Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults ages 18 and older every year — that's 18.1 percent of the population. Anxiety develops from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events, and people with anxiety disorders are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer. But only 36.9 percent of those who deal with it receive treatment and, even for those who do, dealing with their anxiety is no easy feat. For couples, anxiety disorders can cause conflicts if they don't communicate well.
People with anxiety disorders may deal with panic attacks. A panic attack is "a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause," according to Mayo Clinic. Panic attacks can be frightening, particularly if the person suffering one feels as though they're losing control, having a heart attack or even dying. And the worst part is that panic attacks typically happen without warning — while driving, working, sleeping. They're indiscriminate and can happen to anyone, even if they don't have a history of attacks.
Communication is key in any relationship, and especially so for those who deal with anxiety disorders. They know the importance of having partners who understand them and how to communicate with them, especially during anxiety attacks.
That's why Kelsey Darragh, a producer in Los Angeles who suffers for anxiety, tweeted a now-viral list she'd written for her boyfriend about how to help her manage her anxiety. The aptly titled list, “15 Realistic Things You Can Do to Help Me Through a Panic Attack,” explains how Darragh feels during an anxiety attack, and it dives into what her boyfriend can do to support her. Her tweet reads: "I have panic & anxiety disorder. My boyfriend does not... but wants to understand it so he can help me. SO I made him this list! Feel free to share w ur loved ones that need guidance!" The tweet has garned almost 25K likes to date, more than 8.5K retweets and countless comments.
“Know that I am scared and won’t be able to explain why, so please don’t freak out or be annoyed [with] me,” she wrote at the top of her list. She also instructed him to find her medicine if it's nearby, to practice breathing exercises with her, to distract her panic with gentle suggestions of things they could do together, to remind her that it'll pass, to bring her water if she wants it, to take her home if possible, to help her breathe, to call her mom/sister/friend if necessary, to tell her not to fight it, to empathize with her and to communicate with her about how they handled the situation together after it inevitably passes.
She also offered clear explanations as to how she may react to the aforementioned help — like she will feel frustrated by breathing exercises and she might feel like she has to vomit if she drinks too much water.
“Once it passes (like hours later), open up a dialogue with me about it,” she wrote as item No. 15. “How’d you do? What can we do next time?"
It's incredibly important for a partner to be able to listen and, more importantly, understand their partner's anxiety. And Darragh's tweet resonates well with a lot of people in her position.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.