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Tips for Family and Friends

When a Loved One Has Panic Disorder


Updated May 24, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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It's important to be supportive to a loved one with panic disorder.

Photo © Microsoft

Coping with panic disorder can be challenging at times. Dealing with this condition can be even more difficult when loved ones are struggling to make sense of this diagnosis. Friends and family may want to be supportive, but are unsure about how to be the most helpful.

If you have a loved one who is dealing with panic disorder, panic attacks, and/or agoraphobia, you may be having a hard time understanding what they are experiencing. The following describes some helpful tips for family members and friends who have a loved one with panic disorder.

Know the Facts

One issue that may be preventing you from relating to your loved one’s diagnosis is that you simply are not informed about panic disorder. There are many myths about panic disorder that may influence your perception of your loved one’s condition. For example, many people believe that anxiety disorders are simply a lack of self-control. Others view people who experience frequent panic attacks as exaggerating their fears or behaving in an overly emotional manner. However, learning the facts about panic disorder can help you to avoid some of the common misconceptions about this condition.

The truth is that panic disorder is a real and diagnosable condition. Much like other anxiety disorders, panic disorder is characterized by fear and worry. Panic attacks, the main feature of panic disorder, are marked by a variety of physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms. Common indicators of panic attacks include sweating, shaking, trembling, chest pain, and shortness of breath, along with fears about losing control or dying.

Given how upsetting these symptoms can be, your loved one may begin to fear having future panic attacks. This fearful anticipation can lead to the development of an additional condition known as agoraphobia. The symptoms of agoraphobia involve intense fear about future panic attacks and avoidance of places or events that may trigger these attacks. For some, their fear will become so extreme that they stay away from many places and may even be homebound with agoraphobia.

Learn More About Panic Disorder:

Be Supportive

One of the most valuable things you can do for your loved one with panic disorder is to be a part of their support system. People with panic disorder are often subject to feelings of loneliness and isolation, making the building of their support network even more important.

Being supportive can involve assisting your loved one in getting help for panic disorder. There are numerous treatment options to choose from, the most common being psychotherapy or medication for panic disorder. While in treatment, your loved one will potentially experience gains as well as setbacks. Try to remain encouraging, letting them know that you are there for them. However, try not to be overbearing by telling them what you think they should do or pressuring them to open up about details of their treatment plan that they may not want to share.

Learn More About Treatment and Support:

Take Care of Yourself

Supporting a person with panic disorder can be stressful and even overwhelming at times. If you find yourself giving too much of your personal space and energy to your loved one, it may be necessary to take a step back and tend to your own needs. Giving too much of yourself can make you feel resentful toward your loved one. To be the best support, take some time for your own self-care.

Self-care involves all of the activities you engage in to take care of yourself. These involve activities that address your physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. Examples include proper exercise and nutrition, engaging in hobbies, and participating in social interactions. Self-care is also important for people coping with mental health issues. By practicing self-care, you may set a good example for your loved one with panic disorder to follow.

Learn More About Self-Care and Stress:

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