Supporting a Loved One Through PTSD or Panic Attacks

This cartoon (from Robot Hugs), in my opinion, illustrates the perfect way to handle every PTSD or anxiety episode. If I could actually live inside a blanket fort forever, I would.

Unfortunately, flashbacks, panic attacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, memories, triggers, and all those other lovely things that survivors have to live with don’t have the courtesy to always wait for blanket forts to be available.

It’s scary for the person experiencing the attack, but it’s also scary for any loved ones who are trying to comfort and support someone through an attack.

This post is for the supporters.

Often in the midst of the episode, the distressed person doesn’t necessarily have their full vocabulary and can’t articulate exactly what they need in that moment. Afterwards, they may avoid talking about it out of embarrassment, fear, or a desire to preserve the peacefulness of the present.

So how do you learn what is helpful?

If you’re like my partner, mostly through trial and error. However, this cartoon inspired me to draw up a list of tips, taking from my own preferences as well as those of some friends. They’re not universal, but they’re a starting point, I think, for the right mindset.

Safety

Usually when someone is having an episode, they’re not actually in danger. Their body just thinks they are in danger. The first step to helping anyone is to remind them of their safety. It seems obvious, but just telling them they’re going to be okay can alleviate some of the stress of what’s happening.

However, please note that reassuring someone they are okay is not the same thing as minimizing the trigger or their response. Making fun of the trigger, ordering them to stop, scoffing at their response—those will exacerbate the situation rather than help it, and you may find yourself on the do-not-trust list in the future.

Anchoring

Someone who is experiencing a flashback or panic attack needs to have something to hold onto, to bring them back to themselves, and to put them in the present moment.

Jess M. mentions that shuffling cards, counting toothpicks, and other similar tasks helps her.

Dani, in her post from Friday, writes how important breath is in grounding. “Tell me to breathe, and then deliberately breathe for me so I have a rhythm to focus on and match.”

To be honest, telling me to breathe would probably make me swear at you. I prefer to have the “first aid box” that my therapist inspired me to create.  It’s filled with a range of things like incense, pictures, or slips of paper with quotes on them. Depending on what my trigger is, different things will speak to me at different times.

Obviously, these anchoring techniques differ from individual to individual and from situation to situation, but the goal is to gently engage the senses in a way that brings them back to the “here and now.”

Touch (Use with extreme caution!)

Touch can be one of the most beneficial ways of supporting someone through an episode, or it can be one of the most impairing. Touch is going to be incredibly specific to personal preferences and situations.

Dani states, “Sometimes it grounds me and gives me a point of reference. But I need whoever is with me to pay very very close attention to my body language when they touch me. Often I’m not able to speak to tell you whether where your touching is okay, and probably the only hint you’ll get that your touch is bad is that I’ll tense up all over.”

I like to be touched for the most part, but if touch brought on the panic attack (someone hugging me from behind or touching me without permission), then touch makes me practically feral. Sometimes I like to be cocooned in my partner’s arms so that I feel like nothing else can get to me. Other times, I desperately need to feel like I’m not trapped.

If you’re close to the person you’re trying to support, chances are you know whether they prefer touch or not. If you don’t know the person all that well, it may be better to just avoid touch altogether.

However, regardless of whether you know them or not, it’s always best to ask permission before touching. “Is it okay if I put my hand on your back?” “Is it okay if I hug you?” “Is it okay if I hold your hand?”

This is particularly important for anyone who has a history of sexual trauma or abuse since touch has so often been used to hurt.

Recuperation

Once the storm settles down, there are still residual effects. Don’t expect things to jump back to normal immediately. Fatigue usually follows, both physically and emotionally.

Some people, like Dani, will prefer spectator activities that don’t require much engagement. Others, like Angela and Jess M. prefer absorbing activities like reading or organizing. I tend to go for animated movies with happy endings or card games. However, Keith, John, and Jess D. all expressed that quiet was important for their recuperation.

Dani highlights the importance of providing simple options to choose from and of introducing those options slowly. Perhaps start out with some quiet sitting or some calm music, then in a little while suggest a few non-taxing activities that the person typically enjoys. Blanket forts are good here if you can build one.

Talk

Like touch, talking can be either good or bad.

Carol P. tells me that questions make things worse for her.

Machelle expresses that, “Sometimes I go deep inside of myself and I don’t come out until I have ‘it’ figured out. Other times I need to talk, talk, talk it all out.”

It’s a good idea to ask if they want to talk about what they’re feeling, thinking, or experiencing. Give them a lot of space to speak up because it can take a long time for someone to work up the courage to talk about their anxieties or traumas.

But don’t push.

It’s not necessary for you, the supporter, to know what is going on in order to lend support. Sometimes, the fact that you’re willing to sit there in silence, comfortable with not knowing, is enough to get someone to open up. It’s like a signal that tells them that you’re not going to push them for information they don’t feel comfortable giving, nor are you going to become so impatient with their process that you leave them hanging.

But even if they never tell you what was going on in their world at the time, that’s okay. They need that space, that right to keep their truth to themselves. It may feel like you’re abandoning them in their emotions, but respecting them in their choice not to talk is more supportive than forcing them to disclose.

Plan ahead

I hope that this post has given you some ideas of how you can support your loved one through crises, but the most important thing you can do to support someone is talk about it ahead of time. Let them know that you are interested in supporting them and ask them to articulate what they need in those times. Maybe even compile a first aid box together.

(And if you’re the person in need of support, don’t be afraid to send this post to your supporters and start a discussion of what the best way to support you would be).

