Suggestions and tips for support people

Before getting into specific suggestions, there are few points to keep in mind:

  1. At all times be supportive but not condescending.
  2. Remember, you are not responsible for your companion’s recovery. You are doing what you can but the majority of the healing must come from within.
  3. Don’t blame yourself if the person has a panic attack or is unable to complete the outing. It’s not your fault.
  4. Don’t feel there is something you must be able to do help the person get over a panic attack. There is little you can do. If at home the person may want to be held or just left alone. If you are out, he or she may want to just sit for a few minutes or return home.
  5. The person you are with is in charge; he or she calls the shots. If she or he wants to abort the outing, abort; to go somewhere other than where you planned, go there. That person, not you, knows what feels most comfortable.
  6. After a few outings try to have someone else come along so that the person you are supporting can begin to feel comfortable with the other person. Eventually you don’t have to be present all the time.
  7. Don’t wear yourself out. For your own health there may be times you have to say “no” to a request.
  8. You may not understand panic attacks, but never tell the person that it’s all in her or his head, that’s really not helpful!
  9. Don’t call outings “practices”; “practice” seems not to expect less than success. Since there is no specific goal, how can one fail? Every outing is successful if looked at correctly.
  10. As part of your support role you may have to remind the person that backsliding is normal, assure them that they are sane and that they are not having a heart attack or other physical trauma.
  11. Don’t be upset if you get snapped at occasionally. The person may be very up-tight.

Practical guidelines for going out together:

Don’t make a big deal of it. The person is probably anxious, and to plan as though you were preparing an invasion will make him or her more anxious. How much planning and structure is required varies from person to person and will probably change over time.

If you are not familiar with the place you plan to go, go ahead of time to case it out. See which areas will seem confined, find the exits, ask about times when it is not too crowded. Know where the stairs are located in case escalators or elevators are a problem. Being able to tell the person you know the area may make her or him feel less anxious.

If the person wants you to stay with them do so–like glue. It’s not his or her job to keep an eye on you. It’s your job to keep your eye on her or him. If your companion wants to hold your hand or suggests you stay a few feet back from them, do what she or he requests.

Always have an agreed upon central place picked out at which to meet in case you accidentally become separated. Once it is obvious you have lost the person go directly to that spot. Do not waste more time looking. He or she will feel more comfortable if she or he knows you will be there.

If the person wants to leave you for a while, set a definite time and place where you will meet. Don’t be late. It is better to be early in case he or she arrives early.

The only responsibility with which to charge your companion is to let you know if she or he feels overly anxious or panicky. Frequently you can’t tell from just looking at him or her.

If the person indicates that she or he is becoming anxious ask them what they would like to do–take a few deep breaths? sit down? go to a restaurant? leave the building? return to the car? A break may be all that is needed for his or her anxiety to diminish. She or he may want to go home or return to the place you have left. That is up to him or her. Ask the question but don’t push.

If your companion has an unmanageable panic attack lead her or him from the area to a place where he or she feels safer.

Don’t add stress by giving the impression that there is something YOU must absolutely accomplish before returning home. The free permission to return home at any time is now gone.