How to Support a Partner with Anxiety
When you’re not in it, anxiety and other mental illnesses can be difficult to understand, becoming just another stressor of a relationship. We’re going to change that.
Learning why your partner with anxiety acts that way
While mental issues are all extremely subjective experiences, and originate from all sorts of places, there are a few most common “symptoms” of anxiety that you can familiarize yourself with. Being able to separate your partner’s anxious behavior from their authentic selves is the key to getting through it together, and come out better on the other side.
- Feeling Restless; are they moving around a lot, shifting their weight? Do they have trouble focusing on one thing for long periods, easily frustrated and impatient?
- Easily Fatigued; do they sleep for hours on end, and wake up seemingly more exhausted than when they went to bed? This isn’t a sign of laziness, so be careful navigating this symptom.
- Absent-minded; do they have trouble joining in the conversation, being present in the moment? Are they constantly day-dreaming or simply “out of it”?
- Irritable; this one can be difficult to recognize without getting caught up in the crossfire, but constant irritability can be a sign that they’re spiraling, so keep an eye out and be slow to blame.
- Muscle tension; are they tightly wound? Can’t seem to truly take a nice, deep breath and lose the tension? While it’s entirely subconscious, having a tornado of scary thoughts running through their mind is sure to tighten them up.
- Overthinking; the holy grail of anxiety, are they taking every little thing and turning it into a monstrous, unnecessarily huge problem? Yep, that’s all the anxiety.
- Insomnia; as crazy as it may seem, anxiety will throw off the circadian rhythm like nothing else. One minute, all you want to do is sleep. The next, you’re up all night because a bug crawled across the ceiling.
While these are not the only symptoms of anxiety, they are the most commonly-known and chances are your partner with anxiety will exhibit at least a few of these. So, take a step back, ask yourself if any of these things apply, and then keep reading to see how you can help them fight it.
Understanding what they’re going through
While it may appear that everyone and their grandmother has anxiety these days, this trend should in no way discredit your partner with anxiety. It’s true, we are the most anxious generation in history, and for good reason!
Climate change, a never-ending stream of horrific news, access to anything and everything, the competition that is social media, the pressure to succeed sooner and sooner with the deck terribly stacked against us. There is a lot to be anxious about.
But what does it mean, exactly?
Think of it this way—instead of having a devil and angel on their shoulder, like in the cartoons, your partner with anxiety has a terrified, little worm squirming around in their head. This worm likes to find a thread of fear and pull on it with scenario after scenario until it’s become so upset that it falls asleep.
Like a snowball effect, once a fear is out in the open, anxiety will make it bigger and bigger until something crashes and it’s stopped. This often manifests in the form of a big fight, a mental breakdown, and then crying to sleep.
Again, we must remember that anxiety is a subjective illness and everyone will have a slightly different experience. For this reason, it is so important to communicate with your partner about what they’re going through.
Let them know that first and foremost, you see what they are going through and you are THERE FOR THEM! Reassurance that they have someone in their corner while they fight through this will mean more than you may ever understand.
Ask them how you can be supportive, or if there are any unique triggers that you can help to avoid. It isn’t as complicated as it might seem, just be there, be open, and be loving.
Common triggers for a partner with anxiety
Now, of course anxiety is much more complex than an imaginary worm. But the most important thing to remember is that this is not who your partner is. They are being tossed and turned, back and forth, up and down, and however little you’re enjoying this time, their experience is exponentially worse.
They are in a space where they can’t trust their own mind. To them, it doesn’t feel like a foreign worm causing the trouble, the fear feels real.
If you want to avoid major blow-ups of anxiety, you’ll want to know about and stay away from any possible triggers.
A trigger is an event, sensation, or some type of experience that sends their anxiety into overdrive.
Common triggers include:
- Insecurities on display—oftentimes, people dealing with mental illness feel like they aren’t themselves. It is an awful experience to know things about yourself, like a love for exercise or a persistent determination, and have it be taken away with no warning. Do what you can to help your partner recognize that their shortcomings are not their own, they are dealing with an illness and they will find themselves again.
- Lying or hiding things—the worst thing you can do to someone with anxiety is give them something to be anxious about. Like a dog with a bone, if there is something to worry about (like a lie you told), they will worry until they uncover the root of the anxiety.
- Insensitive language—we know, it gets hard. It’s not fair, it’s not fun, and it’s definitely not an easy situation to endure. But the minute you give up and let something insensitive or rude slip out, you’ve taken a million steps back in any progress you’ve made together. Don’t give them anything serious to stress over from the one person they can count on.
You can make it through, together
Supporting a partner with anxiety is no easy feat. If you aren’t in it for the long run, this is not your fight. But if you’re a committed partner that will do anything for their person to get better and be together, happy, it’s possible.
Make sure you’re doing all you can to support their growth and healing without neglecting your own mental space. If it gets to be too much, let your partner know that you want to be their support, but you can only be a help if you are taken care of yourself.
Don’t be afraid to be honest. It will get tough, but in the end, honesty is the only thing that cuts through the anxious bullshit (eventually, after some tears, it’ll work).
Stay strong, stay by their side, and maybe consider if a Chill Pill could help!
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