Disclaimer: These tips are based on my own preferences as well as the feedback of several others who volunteered information for this post. They are not based on an official model of crisis management and should not be used as professional training. Their value comes from the direct feedback of those who are living with PTSD or panic attacks, but they are neither universal nor comprehensive. If you have a loved one with PTSD or panic attacks, I encourage you to get some educational books as well. Having more information will help you be a better supporter. 

This post is copyrighted. While I love it when others share my blog, I’ve come across several places where over half of this blog entry has been copied onto other websites without proper authorization or citation. I don’t think it’s been done maliciously, but it does violate my copyright. A sentence or two as a quote is fine as long as it clearly references Sometimes Magical as the author/source, but if you wish to use a paragraph or more for any reason (and linking doesn’t seem to suffice for your needs), my authorization is needed. I’m willing to work with other blogs or websites that wish to use my material as long as the proper form is followed with regard to credit and permission. You can refer to my Copyright policy if you have any questions. This blog entry represents alot of hard work, both on my end and on others’. Please respect me and those who contributed to this post by not stealing or misusing our words. Thank you! <3

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218 thoughts on “Supporting a Loved One Through PTSD or Panic Attacks

  1. Gwen says:

    One thing I love about this post is that it takes away the BS. It is very practical….an approach that says to me, “Here’s the deal, try this and see if it helps.” I went into mental health as a professional (and also a client) to help me help myself and others with Panic, Anxiety, PTSD and Depression. I love the approach of this article is more of a “try this” than “DO THIS.” I think different things work for different people. I went through one program that had me hold an ice cube when I had a panic attack. My response: now I’m panicked and cold. I love the idea of the blanket it’s so so true!! And if you are lucky enough to have someone in your life who is the blanket engineer even better. Right now I have my dog. I am going to mention my blog here NOT because my goal is to promote it (my goals are things like decreasing my terror to leave the house.) Unfortunately my symptoms were/are so severe I’m on disability. But I did start a blog because, in addition to the suggestions above, humor is SO helpful for me personally. I have written several posts related to my anxiety, ocd tendencies, my family, and a series of posts on the extensive anxiety evaluation I went through and the diagnoses they came up with. I mention this because I wrote it from a place of honesty, authenticity about my struggles, and humor. So if anyone else might find humor as helpful I offer you the link. It’s a three part series (of course because my testing—let’s say–went longer than expected).

  2. D says:

    My roommate is a Canadian military vet who has gone to Afghanistan. I didn’t know him during those days but he’s told me some stories that will make your blood run cold. He also informed me before he moved in with my fiancée and I that he has undiagnosed PTSD (docs won’t diagnose it for some stupid reason, but that’s another rant) and that movies depicting war or similar situations tend to set him off. We were watching a movie at one point that had a particularity realistic scene of terrorists attacking Washington, D.C. and I noticed that my roommate had gone from from sitting back relaxed on the couch, to leaning forward and clenching his hands. I paused the movie and waited. He had told me that the best thing to do if this happened was to let him be for a bit. So he went to his room and came back out to have a smoke. He came out with his hoodie up and he was having a hard time getting his cigarette out of the pack. I realized he was not calming down and when he slammed his hand on the table, that’s when I went over and sat next to him. He had his hood over his face but I could tell he was crying. I said his name and told him where he was and that he was safe (as per his instructions) and waited till his hands unclenched before rubbing my hand on his back. He started to relax more but was still shaking and crying so I told him to hug me and man did he ever. It seemed that he was basically holding on to me for dear life so I let him. Once he let go, my fiancée (who is his best friend) and I did what we could to make him laugh and that armed to help him shake off the last bit of the attack. It was the first time I had seen him have a fit and it scared the crap out of me. But I think I was more scared for him. It was so sad to see this strong grown man that I’ve come to love as a brother, so broken. I feel for anyone else who has loved ones with this horrible illness and hope that they can remain strong when they are needed most.

  3. I’d like to add something that helps me a lot! I have had panick and anxiety attacks since I was a child, and they didn’t get horrible until just before I got married, and they became debilitating. I had to quit my job because they got so bad. They would trigger week long migraine headaches, and bouts of inability to eat.

    I found that I couldn’t verbalize what I was dealing with, even days after the events. But I’d write letter to my husband, and let him read them, so that he could understand, and help me out. I kept a journal of my dreams, and made it a safe place that I could communicate with my husband when I couldn’t put what I needed to into audible words.

    I also collect comfy blankets, lots and lots of blankets, and I have at least one or two that I sleep with regularly with hubby. It helps on nights wen he is working and can’t wrap me in his arms, I’m able to wrap the blanket that smells like him around me. It’s not a replacement, but it will help when he can’t.

    Hope this helps someone.

    • Ryan Lamothe says:

      I really appreciated reading this post… I used to suffer really extreme panic attacks, so I know what a pain there are, and I know how frustrating it is for a loved one to deal with you also. 2 months ago I stopped eating gluten, and within days, I stopped my anxiety and panic attacks! May not be the case for everyone, but definitely cannot hurt to try. Hope this helps!

  4. scarednalone says:

    I can’t thank u enough for this post! I live alone n thought I was completely insane as I had no idea others had similar episodes! Most of the time when I’m in an episode I wonder if I’m actually going to survive it cuz deep down I really don’t want to (when I’m in an episode). Thank u for letting me know I not alone! This insight has given me n hope…I start therapy Monday. ..I’m scared to death!
    Love n blessings to u all…n I hope n pray everyone has someone to b with them..I understand what it’s like to deal w them on ur own n its absolutely horrible! :’(

  5. Hi There. The above article is great. As I therapist I normally break down the steps into four basic steps.
    As soon as the person is aware of the panicky, overwhelming feelings, they need to
    1) Ground themselves, for example by deliberately shifting their bodily awareness to their feet. Try and notice their feet, shoes socks, and the floor beneath the feet. Get a sense of being grounded. They may also like to hold on to something, like an object, or maybe another person.

