Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders worldwide. Because of this you probably know at least one person who struggles with their anxiety, but have you considered how debilitating is actually is for them? There are many types of anxiety conditions from social anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder. Around 12 to 18% of people are affected by an anxiety condition at any given time. There must be a fairly large proportion of couples where at least one partner struggles – And that’s completely normal.
The different types of an anxiety disorder include general anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, separation anxiety disorder, agoraphobia and more. Anxiety can be a challenge in any relationship, however there is no reason to let it spoil things between you and your partner – It can bring two people much, much closer. A lot of people find themselves wanting to help their partner but not knowing what to do. Here are some tips to help you support your partner.
First, learn about their anxiety. Find out what it means for them, how it starts and develops, what helps and what doesn’t. There are many good resources online to learn, but your partner may not be able to access these because the anxiety gets in the way. Don’t try to lecture your partner, but use the knowledge to help. The NHS has very good information on anxiety disorders that you can find following this link.
Remember, it is nothing personal. Some people with anxiety prefer to be left alone while they recover from an attack, or to remain focused. This is not because they don’t love you or that you aren’t calming enough; it is just the way in which they prefer to cope. It is their battle and whichever way they feel most comfortable overcoming it, let them do it – That in itself is showing support. Those with anxiety may also respond in an angry tone, be resentful or feel guilty towards their spouses. Do not let this bring you down, it is the condition that is causing your partner to behave this way. Always bear that in mind.
Encourage treatment. If your partner does not yet receive treatment for their anxiety, gently suggest that you can help make arrangements – After all, you want to help them. Offer your support during the appointment so it is less daunting. If left untreated anxiety disorders can get worse. There are lots of online resources, videos, books and more if your partner does not yet feel confident enough to sit face to face with someone. Calm breathing is one of the simplest and easiest ways to calm an anxiety attack.
Don’t criticise what they do. If you don’t know what it is like to experience an anxiety disorder (or even if you do), do not tell your partner off for getting anxious over situations which may seem silly to you. Also, don’t criticise their way of coping with anxiety. Don’t offer advice or alternatives, if it works for them, leave them to it. Instead, support them through it and praise them when they manage to cope well.
Help them to set realistic goals. Do not expect your partner to sit down and say “this time tomorrow I will not have anxiety”, because it won’t happen. It takes time, patience and often treatment.
You will NOT ‘cure’ your partner of their anxiety. A lot of the time, some partners go into a relationship assuming they can instantly cure their spouse of their mental health disorder. Just as you cannot ‘cure’ someone with diabetes, just by making them happy; it is also not possible to cure your partner of anxiety by loving them lots (although it does help).
Don’t assume what your partner needs or wants during anxious periods, listen instead. Although you may only be trying to help, you do not want your partner to feel small and incapable by offering help constantly.
Be there, but do not isolate yourself. Many people with anxiety disorders prefer to have a small circle of friends. Because of this they will not be as social as you may like. It is okay to spend nights in together if that is what you prefer however do not become isolated from your friends/family. Ensure you get out and socialise to maintain a healthy mind yourself.
Communication is key when in a relationship with somebody experiencing an anxiety disorder. An understanding of when they feel particularly low or are having a good day will not come instantly. Encourage communication to recognise the signs.
Being with somebody with anxiety is not a burden in any way. Neither of you are victims and if you chose to be with a person experiencing an anxiety disorder, life won’t be too much different. However it may require a little more patience, care and a better understanding of one another – Which will only bring you closer together.