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Mental, Relationships WELLNESS

How Can I Support A Partner With Anxiety?

BE WELL

Mental health considerations make living with anxiety challenging, but supporting a partner who has anxiety can also be a complex task. It requires understanding, patience, and a set of strategies to ensure both partners feel supported and connected. Here’s how you can effectively support your partner as they take on their anxiety journey.

Understanding Anxiety

People grappling with anxiety often find themselves worrying about a multitude of things daily, becoming overwhelmed by concerns ranging from social interactions to financial stability and safety issues. Adults with anxiety don’t just worry about themselves; they constantly fret over the well-being of others as well, especially their spouse, partner, and children. They are burdened with numerous responsibilities, such as providing for their family, and frequently question if they are raising their children properly or fulfilling their spouse’s expectations. Individuals with anxiety are usually aware of their excessive worrying and wish it was something they could control.

To be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)—where anxiety is seen as a ‘disorder’ rather than a ‘common human emotion’—a person must experience this intense anxious state on most days for a minimum of six months. Other prevalent anxiety disorders include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), social phobia, panic disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), hypochondriasis, and somatoform disorder. Each of these anxiety disorders has specific therapies and treatments available.

A girl recognizing anxiety from her partner

Recognizing Anxiety Symptoms in Your Partner

Anxiety can manifest in a number of ways and it may be subtle but impactful. Understanding these symptoms can help you support your partner effectively. Here’s a comprehensive look at common signs of anxiety in a partner:

1. Persistent Fear of Imminent Disaster

Your partner might often have intrusive thoughts that something terrible is on the horizon. This constant dread can be overwhelming and affect their daily life.

2. Excessive Worry About Performance

A hallmark of anxiety is the relentless concern that they’re not meeting expectations. This worry can extend to both personal and professional areas of their life, leading to significant stress.

3. Seeking Constant Reassurance

You may notice your partner frequently asking questions and needing validation. This is their way of coping with uncertainty and they may be seeking comfort in your responses.

4. Perfectionism

An anxious partner might exhibit perfectionist tendencies, striving to exceed expectations in every task. This drive, while seemingly positive, can be a sign of underlying anxiety.

5. Argumentativeness as a Defense Mechanism

If your partner becomes argumentative, especially when faced with situations they fear, it could be a way to avoid confronting their anxieties directly.

6. Obsessing Over Mistakes

Anxiety can cause your partner to dwell on both minor and significant mistakes for extended periods. This fixation can prevent them from moving forward and finding peace.

7. Fear of Change and New Environments

Your partner might show extreme worry when routines are disrupted or when they’re in unfamiliar settings. This fear can limit their willingness to try new experiences.

8. Impact on Work Performance

Anxiety often affects a person’s professional life, making it hard for your partner to focus, meet deadlines, or maintain productivity.

Physical Symptoms

  • Dry Mouth and Swallowing Issues: Anxiety can cause a dry mouth and difficulty swallowing.
  • Nightmares and Sleep Disturbances: Troubled sleep, including nightmares, is common.
  • Restlessness and Irritability: Difficulty staying calm and frequent irritability are telltale signs.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: Maintaining focus becomes a challenge.
  • Muscle Tension and Headaches: Anxiety often leads to muscle tension and persistent headaches.
  • Rapid Heart Rate and Breathing: Increased heart rate and quickened breathing are typical physical responses.
  • Sweating and Trembling: These symptoms can occur even in non-stressful situations.
  • Digestive Issues: Diarrhea and dehydration are also potential signs.

Understanding these symptoms is crucial for providing the right support to your partner. By recognizing the signs, you can encourage them to seek professional help and work together towards managing anxiety effectively.

A man seeking professional help for anxiety
Understanding the Causes of Anxiety

Anxiety often stems from external circumstances, such as relationship problems with a partner, family, or friends; work-related stress; job loss; financial difficulties; the death of a loved one; and other challenging life situations. Adults, in particular, may experience anxiety when they feel disconnected from their spouse or children, especially teenagers. This sense of disconnection can lead to constant worry about how to reconnect without adding pressure on the family.

Certain medications, physical illnesses, chronic conditions, disabilities, or traumatic events can also trigger anxiety. Additionally, some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to anxiety, especially if mental health disorders are present in the family or if they were raised in an anxious environment. It is crucial to work with a health professional, such as a counselor, to identify the root cause of anxiety.

Diagnosing Anxiety

Adulthood is often a challenging phase, particularly when it involves raising a family. During this period, individuals may develop anxiety due to the numerous responsibilities they juggle, both personal and familial. Mental health challenges can impact emotional, social, financial, and other life aspects, making it essential for those experiencing anxiety to seek professional help. Visiting a GP or psychiatrist is necessary for proper diagnosis, which involves systematic interviews and ruling out other behavioral and mental health conditions. To be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), adults must experience heightened anxiety on most days for at least six months.

Treatment Options for Anxiety

Anxiety is among the most treatable mental health conditions, with full recovery being a realistic goal. Even if anxiety develops during adulthood, effective treatments can help individuals overcome this challenge. Treatment options for anxiety include:

Psychological Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is particularly effective for general anxiety. It focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors.

Medication

Antidepressants and other medications can be prescribed to manage anxiety symptoms effectively.

Relaxation Therapy and Deep Breathing Exercises

These techniques help individuals manage stress and reduce anxiety symptoms.