    2) Acknowledge those feelings, talk to them saying ‘ yes i know you are there, you do not need to be so overwhelming – you have my full attention.

    3) Imaginatively get some space between himself- herself and their experiencing. . Maybe imagine the feeling in its own space. Remind yourself that this is ; my bodies attempt to heal, and release blocked energy, I am OK really’.

    4) Imaginatively keep the feelings company- like you might do a distressed child. If it feels overwhelming, remond it it has your full attention, it does not need to be that way.

    The feelings will often last no more than 5 mins, 10 at the most. Afterwards the person will probably feel exhausted and need rest.

    Its a variation on a theme. I also do Trauma Education with clients, talking about our Fight and Flight and Freeze, and how in human beings the Energy from Fight of Flight gets blocked, and that traumatic symptoms are the bodies attempt to heal. Its how we manage and regulate them that is important. Hope this is of interest.

  6. Kimberly says:

    I sleep in a nest every night. I have since I was a child. I was a victim of sexual abuse for most of my childhood. The nest is meant to keep from being touched while I am sleeping which is a very vulnerable time for me.

  7. Lisa says:

    Wow.. I did all of these with my ex. He’s a good person but ended up being unfaithful to me. But like you said everyone is different. It makes me feel good to know that I tried my best.

  8. Chey says:

    This is absolutely the greatest representation I have come across. I find it hard to explain to people what to do or even what it happening when I have an episode. Perfect representation. Thank you to the person that posted this.

  9. TJ says:

    I REALLY like this…lots of good ideas and reminders.

    I get VERY frustrated, having worked with the same therapist four years, and, still having many flashbacks. I have an excellent therapist, so, I’m not negating him. I am frustrated with myself. I function well enough for people to respect me, and, I have a wide circle of supportive friends and safe places, where I don’t need to worry about being locked up for being so disconnected.

    I just wish I could get a handle on triggers. When it’s gradual, I can, at times. Sometimes, it’s just something someone says, it, something I’m reminded of. Then, I feel like I can only ride it out, because I get so lost. I used to carry a small stuffed animal, and, the softness helped. Now, I use beads to pay with in my hand, but, I can get lost in that, to.

    Will this EVER get better? My therapist says he has not worked with anyone with such profound PTSD…I won’t go into what caused it…

    I just want to know how long it takes to get through all of this. I feel like I’ll never be free.

    • I think everyone with PTSD would like to know how long it takes to be free. It’s really hard to say when flashbacks will end because we’re all unique. But you have no need to feel frustrated with yourself. As much as it sucks, your PTSD tells you some really important truth about you–that you survived. There’s nothing shameful in that. I don’t really know why your therapist would have any reason to tell you how profound your PTSD is, but it may not hurt to inquire about additional therapies that could help break through potential barriers. Yoga therapy, art therapy, writing therapy, EMDR, dance therapy . . . sometimes just changing the format helps to tap into some deeper areas of the psyche. I’d encourage you to talk to your therapist about some of the options available in your area. Good luck!

      • TJ says:

        Thank you. My therapist said that because I had told him how frustrated I was because it seems so long, and, he was talking about why that was, instead of my blaming myself.

        He has been talking about some things, like EMDR, but, so far, three people trained in it feel like I have too many flashbacks and it would not be a good idea. I don’t understand that, as it seems a bit of a paradox, but, they decide that. Today, he mentioned a local place that offers equestrian therapy, which, I will check into.

        Thank you.

    • Eleanor Harvey says:

      I would like to put in a good word for equine therapy. I worked at a barn with a therapeutic riding program for kids, and it was amazing how much of a positive impact horses and ponies had on these people. Horses–like dogs–tend to be highly empathetic, and to have an animal that big, that strong, hug you back and make encouraging sounds seems to unlock a lot of tension in people. Even annoying ponies behaved better around people who needed them. Will Rogers had it right when he said there was something about the outside of a horse that was good for the inside of a man. It had less to do with actually riding the horses so much as developing an affectionate, respectful bond with them.

  10. Caroline says:

    Traduction in French :
    A mon sens, ce dessin (provenant de Robot Hugs : http://www.robot-hugs.com/nest/ ), illustre la parfaite approche de toute crise d’angoisse ou de Syndrome de Stress Post-Traumatique. Si je pouvais vivre dans un fort de couvertures pour toujours, je le ferais.

    Malheureusement, les flashbacks, les crises d’angoisse, les cauchemars, les pensées récurrentes, les souvenirs, “sursauts” ["triggers" : je sais pas trop comment traduire ça. Déclencheurs ?], et toutes ces autres jolies choses avec lesquelles les survivants doivent vivre n’ont pas toujours la courtoisie d’attendre un fort de couvertures pour advenir.
    C’est effrayant pour la personne en crise, mais c’est aussi effrayant pour toute personne aimante essayant de réconforter et soutenir quelqu’un dans sa traversée d’une crise.

    Cet article est pour les supporters.
    Souvent en pleine crise les personnes angoissées n’ont pas nécessairement tout leur vocabulaire et ne peuvent pas dire clairement de quoi elles ont besoin. Après coup, elle peuvent éviter d’en parler sorties d’embarras, de la peur, ou dans un désir de préserver la quiétude du moment présent.

    Alors comment savoir ce qui peut aider ?

