A Confusion of Choices, or Not Panicking People With Panic Attacks

I think a failure mode people often get caught in is trying to help panicked/anxious people by providing them with lots of helpful choices. So, say Joe is having a panic attack. The impulse is to give them the best thing that will make them feel the most cared for, right? Since Amy isn’t telepathic, she says:

“I’m so sorry you’re feeling awful! Can I get you anything? water? juice? I can leave? or get someone else?”

And now, Joe has to pick between ALL of those options while Amy waits on him to answer. That’s not less stressful; it’s more!

Instead, I encourage what I call forced choices. Amy can say

“I’m going to get you some water, and then I can sit here until you feel more calm, but you can tell me to leave if you want to.” [smiling at the end of the statement, and immediately moving to go get water.]

Now, Joe doesn’t have to simultaneously worry about showing anxiety/panic AND managing Amy’s emotions AND deciding what will make him feel better. Joe can focus on himself and managing his feelings, without having to worry about how his panic is making Amy feel, or accidentally snapping at her.

Additionally, the thing about anxiety is that the worry/fear is pathological by being loud: your entire experience is flooded with the anxious spiral. The marginal difference between juice and water (from the Amy-Joe example) is just such low priority that it’s impossible to pick. Simultaneously, Amy is there waiting and needing an answer, while your brain screams that you have to focus on the fear and anxiety. If Joe has a strong preference, one powerful enough to compete with the anxiety — for instance, he is stressed by the idea of Amy being out of sight while she gets water, he can speak up.


3 thoughts on “A Confusion of Choices, or Not Panicking People With Panic Attacks

  1. Reblogged this on Kariset and commented:
    This formula has my stamp of approval!

    The situation described also runs parallel in my mind to what I posted yesterday. Not directly, as panic attacks are obviously a distinct issue from standard conflict resolution, but the concept of “forced choices” is another example of a relationship interaction that doesn’t fit the paradigm I was raised with. It essentially takes control and acts on behalf of the partner in order to care for them rather than seeking equivalent input before coming to conclusion. It does allow an option for input, which is important, but the times I’ve tried it, I usually haven’t gotten any.

    Essentially, my point is that relationships and lives do not all fit in one box. The traditional picture of mutually working toward every decision is not always what will work best, or what you may need. Don’t guilt yourself if honestly caring for your lover requires something non-standard; it doesn’t mean your love is insincere or there’s something wrong with your relationship. Just means everyone is unique and you’re learning what works for you.

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