How to support a partner with anxiety
Relationships can be difficult at times, especially when an anxiety disorder is added to the mix. Living in constant fear is not fun, but anxiety not only affects the one who is suffering but loved ones (friends, family, partners) are affected as well. A supportive relationship creates a strong foundation for battling anxiety. Being supportive to your anxious partner can be one of the most helpful treatments. Supporting a person who has anxiety is not easy and you will get frustrated and confused at times and that’s okay. If you do not struggle with anxiety yourself, you may be unsure of how to provide strong support to your partner. Here are some tips to help support your anxious partner, as well as ways to take care of yourself along the way.
Do not try to fix anything
When you hear your partner struggling with anxiety, feeling upset and in pain, it is almost a natural reaction to want to help them fix the problem. However, the anxious mind is not always a rational mind. Sometimes giving advice can make the anxiety worse. Unfortunately, anxiety is much more complex than an equation that can be solved. Your partner most likely knows that their fear is not rational and that it will pass. That is the frustrating part. Anxiety is a battle between the rational mind and the emotional anxious mind. Rationalizing your partner’s problem or giving a solution places a lot of pressure on them and might make them feel inadequate when they don’t feel better. Instead, ask them what they need to feel supported. Maybe they would like to vent, cuddle or see a comedy show. Just letting them know that you are there for them and love them even in times of distress may be all that they need.
Listening may seem simple, but listening is an effective method to reduce your partners anxiety. Actively listening can be just as helpful as responding. Keep tuned into your partners expressions. Be aware of your body language. Maintaining eye contact, affirmative head nodding, and leaning in are inviting movements and nonverbal ways to show your partner you are engaged. In order to keep tuned into your partner, minimizing distractions is a helpful way to provide your undivided attention. For example, turning off the television and talking in a private quiet room. Active listening is a skill to make your partner feel safe and heard without verbal responses.
Active responding utilizes the active listening skills as well as open ended questions to understand your partner’s experience better. Try to step into their world and see the situation from their perspective. Ask questions like “How did that make you feel?” and “what thoughts are going through your mind.” What options do you see? How do you want to handle the situation? Questions are such a great way to connect! Questions could make your partner feel heard and supported. Sometimes questions might not feel like enough, but they can help facilitate your understanding. It is important to never assume what your partner needs. Ask what they need from you. Validating statements are a helpful supplement to questions. After your partner answers your question, make sure that you validate their feelings. Often “anxiety” covers up a plethora of feelings. Let them know that their feelings are valid. Statements such as “that must be so hard for you particularly because ….. ” and “that makes sense, no wonder you feel that way” will help your partner feel understood.
Be sensitive to triggers
A trigger is a sensation, image, or experience that can trigger anxiety. If you know that your partner gets anxious when they do not hear from you all day make an effort to send a quick message to them. Something as simple as a text can really reduce the anxious feelings for your partner. For example, if you know that stress at work is particularly triggering be extra attentive to your partner during that time. Check in with them throughout the day. Letting them know that you are thinking about your partner can be helpful. It can also be helpful to make a plan together. For example, if you know your partner has social anxiety, create an exit plan if the anxiety becomes too overwhelming. You should not feel like you are walking on eggshells, but becoming aware of your partner’s anxiety patterns can be a helpful step to make sure that you both can be as relaxed and comfortable as possible.
Take care of yourself
Being a constant support for your partner is not easy and you will feel the effect of it. Understanding your wellbeing is just as important as being aware of your partners well being. In fact, taking care of yourself will make you an even stronger support for your partner. Here are a few ways in which you can take care of yourself:
1. Set boundaries
It is okay to have a limit. There will be times or situations where you may feel unable to provide the help they need. Become aware of your limits and talk to your partner about it. Communicate your expectations, goals and boundaries together. Maybe this would look like allowing a certain amount of space per day or week to be by yourself to decompress and re-energize. For example, maybe Wednesday’s are a day that you go get food with your friends without your partner. If your partner is not going to therapy, support groups, or work you may need to discuss ways to improve the situation.
2. Maintain a support system
Having your own support system to help you through this battle is essential for your own coping. Whether its friends, family, or a therapist; knowing that you have people you can reach out to and talk to about your experience will make it easier. Everyone needs support because life is stressful. If your partner has debilitating anxiety, they may not be able to take on the role of supporting you. Therefore, it is important to maintain a support system is important for self-care. Once again, communicate expectations with your partner. Ask them what amount of support they feel comfortable providing to you.
3. Do what you love
Continue to live your life. Do not give up on your hobbies or interests. Make time for all the other important things in your life whether it be friends, music, sports, travel, or art. Engaging with the things that give you pleasure will energize you and will help release the stress of daily life.
4. Work together
If your partner is getting support in individual or group counseling, try some of their exercises and homework assignments. For example, if the therapist suggests to your partner to start journaling during the week, you can try it too. Breathing or mindfulness exercises can be helpful to do together as well. Maybe both of you want to join a yoga class together to help with stress and anxiety. If your partner is not in therapy, set goals together and make a plan for how to reach them. It may be helpful to look into couple’s therapy for additional support. Whichever you choose, you both are a team. If you need help, feel free to call The Center For Growth. We have offices in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Mechanicsville VA and Santa Fe NM.