    Si vous êtes comme mon partenaire, sûrement par des essais, et des erreurs. Toutefois, cette BD m’a donné l’idée de faire la liste de conseils, en prenant dans mes propres préférences ainsi que celles de quelques amis. Ils ne sont pas universels, mais c’est un point de départ, je crois, de la bonne approche.
    Sécurité
    La plupart du temps quand les gens ont une crise, ils ne sont pas en danger immédiat. Leur corps pense qu’ils sont en danger. La première étape pour aider quiconque, c’est de lui rappeler sa sécurité. Ca semble évident, mais juste lui dire que ça va aller retire d’office une partie du stress de ce qui est en train d’arriver.
    Cependant, merci de noter que rassurer quelqu’un en lui disant que ça va n’est pas la même chose que minimiser ses symptômes. Faire des blagues sur ses tremblements, lui ordonner de s’arrêter, se moquer de ses symptômes—va empirer la situation au lieu d’aider, et peut vous faire passer dans la liste des “à-ne-pas-se-fier” dans le futur.
    S’ancrer
    Quelqu’un qui a un flashback ou une crise d’angoisse a besoin d’avoir un point d’ancrage, pour le ramener à lui-même, et le placer au moment présent.
    Jess M. mentionne que battre des cartes, compter des cure-dents, et toute autre activité similaire l’aide.
    Dani, dans son article de vendredi, écrit combien respirer l’aide a rester sur terre. “Dis moi de respirer, et puis respire pour moi délibérément et alors j’ai un rythme sur lequel me concentrer et me rattacher.”
    Pour être honnête, me dire de respirer me ferait probablement vous hurler dessus. Je préfère avoir la “boîte de première aide” que mon thérapeute m’a suggéré de créer. Elle est remplie de choses comme de l’encens, des images, et des morceaux de papier avec des citations. Tout dépend de la nature de la crise, différentes choses vont me parler à différents moments.
    Evidemment, ces techniques d’ancrage diffèrent d’un individu à l’autre et d’une situation à une autre, mais le but reste d’engager doucement les sens sur la voie du “ici et maintenant”.

    Toucher (à utiliser avec d’extrêmes précautions !)
    Toucher peut être une des manières les plus bénéfiques de soutenir quelqu’un dans la traversée d’un épisode, ou peut être une des plus dommageables. Toucher va être incroyablement spécifique à chaque préférence personnelle et situation.
    Dani dit, “Parfois ça me maintient sur terre et me donne un point de référence. Mais j’ai besoin que la personne avec moi soit très très attentive au langage de mon corps lorsqu’elle me touche. Souvent je ne suis pas en état de parler pour te dire si ça va là où tu touches, et probablement la seule chose qui va te dire que ton toucher ne va pas c’est que je vais me crisper de la tête aux pieds.”
    J’aime être touchée la plupart du temps, mais si le toucher a déclenché la crise d’angoisse (quelqu’un m’embrassant par derrière ou me touchant sans ma permission), alors me toucher me rend pratiquement sauvage. Parfois j’aime être blottie dans les bras de mon partenaire alors j’ai l’impression que rien ne peut plus m’arriver. D’autres fois, j’ai désespérément besoin de sentir que je ne suis pas enfermée.

    Si vous êtes proche de la personne que vous essayez de soutenir, il y a des chances que vous sachiez quand elle préfère être touchée ou non. Si vous ne connaissez pas suffisamment bien la personne, il vaut mieux éviter tout contact.

    Toutefois, sans s’occuper de savoir si vous connaissez ou non la personne, c’est toujours mieux de demander la permission avant de toucher. “Ca va si je mets ma main sur ton dos ?” “Ca va si je te fais un câlin ?” “Ca va si je te tiens par la main ?”

    C’est particulièrement important pour toute personne qui a un historique de trauma d’ordre sexuel ou d’abus dans lequel le toucher a été très souvent utilisé pour faire du mal.
    Rétablissement
    Une fois l’orage passé, il reste des effets résiduels. Ne vous attendez pas à ce que les choses reviennent à la normale immédiatement. Une fatigue suit habituellement, tant physique qu’émotionnelle.
    Certaines personnes, comme Dani, vont préférer des activités en spectateurs qui ne requièrent pas beaucoup d’engagement. D’autres, comme Angela et Jess M. préfèrent s’absorber dans des activités comme la lecture ou le rangement. J’ai tendance à aller voir des dessins animés avec des happy-ends ou à jouer aux cartes. Cependant, Keith, John, et Jess D. ont tous exprimé que le calme était très important pour leur rétablissement.
    Dani a souligné l’importance de proposer des choix simples et d’amener ces options lentement.
    Peut-être que commencer par s’assoir au calme ou de la musique calme, puis une suggestion de quelques activités simples, légères que la personne aime particulièrement. Les forts de couvertures sont bien à ce moment si vous pouvez en construire un.

