What Do I Tell My Partner About Panic?

September 11, 2011 Kate White
  • How do I explain anxiety to my spouse, lover, friends?

I really don't think you can do it without first coming to grips with the idea that the people we love may never fully know, and probably won't "get it" the way we hope. But that doesn't mean they can't be valuable allies in managing anxiety issues.


Many people are hesitant to discuss anxiety with their partners and friends. For many an anxiety disorder is a secret, a source of shame.
And close relationships aren't hard enough? Who wants to pressure people closest to them, or risk potential rejection because of issues that really are our own. I've gone all sorts of ways on this, and obviously there isn't one right path. Relationships are difficult and complex. Anxiety or not.

Anxiety: Explanations go a long way

Communication is rarely a wholly bad idea. Explanations give a context to what can seem very odd behaviour -better that than leave people to fill in the blanks. That way lies misunderstanding, regret.

It's more important to communicate about the ways the anxiety may interfere with activities in the relationship, or with your ability to be fully present and in-tune with the other person's needs than to list a whole lot of symptoms that may or may not mean much out of context.
Certain things are big red flags for incoming panic attacks, flashbacks. So I try to make sure other people have an OK map of those, they're not blindsided. Less blindsided? There's a general element of surprise. But if you haven't spoken up and it is 'out of nowhere', over and over, that can take a very serious toll. Surely the price we pay is high enough?

It isn't simply the added stress, it's the fact that when you're in it it's almost impossible to communicate coherently about what's going on. So if they aren't clued in already people are left wondering, and worse than that they feel the burden of it. They're going to want to try to fix it. They can't. You need to tell them that. And that it's OK.

Most people don't walk around keyed-up and hypervigilant ALL or most of the time. Your emotional landscape, and therefore your emotional needs, are different. That's need to know.

Anxiety in relationships


You tell it like it is. I say things like, 'I'm living out a war nobody else can see'. Like how during a flashback my every sense tells me that it's happening, that it's too real, that I am in danger, about to be, must act accordingly. That the anxiety isn't just a part of my life when it's visible to others, nor when something happens. That it's present, all too present throughout even the most basic aspects of my life.
I tell them that yes, I do try not to have it interfere with us. But inevitably it will, somehow, and you will notice, that will not be fun. That there will be times when I will not seem at all myself, and I'm not. I'm a fire-breathing dragon clawing at the dirt, scrabbling to find a way out of heck, and even better? It's all in my head, not to mention my bloodstream.
When that's done, I tell them that their patience, care, presence is always appreciated. Always. No matter what.

APA Reference
White, K. (2011, September 11). What Do I Tell My Partner About Panic?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Kate White

Elizabeth (Lady Delphinium)
September, 12 2011 at 3:35 am

Man o man do I wish I had read this article before Saturday night. I made the mistake of trying to explain my OCD to my brother who seemed to be asking sincere questions but it very quickly turned into him comparing my OCD to his drug addiction and him giving me lots of "TIPS" and simplifying my problems. It ended with me crying hot tears of frustration and him apologizing and me feeling like crap. I am still feeling pretty raw, judged, misunderstood and mad at myself for even trying to explain it.
Again, I really wish I had read this article before I ever opened my mouth. I am going to print it out and read it over and over because you have so many good suggestions on how to handle telling people about this stuff without making ourselves sick in the process!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kate White
September, 12 2011 at 7:00 am

Hey Elizabeth,
So sorry it went down like that with your brother. Eep. Difficult. It's always difficult but I can understand about the feeling raw part. Hope you'll have the courage to try again another time. Sometimes it takes a few false starts, I think.

Dr Musli Ferati
September, 17 2011 at 5:01 pm

Panic attack, as a subtype of anxiety disorder, has substantial impact on life functioning and relationship network maintenance. It is clear that anxiety burdens our relation to others with many emotional reactions that warps our innate psycho-social activity. Indeed, a light feeling of anxiety is normal psychological state that make us happy, joyful, kindness, sorrowful, painful, regret ... . Without these emotional landscape we would look like as robot-cold and unmerciful as well. But, the intensity and the longevity of our feeling should be limited inside tolerant framework that didn't damaged personal and interpersonal sense of well-being. Otherwise, every uncontrolled emotional outbreak, that extend for long time, might destroy our psychosomatic calmness. This phenomenon occurs in anxiety disorder of our emotional state. Therefore, it is of value to make effort to control our burst of feeling till the same didn't compromise our global life functioning.

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