Self-Help and Support from Family and Friends

Encouragement and support from loved ones play a crucial role in managing anxiety.

Support Groups

Connecting with others facing similar issues can provide a sense of community and understanding, helping individuals realize they are not alone in their struggles.

A wife trying to calm down his husband from his anxiety

How to Support Your Partner Struggling With Anxiety

Educate Yourself About Your Partner’s Anxiety

Understanding anxiety is crucial. Learn about its various forms and how it manifests in your partner. Everyone’s experience with anxiety is unique. Observe when they feel most anxious: in the mornings, social situations, or while commuting. Approach this with curiosity and warmth. Genuine interest in their experiences can be calming. If they are attending therapy, offer your full support.

Lead With Compassion and Empathy

Anxiety can limit activities and create frustration. However, expressing frustration can worsen their anxiety by making them feel pressured to “fix” themselves. They are not broken; they are managing a difficult condition. Encourage open communication about their feelings and concerns. Listen without judgment and ask questions to understand their perspective. If you feel frustration building up, take a break and revisit the conversation later.

Respect Your Partner’s Boundaries

Respect is key, especially when your partner feels overwhelmed. Assure them it’s okay to take a step back when needed and that you’ll be there when they are ready to talk. Their boundaries are about managing their anxiety, not pushing you away.

Avoid Trying to Fix Their Anxiety

It’s natural to want to fix your partner’s anxiety, but it’s not something that can be quickly resolved. Your support can help reduce their anxiety, but you can’t fix it for them. Encourage self-care routines like exercise, a balanced diet, and proper sleep, but don’t assume these alone will cure their anxiety.

Suggest Ways to Lower Anxiety Gently and Humbly

If certain behaviors exacerbate their anxiety, approach the topic with love and concern. For example, suggest watching something other than the news before bed if it affects their sleep or trying decaf if caffeine worsens their anxiety. Avoid taking control; instead, offer supportive suggestions.

Avoid Making Assumptions

Don’t presume to know what’s best for your partner. Avoid dismissive comments like “just relax” or “get over it.” These are unhelpful and dismissive. Let them make their own decisions unless they ask for your input. Don’t infantilize them; respect their autonomy.

Be Patient

Anxiety can be unpredictable. Your partner will have good days and bad days. Be patient and understanding, even when you’re unsure how to help. Often, your presence and support are enough. Process your frustrations away from your partner.

Celebrate Every Victory

Celebrate small victories without engaging in toxic positivity. Recognize their strengths and accomplishments. Whether it’s giving a presentation, driving farther than usual, or attending a social event, acknowledge their efforts and progress.

Be Cautious About Constant Reassurance

While reassurance is part of any relationship, too much can worsen anxiety in the long term. If your partner needs constant reassurance, consider couples therapy to break this cycle. Some forms of OCD involve seeking constant reassurance, which can resemble anxiety.

Support Therapy

If your partner is considering therapy, support them. Help with research, finding a therapist, and offer to attend sessions if they want. This can help you understand their treatment and be more supportive.

Participate in Couples Therapy

Couples therapy can strengthen your relationship and provide a supportive environment for addressing anxiety. A skilled therapist can offer strategies for managing anxiety together.

Take Care of Yourself

Supporting a partner with anxiety can be emotionally taxing. Prioritize your own self-care and seek support from friends, family, or individual therapy.

Supporting a partner with anxiety involves a blend of understanding, empathy, and patience. By educating yourself about anxiety and its manifestations, you can better comprehend your partner’s struggles and provide more effective support. Leading with compassion and respecting their boundaries is crucial, as is avoiding the urge to “fix” their anxiety. Instead, gently suggest ways to manage their anxiety and celebrate their victories without falling into the trap of toxic positivity.

It’s important to recognize that anxiety can be unpredictable, with your partner experiencing both good and bad days. Your patience and understanding can make a significant difference, as can being cautious about giving constant reassurance, which can sometimes exacerbate anxiety in the long run. Encouraging your partner to seek therapy and participating in couples therapy can also be beneficial, offering both of you strategies to manage anxiety together.

Remember, supporting a partner with anxiety can be emotionally taxing, so it’s essential to take care of your own well-being too. Seek your support network, practice self-care, and maintain open communication with your partner. By working together, you can navigate the challenges of anxiety and strengthen your relationship.

FAQs

Here are a few questions partners supporting a loved one with anxiety might ask:

How can I help my partner without feeling overwhelmed?

Answer: Prioritize your self-care, set boundaries, and seek support from friends, family, or a therapist. It’s important to manage your own well-being while supporting your partner.

Should I attend therapy sessions with my partner?

Answer: If your partner is comfortable with it, attending therapy sessions can provide valuable insights and help you offer better support. It also shows your commitment to their well-being.

What if my partner doesn’t want to talk about their anxiety?

Answer: Respect their boundaries and let them know you’re available when they’re ready to talk. Encourage open communication without pressure, and be patient.

Can my partner’s anxiety be cured?

Answer: While anxiety can’t be quickly “fixed,” it can be effectively managed with therapy, self-care, and support. Encouragement and understanding can help your partner navigate their anxiety.

How do I handle my own frustration when supporting my partner?

Answer: Take breaks, practice self-care, and seek your support network to process your feelings. It’s important to address your frustrations away from your partner to maintain a supportive environment.

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