    Parler
    Comme toucher, parler peut être bon ou mauvais.
    Carol P. m’a dit que les questions empiraient les choses pour elle.
    Machelle exprime que, “Parfois je plonge profondément en moi-même et je ne remonte qu’une fois que j’ai réglé “ça”. Parfois j’ai besoin de parler, parler, parler pour tout faire sortir.”
    C’est une bonne idée de demander à la personne si elle a envie de parler de ce qu’elle ressent, pense, ou expérimente. Laissez-lui beaucoup d’espace pour s’exprimer car ça peut mettre du temps pour quelqu’un de trouver le courage de parler de son angoisse ou de ses traumas.
    Mais ne forcez pas.
    Ce n’est pas nécessaire pour vous, le supporter, de savoir ce qui se passe au fond pour soutenir. Parfois, le simple fait d’être assis là en silence, tranquille sans savoir, est suffisant pour aider quelqu’un à s’ouvrir. C’est une sorte de signal qui lui dit que tu ne vas pas le forcer à partager des informations inconfortables à donner, ni devenir impatient que la crise se finisse pour les laisser tomber.
    Mais même si la personne ne dit jamais ce qui se passe dans son monde à ce moment-là, c’est bon. Elle a besoin de cet espace, ce droit à garder sa vérité pour elle. Ca peut vous donner l’impression de l’abandonner dans ses émotions, mais la respecter dans son choix de ne pas parler est d’un plus grand soutien que de la forcer à s’ouvrir.
    Projet
    J’espère que cet article vous a donné quelques idées de comment soutenir quelqu’un d’aimé à traverser des crises, mais la chose la plus importante que vous puissiez faire pour soutenir quelqu’un, c’est d’en parler après coup. Dites lui que vous êtes intéressé par l’aider et demandez lui de dire de quoi elle a besoin dans ces moments. Pourquoi pas fabriquer une boîte de premier secours ensemble.
    (Et si vous êtes la personne en besoin de soutien, ne soyez pas effrayé d’envoyer cet article à vos soutiens et commencer une discussion sur quelle serait la meilleure approche pour vous soutenir).
    Excuses : Ces conseils sont basés sur mes propres préférences ainsi que sur les retours de plusieurs autres qui ont souhaité participer à cet article. Ils ne sont pas basés sur un modèle officiel de gestion et ne devraient pas être utilisés à des fins professionnelles. Leur valeur vient du retour direct des principaux concernés qui vivent avec un Syndrome de Stress Post-Traumatique ou des crises d’angoisses, ce qui ne les empêche pas d’être universels et compréhensifs. Si vous avez un proche atteint de Syndrome de Stress Post-Traumatique ou de Crises d’angoisses, je vous encourage à lire également quelques livres d’informations sur le sujet. Avoir plus d’information vous aidera à être un meilleur supporter.

  11. […] Wie kannst du einer dir nahe­stehenden Person Unterstützung geben, wenn diese eine Panik­attacke oder einen Flash­back hat bzw. durch etwas getriggert wurde? Sometimesmagical hat ein paar hilfreiche Tipps zusammengetragen. […]

  12. froggie says:

    Thank you for this, I agree it is nice knowing that I am not crazy, nor the only one who suffers from these problems.

  13. […] discouraged after I discovered several websites and blogs that had unauthorized copies of one of my posts. Although most of the people I’ve contacted about the material have been very understanding […]

  14. […] Read the full article on her blog, SometimesMagical. […]

  15. lisa hughes says:

    sometimes a hug is helpful,breathing in out very slow deep breaths is very helpful. in severe episodes,breathing into a paper bag is necessary. having just the presence of my husband is the best. recovering from such an epidisode for me always required a quiet room and a nap.

  16. E says:

    I wish I had been fully aware of all tthese tips when my partner and I were going through our time together. But like any “right” action they can be hard to perform consistently and sleflessly in the moment. Practice, communication, and planning between partners can help. Whatever you do-dont minimize what your partner is feeling. Even though PTSD is invisible, the feelings you partner is having are real and need to be dealt with that way. –Dr. Roat

  17. This is perfect! As an Iraq War Veteran, my wife has her hands full. Luckily she is a trained counselor and understands my triggers more than I do!

    Everyone should read this post and share with everyone! PTSD is real, and it sucks for all parties involved.

  18. Judy Wollam, retired clinical laboratory scientist, Stockton, CA says:

    I belong to NAMI in Stockton, CA. I came across your article and read it to my daughter who suffers with depression, anxiety etc. I would like to use parts of your excellent article in the next NAMI newsletter. Would that be okay?

    • I would be honored to have you use parts of my post in the newsletter. I just ask that you ensure that everything is sourced and credited properly.

      I’d love to have a copy as a keepsake if that’s possible. Is this an email newsletter or a printed one? Feel free to email sometimesmagicalblog@gmail.com with any additional questions or information. :)

      • Judy Wollam, retired clinical laboratory scientist, Stockton, CA says:

        Thank you for granting permission. I will make sure you get a copy

        jj (Which stands for: Joyful Judy)

  19. bella2202 says:

    This is so very true for people suffering from depression, too. Sometimes we get to a point when we just want to hide away from everything. When no one understands, it makes it a hundred times worse. All it takes is one person who gets it , who will sit right next to you, hold your hand, and never ever judge.

    • Irene says:

      Thank you for this. I was thinking it might work for depression…you answered my questions. This blog was a great, great help. Now I have somewhat of a guide to help my daughter. Thank you again.

  20. Bobbie says:

    I had panic attacks for almost 25 years. Doctors gave me pills and more pills. One day I listened to a lady who could not leave her home and her doctor put a rubberband around her wrist and took her on the subway. Each time she started to have a panic attack, he pulled up the band and it flipped her on top of her wrist. Each attack subsided immediately. I have done this now for many years and don’t take meds for it anymore. It works so well, but stings a bit when you “flip” yourself :) Love it and it has saved my life. Life is good!

