When your partner has anxiety, it’s easy to forget that they have specific needs that maybe you or past partners didn’t have. Individuals with anxiety are wonderful and often some of the most loving individuals you will ever have in your life. However, that is so easily forgotten when sometimes, all you see is a ball of anxious energy and panic attacks. This disorder can be crippling, but showing a little love can help you partner through the tougher times. Here are a few things to remember when your partner has anxiety.
1. They didn’t chose to be anxious. It might seem to be part of their personality, but believe me, they would have never chosen to be this way. There is no person who would willingly put their hand up and say “Yes, I want to have anxiety.” It’s an awful disorder that can ruins someone’s perception of being and how they live their day to day life; remembering that anxiety isn’t a choice is a step towards understanding.
2. It’s completely irrational. Some people think that since it is all mental (being a mental disorder and all), that it can be “rationalized away.” This notion is good in theory, but not in practice. Anxiety is irrational; you can know something shouldn’t scare you, you can think of a hundred reasons why you should be fine, but how you feel doesn’t reflect any of that.
3. It manifests physically. Tense shoulders and back. Nail biting. Hair twirling. Hand wringing. Teeth grinding. Insomnia. Do these look/sound familiar? These are all effects of anxiety, and there are dozens of other physical signs besides just those. Some people use fidget toys (which are excellent might I add) to keep their hands busy. For example, I know counselors that keep a basket of various toys in their office so that when clients come in they are able to talk but also keep the physical signs of anxiety focused on an object.
4. Panic attacks are terrifying. Period. They are scary. They are not a joke. And regardless of whether a threat is actually present or not, they are real. To someone with anxiety, it can feel like they are dying or are going to die. Don’t sit there and try to tell someone that their fears are invalid just because you don’t see or feel what they do. Validate them, and show them the love you would want if you were scared. This goes into my next point:
5. Just because you don’t think it’s rational, doesn’t make it invalid. Emotions are real, and that’s what they are feeling, so showing them that you are there for them is the best way to help. Your feelings about a situation won’t change someone else’s fear.
6. You can’t fix them, so don’t try. If they could be so easily “fixed” they would have been a long time ago. There really is nothing that you can say that they probably haven’t already heard, so the best “solution” is to just be accepting and patient, because that’s all they really want in the end honestly.
7. There isn’t always a trigger to the anxiety. Sometimes there is a reason that your partner is feeling the way they do. Sometimes there isn’t. Recognizing this shows you just how irrational anxiety can be. If you find that your partner is feeling anxious though, see if helping them remove themselves from the current situation does anything to make them feel safer.
8. Communication is extremely important. If I could write an entire piece on communication, I would end up writing a book. Talk to your partner about what to do when they are feeling anxious. They might like going to a specific place, or they might have a coping strategy that they can do with you, like taking a walk. Also communicate with them on whether or not they want to be left alone. Every anxiety attack is different, so openly communicating with your partner is so critically important. Speaking of communication…
9. Listen. Listen. Listen. Openly. Without judgment. That’s one huge thing your partner is going to want of you; a listening ear. Don’t force them to talk to you, obviously, because not everyone likes to talk when they are anxious, but if they trust and love you, they should know they can go to you when they need a shoulder to cry on. If they are choosing to communicate their feelings to you, then they have put a world of trust in you. Anxiety is embarrassing and super personal, so remember that them opening up to you is no small feat.
10. When in doubt, ask them questions. Your partner will know a lot better than you what will make them feel better. Ask them what you should do. Ask them if there’s anything they might need. Ask them how you can help. Your partner might not know themselves, but it’s better than giving suggestions, which can come off as minimizing their issue. They will appreciate your effort to understand much more than your advice.
11. Be patient. Patience is, by far, the greatest gift you can give someone with anxiety. It shows that you are there for them and are willing to sit down and try to understand how they are feeling. In my mind that is, by far, the greatest symbol of love.