationship partner, you show that you know it just as well in your tone of language.
    Sincerely, thank you for helping me understand her better.

    Like

  10. OMG NOOOOO

    DO NOT TAKE CONTROL.

    Holy shit. I wanted to share this article with a parent who is really struggling with how to support me while I’m dealing with anxiety or a panic attack and I’m trying to stress that the last thing I want her to do is try to take control of the situation, jump into action, or fix shit.

    As my parent I just need her to be there and be still. Be a calming presence. Like her, I have the urge to jump to action and in the moments surrounding and during a panic attack that’s the last thing I need.

    Like

    1. They did say that everyone is different and needs different things, and so along with the guide you should talk to the person about what works best for you. Personally having control taken from me during a panic attack would be extremely helpful, because I am basically useless to make decisions when I have them. You just need to tell your parent which things work and which things don’t, and you will both learn more as you go. I hope that was helpful, I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression for ten years now, and it really helps to have someone around who understands what you need in that moment.

      Like

      1. Uhmm good for you? I was simply giving my feedback about my personal experience with the article.

        Don’t really need your advice any advice on how to talk to my parents.

        Like

      2. That is good advice Mrs Wadeen. I think Assatas could benefit from that info, especially after reading the article, then giving their forced advice about the articles advice; about certain actions that might not be beneficial for them, BUT other people.

        May you receive well mannered responses to your well intentioned feedback in the future. 🙂

        Like

  11. This is really helpful. Especially the part about decisions. As a person with anxiety and panic attacks, when these things happen I can not decide about anything. Not even if I’m hungry or not or if I should sleep or not or many other simple things. Taking the pressure of me helps a lot. People usually try to help by asking you what you want to do but in fact, I need someone to tell me that it’s okay and what is going to happen next. I dont want to have to think about it. I do not have to choose what to do. It’s a lot of pressure

    Like

  12. My daughter suffers from anxiety. Reading this has helped big time because it tells me that I do the right things to help her deal with it. As a parent, your instinct is to fix their problems but this isn’t a problem that can be fixed by any parent…… the only person that can fix it is the person going through it. All I can do is to give her love & support & lots of cuddles while she finds her way through it.

    Like

  13. This may sound corny but I love that this guide and even all these people are here to help when it becomes difficult to help a loved one with anxiety. That’s extremely hard for the person going through it, but it can be just as hard as the person in the relationship. The point you list and even some of the advice from the comments is so reassuring!

    Like

  14. What a great post! My husband has helped me through depression episodes and anxiety attacks. It hasn’t always been easy. I hope many people read this and know how they can help. Thank you for writing it.

    Like

  15. I appreciate not only the message but your choice to address the issue in your true voice. Swearing doesn’t bother me and I really respect that you chose to use your own words, whatever they may be. 🙂

    Like

  16. I’m honestly so incredibly happy I found this. I sometimes have panic attacks and when I’m with my partner I have no idea what I expect him to do and it makes me feel worse because I can tell all he wants to do is help but he doesn’t know what he should do. The whole time I was reading this post though I was thinking “omg yes this is all so true”. Definitely sending this over to him. Thank you so much

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I read this and cried. It is not my partner but someone even more important to me that I see fighting this battle daily; my daughter. As a mom I want to Fox things and make it “all better”. When I have exhausted my resources of patching the holes and she still is hurting I turn to anger and frustration; feeling like I failed. The information in this post makes a lot of sense. I forget to remind myself that she doesn’t need me to save her because in the moment it is not possible. She is already wounded she needs to be soothed. It is hard to do this when it seems like anxiety is ruining her life and hurting her future. I guess in reality it is the pressure to proceed with daily expectatoins in the same timelines as those whom don’t know the struggle that drives those feelings and it is okay if things happen in their own time. Thanks for sharing this it does make a difference.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. As someone who frequently fights this battle, and am lucky to have a good partner I also see my mum worry that she can’t “fix it” and it saddens me that it saddens her. You’re spot on in your handling and compassion, pretty sure this is all your daughter needs.. hang in you’re doing it right!

        Like

    1. Using the 4 letter words made it humerus and way more real to me in my life. So lucky to have found this. I just suffered a tragic horrific loss of my best friend and am struggling bad.

      Like

    2. I do believe it was written as though spoken in the author’s own words, including massive emotional reactions which I know can bring the odd swear word.. it’s exactly what is going through her mind during an attack, she hasn’t prettied it up for the reader.

      Like

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