  21. Twishy says:

    I had a flashback that brought on a full panic attack. I was cooking breakfast for my husband (of 22 years!!). Just one minute before serving, the switch on the breaker was thrown. The eggs continued to cook, the ham was on simmer, the coffee was hot, but the toaster quit half way through toasting. My husband headed for the basement to flip the switch back to its correct position. By the time he came back upstairs, I was in full panic mood. I was shaking like a branch in a storm; I had failed breakfast and I was going to be beat. Breakfast must be served hot and in just the right way or else. My husband comes from a family with high values. So, he has no concept of what it is to be a victim in the top 1% of child abuse and torture. I was abused almost from birth from what I understand. I was kicked across the room at age 1.5 as my newly born sister was dropped repeatedly. Move ahead a couple of years. I think I was just turned 3. My earliest memory is that of my mother cooking breakfast at the stove. She and dad were arguing. My mom grabbed a belt and started beating my dad, who was reading the newspaper in the next room. Next, I remember her handling the keys to the car and she said, ‘You keep the kids; I’ll take the car.’ From that point, I went through two other mothers, both sick with mental conditions. Why my father married them I will never know. All four of those parents came from abusive backgrounds as well. For my first 18 years, I was literally afraid to move, because the slightest imperfection warranted beating. I colored out of the lines. . .got beat. I was forced to eat all the food on my plate until I puked; and then I had to eat that puke. . .my hands have very few readable fingerprints from being put on a furnace. I’ve had two step brothers from different mothers molest me, starting at age 6 and ending at 16.5, only because we moved away. I’ve been beat for looking for ‘elbow grease’ under the kitchen counter. I’ve been forced to eat a whole half gallon of Koolaid (and puked) because I said it was too sweet. I can’t clean without thinking of getting beat as I never completed chores correctly. We were giving treats once in a while. . .ice cream that had turned to sugar. The last one inch of a potato chip bag. . .oh, and the sour milk on our cereal. Evil stepmother would eat the lumps of milk on the cereal with a straight face and tell us there was nothing wrong with it. Really weird shit. I’ve written too much. My point? I have PTSD every day; and I stay at home a lot so I don’t have panic attacks in public. . .and I hate taking meds. It felt good to write this. Thanks for listening. I can’t tell you how many times my innocent husband has just looked at me in disbelief. . .and not knowing what to do to help. This ‘cartoon’ really touched my heart. I think it helps to explain a bit of what we go through in a very guttural way…our supporters love us and sometimes just don’t have the tools to help us. Thank you.

  22. Aimee says:

    This is such a great article. I have PTSD symptoms from a rape and my husband has a generalized anxiety disorder, so these are wonderful tips for both of us to help each other. Thank you so much for posting.

  23. […] one of someone suffering through this battle.  I found a wonderful article at sometimesmagical.  Since so many rape survivors have these issues, I felt it was definitely worth sharing with […]

  24. KJC says:

    Every word of this post explains what I have not yet been able to explain to supporters who are not familiar with acute panic disorder. Sometimes telling me to breath is OK, sometimes, I want to punch the person. Talking or distracting me doesn’t usually work and only makes my mind race faster. Calling the attack ridiculous or unnecessary makes a person feel dumb or incompetent. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this.

  25. Dana slawter says:

    Thank u my husband of twenty years has this problem as I write this he is under the blankets on the couch n turned to drinking to relieve his attacks MY GOD How do I help him plz plz plz help me he is during slowly

    • If your husband is self-medicating to the point that it is severely interfering with his life and health, the best thing he can do is seek out the support of a professional therapist. Without someone trained in how to guide others to healing it can be really hard to find that path on one’s own–a little like trying to stop hemorrhaging with a band-aid when stitches are really needed. As his spouse, you can be an awesome support during tough times by remaining calm, available, and reassuring. But you are probably not equipped to give him the tools he needs in order to fully heal. The suggestions in this piece aren’t meant to be the sole support that someone with PTSD or Panic Attacks (or depression or alcohol dependence or any other mental health issue) receives. They’re supplementary ways to help a loved one in a crisis, but therapy is pretty much prerequisite. If your husband is already going to therapy, see if you can meet with his therapist and work up a plan for crisis management that is specific to your husband’s needs. If he’s not seeing a therapist, encourage him to find one.

  26. Joanna says:

    As the mother of a teen daughter with PTSD, I want to say that this post has been the most helpful thing I’ve read thus far regarding support of a person in the midst of a panic episode. I had just read it minutes before we walked into the optometrists office for an eye exam and promptly got a fuzzy blanket out of the car and told her I’d stay with her for the exam. We made it through. However, I would really appreciate suggestions for how to help with the intense anger that often surfaces during the emotional aftermath of a trigger experience. Since she feels the most safe with me, the anger expresses itself most often in my presence, and sometimes directly at me. Medications have helped to modulate some of it but other types of interventions seem appropriate.

    • Anger can be really cleansing when channeled in a healthy way.

      Is she seeing a therapist currently? The therapist is probably the best person to advise specifically on your daughter’s situation since I am not in a position to speak directly to her circumstances.

      However, I have found that there are ways of using my own anger in a way that gets it out of my system without lashing out at those supporting me. Something like screaming into a pillow, shredding paper, scribbling, or writing out my feelings can help. I even keep a handful of approved breakables that I will smash sometimes. Flea markets can be a great place to find cheap things like that, and there’s little else more satisfying than the crunch of porcelain or glass against something hard (although I recommend finding a way to also contain the mess to save on cleanup later). The most important thing, I think, is to plan ahead. When you create a plan how you can honor anger in safe ways, then in the moment when the anger hits, you don’t have to struggle to figure out a good way to handle it.

      Obviously you should protect yourself, so if there is violence involved when your daughter is angry, you need to seek out professional intervention. But if it’s merely a matter of not knowing how to provide support to her while she processes and moves through her anger, creating a physically and emotionally safe environment and planning ahead are probably the best things you can do.

      And again, therapists. I can’t emphasize how important therapists are. No one’s path is quite like another’s, so what works for me may not always work for others. And it’s really hard to generalize and come up with ways to help people over the Internet. Even the best-written articles are limited in how much they will apply to any one individual. Especially for PTSD, having a trained person who knows the ins and outs of the trauma is invaluable. A therapist can come up with something unique to your daughter’s personality to help her process and heal.

