1. If you’re going to go to battle, know what you’re fighting against.
Anxiety is a battle between your mind and your mind, literally. And sometimes the battle can get heinous, especially when it steps outside of your mind and into your body as a panic attack. Anxiety and panic attacks do get better with time, but it is a condition that your partner lives with forever. Loving someone with anxiety can be difficult. You need to look within yourself and determine if this is something you are capable of doing. Don’t feel ashamed if you can’t, either. There are some things that people simply cannot handle.
2. Sometimes there is nothing you can do, and you have to accept this.
Once a panic attack begins, there is nothing you can do to stop it. It has to run its course. With anxiety, there are ways to stop it, but again, sometimes your partner just has a bad day and can’t reach their methods and thought-stopping processes in time. I would encourage you to be supportive, patient, and loving during these episodes. Often times, people with anxiety can recognize when their thoughts are going dark, but at the same time, they may not be able to pull themselves out of it before the point of no return. Do not become frustrated because you cannot help. You help us the most by just being there.
3. Learn everything you can about your partner’s condition.
I cannot emphasize this enough. You will have a difficult time communicating with your partner if you cannot understand what anxiety is or what it feels like. Look up people talking about it, for example. Read everything you can about the condition. And even so, some people end up in counseling themselves to try to understand how to help themselves deal with their partner’s anxiety. If you make the effort to understand, your partner will appreciate it more than you know.
4. The worst thing you can do is shame us about our anxiety.
There isn’t a more horrible feeling in the world than someone telling us to “just get over it” or to “just relax.” These statements show a blatant misunderstanding of the nature of anxiety. Believe me, if it was that simple, we would have done it already. We know our anxiety makes everyone around us feel upset or frustrated about it, but if we could help it, we would. Would you tell a depressed person to just stop being sad?
5. We know how much of a burden our anxiety is, and we do not need a reminder.
This is not to say that you can never express frustration or anger about your partner’s anxiety, but there is a way to say it nicely and in as much of a loving way as possible. If you say it in a negative way, then you’ve triggered or increased the ever-present worries. Sometimes, in the moment, things slip out or aren’t meant to be said. But these are extremely damaging to us, like getting kicked when you’re down. If you want to speak about it, be as gentle as you can. And no, tough love doesn’t feel like love to us.
6. Having a backup plan will make your partner feel a little easier when out in public.
Anxiety and panic attacks wait for no one. These things can happen in public. Anxiety attacks when it wants and where it wants. What happens if you’re on a double date, for example, and your partner suddenly has an anxiety attack? Develop plans with your partner about what to do when these situations happen, like having a signal or key word to indicate that things are heading downhill, and an escape plan to get out of there just in case. This way, we don’t have to have anxiety about our anxiety, which can lead to said anxiety, if you followed me there.
7. Do not speak about your partner’s anxiety unless explicitly given permission to do so.
Mental illness is still very much stigmatized in our culture. We are seen as crazy nuts, or people who just let their mind run wild and don’t bother to control it. One of the more interesting judgments that have been passed upon me is that I have no reason to have anxiety, since I have a roof over my head and clothes to wear. I lack nothing, what is there to worry about?
Mental illness does not discriminate. The last thing I want is for your family and friends to pass judgment or alter their opinion of me because you told them about my anxiety, the exception being when it’s highly visible, such as a panic attack.
8. Sometimes you will be the trigger. Do not take this personally.
No, our anxiety will not magically skip over you just because we are dating you. If anything, being in a relationship adds to the anxiety. There are constant questions about how to reply to your text message asking what we are doing, what happens if we upset you, what does our future look like, and so on. But do not blame yourself in these situations. Do not feel guilty about any anxiety or panic attacks that stem from you. Anxiety is something we have to live with and deal with, in all aspects of our life.
9. Managing anxiety takes time and practice. Patience is greatly appreciated.
While I cannot speak for everyone, I regularly attend therapy where I talk about my most recent anxious moments and learn about cognitive behavioral therapy, a set of techniques used to manage negative thought processes, the very foundation of anxiety itself. Therapy is difficult and challenging, because you have to repeatedly wrestle with your anxiety to learn how to win. We get a lot of homework from our counselors as well. It is hard to cope with failure because perfectionism is in our blood. Be supportive of your partner both when they progress and regress. All battles are easier when you can face them with a partner.
10. Never forget that we love you.
Sometimes anxiety can evolve into rage or depression. It’s a shape-shifter; it takes on a lot of different forms. But in the midst of a bad episode or a difficult time, do not forget that we love you, we care about you, and we appreciate you more than you know. We appreciate you for standing by us when we are at our worst. Our supporters motivate us to keep growing and changing when things seem impossible. And having someone there who genuinely is interested in your well-being and happiness makes the whole “managing” thing easier. Thank you for everything that you do. We love you.