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.


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.


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.


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.


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! ❤

When Nature Decides to Join in the Firework Fun . . . Things Don’t Go So Well

I had an exciting blog topic for this week that I was working on, but it turns out that I’m not fit for finishing the rough draft or editing what I have. In between long naps and lots of pain medication, I’m just pretty much sitting here in shock that I was mildly electrocuted by a nearby lightning strike (I’m still secretly happy it wasn’t a panic attack).

So this week readers get my fun little tale that will probably seem so much more fun to tell in about a year when I’m no longer freaked out, and I’m getting a break from trying to write something profound.

I call this tale: Since When Did I Become the Fireworks? (mostly because I really can’t think right now)

It was the fourth of July, but the fireworks were all wrong. There were no pretty colors lighting up the sky or gorgeous patterns blossoming before our eyes. It was the middle of the afternoon, but the sky was black. Rain poured down in dancing sheets as thunder shook the walls of the store.

It was almost closing, and I was anxious to get home where I could bundle up in blankets and turn a movie up louder than the storm. My heart sank as a group of six people walked in and started browsing around.

They’re just waiting out the rain, I told myself. They’ll leave soon.

They had just enough time to scatter themselves when the power died.

“Oops, hold on!” my coworker called. “Stay where you are, I’ve got a flashlight and will come get you.”

I fumbled around on the counter for the flashlight we’d dug out earlier and handed it to her. As she gathered those in the back, I began herding the few near me.

“You’ve got something to your left, ma’am.” I reached out to guide her, but hesitated. “Do you mind if I touch your arm?”

“No, go ahead,” she replied.

Grabbing her upper arm, I navigated her towards the group with my coworker. A few others had found their way to the light on their own.

“Okay,” Eva said, when everyone was together. “We’re going to have to close the store now, but we open again tomorrow at nine.”

There were a few scattered groans as people pulled on their jackets.

“We’re sorry for the inconvenience. Hope you have a good holiday!” She followed them to the door, locking it after they were gone. She jogged towards the office with the flashlight, calling behind her, “I have to shut down the back computer before the emergency power dies.”

“I’ll need the flashlight when you’re done so I can count the registers.” I started to imagine the fun of sitting at home with lit candles as I made my way to the counter.

“There’s another flashlight in the drawer,” Eva said.

But it was too dark to see even the outline of things in the drawer. In a stroke of insight that probably should have happened earlier, I grabbed my cell phone and tried to use the backlight as a dim flashlight, but it still wasn’t bright enough. I didn’t find the flashlight until Eva pulled it out for me.

I counted the first register quickly as Eva called the manager to explain what had happened. I had just opened the second register to count it when the store suddenly lit up with white light and the sky growled as loudly as if it were in the room with us.

I screamed, my hand involuntarily flinging quarters across the counter. My heart was racing as I gasped desperately for air I suddenly seemed unable to breathe.

Shit, not a panic attack over thunder, I pled with my body as tingling spread from my head to my fingers. Dropping to my knees, I curled into a ball with my head resting on the tiles. My medicine was in the back, but I wouldn’t be able to get it for this panic attack. My muscles had seized up and my ears felt like they were on fire. I think I was wimpering, but I couldn’t hear anything outside of the roar in my eardrums.

Eva said something indistinct about screaming and lightning hitting the building. I thought she was talking to me, but I couldn’t respond. The roaring began to subside along with the heat. I pulled my head up and saw Eva saying goodbye and hanging up the phone.

Embarrassment washed over me as I tried to get up and failed. My muscles simply wouldn’t respond at first. “I don’t feel good,” I whimpered.

I had begun thinking of ways to blow off the panic attack as funny when Eva asked me, “Did you feel that too?”

“You felt it?” I reacted with as much shock as my body would allow, which wasn’t much.

“Yeah, my head felt all buzzy and tingly. My hair stood up on my neck. I think the building got hit and we got some of it.”

I managed to stand up. “Holy shit, my head hurts.”

“Take it slow,” Eva cautioned when I began gathering the quarters and counting again. “We’re not leaving here until it’s safer anyway.”

The counting was fuzzy, and my fingers felt clumsy. But the calculator helped. It wasn’t until I tried to walk to the back that I noticed my coordination and balance were off. I staggered like I was drunk, catching myself on the counter. I swore, then remembered I was at work and looked around quickly to make sure no customers heard, only remembering that we were closed after I saw how dark it was.

Nausea hit us both soon after and we sat in the office waiting for the storms outside and in our stomachs to pass somewhat before finally locking up and going home.

The END!

Have a good week all! Stay far away from lightning!

(Also, I don’t use real names, just fyi)