      • TJ says:

        I sure appreciate how you continue to remind folks that this is not a professional page, equipped to provide therapy. As a therapist, I follow a strict code of ethics. As a person struggling with complex PTSD, I value folks whom recognize their personal limits and boundaries, yet, offer a sensitive, compassionate listening ear.

        Well done.

      • Peer support has been tremendously healing in my life, and I’ve been blessed to offer it to others in their journeys as well through online interactios. Then again, nothing is quite like a good therapist. It’s unfortunate that we get stuck in a dichotomy of either you go to a professional or you go to peers because I think they both support healing in different ways and can be just as needed in their differences. Even if my schooling was done and I was licensed at this point, I wouldn’t be qualified to offer the kind of help that meeting with a therapist who is dedicated to working with you in your healing can offer–not on a blog of this nature. It’s just not the right forum for that kind of in-depth work.

        However, the Internet is an amazing place for connecting with peers who have “been there, done that.” If it weren’t for the peer-run support groups I found after leaving the cult, I don’t think I would have come half as far as I have. Sharing stories, breaking silence, talking about what works for you and why, holding space for another to find their own unique path–that’s the whole point of non-professional support, and that’s what I try to do here.

      • TJ says:

        Agreed. I am involved with Asheville’s Radical Mental Health support group, a part of a national group known as Icarus.

        I go to a professional therapist, participate in equine therapy, but, the simple humanity if having SO many folks in RL just offering a space to “be,” without fear of being locked up, is tremendously healing. Alice Miller used the term, “enlightened witness,” of whom I am richly blessed.

  27. I think the take away points in this l article are asking permission to touch and asking if they want to talk about it (rather than insisting). I also like the idea that the things that comfort people are highly individual and suggesting favourite activities might help people get to a better place. For me, my dog and favourite kids movies are best when I am in pain physically or mentally and need to calm down. I found that doing meditation exercises with colours helped while focusing on the physicality of breathing just makes me panic more. Tai chi can also ground me physically and mentally.

    I wish medication helped me instead of made me worse. I am still too gun shy after a year off them to give it another go… the psychologist I was seeing said there was really only one or two more possibilities he could try for me before sending me to a specialist in medications anyway and didn’t really seem that hopeful that meds would help. It is probably not helpful that I never found a therapist who I trusted enough to talk about the things that bothered me most in any meaningful way. Most of the ones I even came close with responded in ways that I found undermining and/or ignorant. Therapy may be great when you get someone good, but I have tried about 6 people and only one of them did I find at all useful and even then I did not know how to respond when he made comments that were ignorant and/or did not apply to me at all. I guess I need someone I feel comfortable correcting or to get more comfortable about correcting people in general.

  28. Jordan says:

    I haven’t had a flashback for quite some time, about 2 1/2 years, it was about 4 years before that and about the same before that. The one 6 years ago took me by surprise, I watched Havoc, the Anne Hathaway movie, in it is a particularly bad gang rape scene that i wasn’t prepared for. I withdrew immediately, and couldn’t figure out what was going on. My husband at the time couldn’t touch me without me recoiling from him, and it took my bestfriend at the time talking to me and helping me talk through the episode to get to the heart of why it bothered me so much. I wound up crying, curled up on the couch under a blanket on the phone with my friend for two and a half hours.
    After that I felt better, and was much more able to deal with the issue and move past it.
    2 1/2 years ago the trigger came purposefully from my husband, and led to my divorcing him. -that I still cannot talk about, even with my current boyfriend.
    I”m constantly terrified that some unknown trigger will strike me with my new love and soul mate, but he does know about my past and can read me well. I just really hope that triggers won’t happen again, given that it’s been 14 years since I got away from my trauma

  29. Br DA says:

    I had my first panic attack when I was 14. I just started freaking out, in a cold sweat. The person who actually recognized it was my autistic brother, whose first reaction was to wrap me up in his arms and just whisper nonsense. It helped, and I didn’t have panic attacks for years. I’m at college now. I had a panic attack during a vulnerable moment with a group of friends, and latched on to a very dear friend. Things got… complicated. Last night, they told me that my behavior was insensitive toward him. They accused me of not having a panic attack. I’ve done the research. I know what happened to me.

    I think I’ve lost those friends. So, my mindset right now sucks. Then I came across this. This would have been so helpful, to explain. I wish I had had this.

  30. So many people that I know experience at least one or more feelings, or symptoms. I hope this page will help others.

  31. Queenester Pryor says:

    My attacks are very physical. They come on out if the blue when I’m at my most relaxed. Then I feel like my heart is going to explode and I I get cold sweats and nausea and disoriented and that impending death/doom feeling. What I’ve learned works for me is something cold. Ice or cold rags or water on my pulse points and behind my neck and on my chest. A lot of times I am alone so I have to try and rationalize what’s going on. Controled breathing. I also suddenly get really dehydrated feeling and I have the impulse to have to drink a lot of water or something with electrolytes and it has to be ice cold.

  32. Marcie says:

    Great post! This also works for when my voices get really loud. Now I have some talking points for my support people.

  33. Lesley Reid says:

    Found this information helpful as my partner has been rejecting me because of his PTSD and this has given me an insite in to how to cope rather than me thinking he is being horrible and awkward and me landing shouting if he ignores me.

