The Impact of Panic Disorder on Social Relationships

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When people are coping with difficult emotions, whether its feelings of anxiety or sadness, they often turn to others for advice and love. Social support can play an important role in mental well-being, which is why it can be so important for people who are experiencing symptoms of panic disorder.

Because of the nature of the condition, panic disorder can often cause social isolation. If you have a loved one or an acquaintance who has panic disorder, there are things that you can do to be a supportive friend.

Social Relationships and Panic Disorder

For a person with panic disorder, social relationships can be an important way to cope with symptoms of the condition. Some of the ways that social support can help:

  • Social relationships can help provide a buffer to soften the negative effects of depression and anxiety.
  • It can also serve as an emotional regulation tool, allowing people to better manage feelings of distress.
  • The results of one study suggested that social support may play a role in reducing symptom severity in people who have panic disorder.

Social support can also be helpful when a person is experiencing a panic attack. When someone is having a panic attack, the experience can be intense and overwhelming. Symptoms such as a pounding heart and labored breathing can leave people feeling that their life is in danger.

Panic attacks are frequently mistaken for a medical event such as a heart attack. It can take numerous trips to the emergency room before the person is even properly diagnosed with this mental health disorder. This can be very upsetting for the person faced with panic disorder and can also be worrisome for family and significant others.

Family and other sources of social support can have a significant impact on the recovery process for people with panic disorder.

Do
  • Offer assurance

  • Listen

  • Help them leave the situation if they want

  • Help them with relaxation exercises

Don't
  • Tell them to calm down

  • Suggest that they're overreacting

  • Deny or downplay their feelings

  • Judge or ridicule

Things to Avoid

If someone you love is coping with panic disorder, there are some things you need to avoid doing. Sometimes these actions can be hurtful and may damage your relationship. In other cases, they can actually make the symptoms of panic disorder worse.

Don't Aggravate the Situation

If you happen to be there during one of their panic attacks, it is crucial that you remain calm and collected. If a person having a panic attack thinks that you are afraid of them or angry at them, it can have a negative effect on their well-being.

For friends and family members, one of the most important ways you can help is to maintain calm and avoiding joining in on the panic.

  • Focus on being a model of relaxation.
  • If you are in a setting where the other person tends to get anxious or panic, come up with a plan to help keep them calm.
  • If the person needs to leave the situation, help them with an exit strategy.

A panic attack can be upsetting—both for the person having one and those who are there when it happens—but it is not life-threatening.

It can sometimes be a challenging situation to deal with, but it is important to that avoid seeming judgmental or upset. People with panic disorder often feel helpless and socially isolated, so if they feel like they are burdening their friends and family, they may isolate themselves further to avoid becoming a burden.

Don’t Minimize

Patience and trust are vital components for helping someone battle panic disorder. If a person with panic disorder is pushed into a situation they are not ready for, they may withdraw as their fears intensify.

The symptoms can only worsen by hastily propelling them into a panic-inducing situation or telling the person that they are being melodramatic. Rather than denying their feelings:

  • Remain supportive.
  • Allow them the space to work through some of their own issues.
  • Have faith that your loved one will recover on their own time.

What You Can Do to Help

There are plenty of steps you can take to support someone who has panic disorder. Remember that social relationships can play a role in helping the individual cope, so look for things that you can do that will make a positive difference.

Educate Yourself

The best way to begin to understand what someone with panic disorder is going through is to become educated about the condition. Learning more about panic disorder can help you feel better prepared and more understanding of what your loved one is going through.

You might find it helpful to learn other things about the condition including:

You may also find it useful and empowering to learn about relaxation techniques that can help people who are having a panic attack. Knowing these techniques will help you understand what to do and how you can help when someone you know is experiencing an anxiety attack.

Listen

When a person begins to experience panic, allow them to express what is happening to them. Get updates on how they are by asking “How are you feeling now?” Sometimes doing this can help them focus on something beyond the physical sensations of panic. Other things that you can do:

  • Reassure them that they are safe.
  • Let them know that you won’t let anything bad happen to them.
  • Listen carefully and acknowledge their fears.

Help With Relaxation Exercises

Before another attack even occurs, plan ahead and decide with them what strategies are most helpful in getting through the panic. Ask them how you can be the most helpful when a panic attack happens. During the attack:

  • Assist the person with their breathing by taking deep breaths with them or counting along as they breathe.
  • Use affirmations along with them, stating “You are safe.”
  • You can always simply lend a hand by getting them a seat, helping them to an area where they feel secure, or bringing them a glass of water.

Offer Encouragement

Panic disorder is overcome in little steps. Remember to acknowledge the person’s small victories. For example, a person who often panics in a car may agree to a short drive around the block. This tiny movement forward may not seem like much progress to you, but it is still a step towards growth.

You can help by offering praise along the way as the individual progressively works toward their goals. Reinforcing positive steps can help improve a person’s sense of confidence. Over time as the person becomes more self-assured and will begin to make further strides towards recovery.

Getting Help

Couples and families dealing with panic disorder can benefit greatly from therapy. Through therapeutic intervention, the family can work together on treatment planning and recovery.

  • Family therapy to address the dependency needs of the family member with panic disorder, support issues, communication problems, and education may be beneficial as an adjunct treatment.
  • Individual therapy can also benefit those dealing with a loved one with panic disorder, allowing for open and honest sharing of concerns and frustrations without fear of hurting their feelings.
  • Group therapy that focuses on supporting families who are coping with a member with a mental disorder can also be helpful.
  • Support groups that are offered through advocacy organizations, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), can also help people with panic disorder and family members.

Remember to Take Care of Yourself

It is important that you maintain your own quality of life while your loved one works through this problem. Taking care of yourself and your priorities may help alleviate feelings of resentment or annoyance. Some things you should do:

  • Stick to your plans, regardless of how the person is feeling. Don't completely rearrange your life to work around someone else's anxiety. For instance, if you had plans to go out with friends or visit with extended family, still do so even if they feel too afraid to go.
  • Set boundaries with them, such as limiting the number of phone calls you will take while you are at work or deciding what days you can make available to assist them outside of the home.

A Word From Verywell

Even though coping with a loved one with panic disorder can be demanding, assisting them in overcoming it can be rewarding for your relationship. By supporting them through this journey you can improve communication, foster trust, and enhance intimacy. With kindness, empathy, patience, understanding, and love, family and friends can serve as some of the most effective instruments for recovery. 

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Article Sources
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  2. Zaki J, Williams WC. Interpersonal emotion regulationEmotion. 2013;13(5):803-810. doi:10.1037/a0033839

  3. Palardy V, El-Baalbaki G, Fredette C, Rizkallah E, Guay S. Social support and symptom severity among patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder or panic disorder with agoraphobia: a systematic reviewEur J Psychol. 2018;14(1):254-286. doi:10.5964/ejop.v14i1.1252

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