  34. […] From author, Sometimes Magical, this tool is a wonderful resource for those who want to learn about being an ally to someone who has flashbacks, panic attacks or substantial anxiety. […]

  35. abides says:

    My husband has been suffering from PTSD for several months now and the difficult thing is that I have apparently caused it with a sexual assault I do not remember. My memory is that I was pushy, intoxicated and being silly. His memory is that I was aggressive to the point of demonic.

    We’ve been in therapy for months, for the many previously unaddressed issues in our long marriage. Progress is slow. There’s been more focus on my numerous issues, but less focus on his.

    Unfortunately, for a long time, I didn’t understand what was happenning with him and was confused by the trauma he was going through. I did every single wrong thing and exacerbated the problem.

    Now, we’re at a point where he says he does not trust me at all and does not believe he can ever trust me. He does not even believe he can ever be healed. I tried to gently suggest that these perspectives were counterproductive and he thought I was telling him he his feelings were wrong.

    What’s deeply concerning is that he himself has professed to becoming more schizoid. His distrust and paranoia are escalating. He’s always exhibited some of these traits, but increasingly is wanting to be withdrawn from friendships, even when I suggest that he should see friends without me (because he feels I might get contaminate the friendships).

    I recognize my own share of issues and have a growing stack of self-help books to deal with them, as well as journaling and a patient litany of self-care. I am concerned because he does not see the need to seek help for himself and his issues, only that I am the perpetrator and he keeps wanting me to get more and more help and self-help books and therapy. There’s only so much therapy we can afford.

    From reading what to do, it seems that I am now doing the right things. I am trying to be patient, kind and loving. I don’t know what to do, to help undo the damage I caused when I was not so. I don’t know what to do since he sees me as being monstrous and cannot release memories of things I did when I was angry, upset and frustrated.

    We’ll continue to go to therapy. It’s just so slow and only once a week. The other day, he told me he was wishing he could have cancer so he could die. The other day, he told me he was wishing he could find someone else to love him and heal him.

    In all this, my love and respect for him has grown. I am ashamed and sorry for what I have been and what I have done, but can’t say it enough in just the right way that he’ll forgive me or trust me or believe me.

    What can I do to help him recognize that he needs further help without saying exactly the wrong thing?

    I don’t expect you’ll have the answers. I haven’t seen much out there for our unique situation. I guess usually when the loved one has done the traumatizing, they’re not trying to make amends? It looks so simple in step-by-step instructions, but it can be excruciating to live with, especially when me own awareness has been too gradual.

    Thanks for reading.

    • I’m really not qualified to advise on a situation of this magnitude. If your husband is having post-traumatic symptoms, it sounds like that should be the focus of your marriage therapy right now. Please speak with your therapist about this so that they can come up with a plan that will be the most help to your husband’s healing. In the mean time, I suggest giving your husband lots of space for his emotions and process. If he feels that you have hurt him, you’re probably not the best person to be supporting him right now, unless he specifically asks you to. The pain and injury will likely inhibit any comfort you would otherwise be able to offer.

      Also please consider seeing a therapist for yourself personally. It sounds like you are in pain because you weren’t aware that you were doing anything harmful. Being able to talk with an objective person who is solely dedicated to helping your personal growth will help you be able to use this situation in a way that makes you a stronger person. Even if your husband decides that he can no longer be with you (which is something you’ll have to give him the freedom to decide), you’ll still probably need to process and understand what happened for future situations.

  36. […] For the less cryptic version of some of this, check out The Stained-Glass Ceiling. And for those of you who know someone who is also dealing with PTSD or panic attacks, check out this article on how to be supportive. […]

  37. Zana Washington says:

    My boyfriend has been diagnosed with Depression and PTSD this week, although I always thought he had it I wasn’t sure, I’m very grateful I can read response from the actual people that’s going through it, trying to figure out the tools I need to help him along the way,I will be with him through it all I just needed some insight on this disorder..Thank You!

  38. davedragon says:

    As a freshly recovering vet, diagnosed with Acute, Complex, Severe, P.T.S.D. From Military and childhood events. Not all of these techniques would have been safe with me, depending on how deep I’d gone.

    Beyond a certain level, the line between the reality of me actually being reachable by those around me, and what I saw and felt coming at me from my internal horror show was gone for me during some triggered episodes.

    This was part of me for 40 years, and recently almost completely resolved by A.R.T. (Accelerated Resolution Therapy) under the care of Dr. Diego Feldmann Hernandez, Psy.D, in Tampa, who is the principal investigator in the Veterans Administrations study of A.R.T. for Special Operations Personnel, either active duty, prior-military and retired.

    Still, the piece is spot on for all but us, those who have been highly trained to act in defense of ourselves and others. And like a previous commenter acknowledged, it’s nice to read a no BS approach for the care givers.

    Thank You for you compassionate heart, reenforced with compassionate action.

    • I’m glad you can recognize that just because others have said it would be helpful that it doesn’t necessarily hold true for you. I applaud the self-awareness you have for your own needs in a triggered situation. I’m also really glad you are finding relief through a therapy that seems to be working for you. There is no universal approach to PTSD. Sometimes it feels more like alchemy than science with the way that each person has to test and try various combinations to find the right one for themselves. But I think that is a good thing in the end–it speaks to how wonderfully unique our minds are. They are far more than a test-tube chemical reaction. :)

  39. Ruthie says:

    Thank you for this post. Not only has it given my partner some insight on how to help me, it also gave me some insight on how to talk to people about my panic attacks and how to give them the information they need to know when and before I’m having an attack.

  40. Irene says:

    This post and the comments have given me some sort of direction. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  41. Reblogged this on freedomwithinme's Blog and commented:
    Here is a blog for the Supporters of those who have PTSD or Panic Attacks. Feel free to share with your loved ones.

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