While 40 million adults in the United States alone suffer from anxiety, and it is something that touches almost all of our lives, people with clinical anxiety experience more severe symptoms than most.
Someone with anxiety often feels like they are hard to love, like they have to apologize for how their mind works. Therefore, nothing is more comforting, life-affirming, or encouraging than knowing that there is someone by their side who is willing to help them fight the battle, who is willing to show them that they can be loved for who they are. And while it can be difficult for those who suffer from anxiety to ask for that love, and to communicate how they need to be cared for, we created a podcast episode dedicated to the lessons we have learned navigating these kinds of relationships.
1. Educate Yourself
Anxiety isn’t something that the person you love is making up in their head, but relating to them can be difficult. Therefore it is important to find as many resources as possible, whether that is through books, conversations, podcasts, etc on the topic, so you can better gain insight into how to help your person. Make sure that you are taking the time to educate yourself, not only through outside sources, but also through your partner. Ask them what their triggers are, and how they manage it. Take the time to understand how they need to be loved, and helped, during their most anxious experiences. That way, when you start to notice something happening, you can help them through it, you can be a safe place for them, so they do not have to go through it alone.
2. Do not judge or minimize them.
People with anxiety already understand that their thoughts can be irrational. That their mind leaps into scenarios and panics that don’t make sense to the outside world. And because those thoughts don’t often make sense, it can be easy to minimize them as a person who doesn’t experience them. However, when you tell someone to chill out, or that they are overreacting it can be very isolating for them. Telling someone you love that something isn’t a big deal, when it is causing them genuine distress, physical symptoms, and emotional pain — can make them feel even worse about it because it downplays their experience. It makes them think that they are silly, weak. But people with anxiety are not weak. They are strong. No one would ever choose this kind of illness, and they are very aware of the impact they have on those around them. Not only do they have to deal with those emotions, but they also have to deal with the world. Make sure that you aren’t adding more stress to an already stressful aspect of their life.
3. Be present with them.
Just be there for someone with anxiety. Acknowledge them. Let them talk, openly, about what they are thinking. Have a real conversation with them so you can know exactly where they are coming from. It helps you too, because you gain understanding. Let them know that it is okay that they aren’t okay right now. Let them know that they are valid. Sometimes, someone just needs a person by their side, letting them know that things are going to get better, that they aren’t going anywhere, that they are going to stay. Sometimes, someone with anxiety just needs to see you show up for them, listen to them, because it shows them that you don’t resent or judge or hate them for the way their mind shows up in this world. It shows them that you are trying.
4. Remember that there will be frustrating moments.
Your person doesn’t want to hurt you. They don’t intentionally want to cancel plans or flake or burden you with the countless scenarios that run through their mind. Someone with anxiety so deeply wishes that they were able to do certain things with you, and enjoy you, and love you the way you love them. But their minds sometimes don’t allow them to, and that can be deeply disappointing to a person who does not experience or understand anxiety the way their partner does. However, instead of getting angry with them when they cannot show up for you, or making them feel like they are constantly disappointing you, understand that you are not disappointed with them. You are disappointed with their anxiety. Make sure to make your reactions to moments of frustration, which occur between two healthy human beings just as much as in a relationship with someone who is dealing with anxiety, focus on the illness rather than the person. Always remind yourself that their actions are never personal. They are navigating a lot of difficulty, they are trying to protect themselves. Be gentle with them within that.
5. Celebrate the smallest wins.
Someone with anxiety will always try to make the effort to be who they genuinely want to be for you. They will always try if they feel like they can. They want to do all of the things in the world with you if they love you. They want to show up to the function. They want to go to the concert. They want to meet your friends. So, when they do follow through, and are able to do something that a year ago, or a few weeks ago, they weren’t able to — that is an amazing win. You should celebrate those wins — no matter how small they are. When you love someone with anxiety, celebrate what they are, not what they struggle with, and it will encourage and motivate them in their coping and their recovery, because it will remind them that they are making progress.
6. Learn how to reframe your affirmations.
Remember — you cannot fix someone with anxiety. You can only love them. And sometimes someone with anxiety just needs to hear that they are going to be okay. When dealing with a difficult moment with your partner, instead of asking “Are you okay” which is a question that may heighten their irrational thoughts, try to concretely remind them that they will be okay. Remind them to focus on their breathing, give them something tangible to concentrate on in their mind so that they can get their brain off of their panic.
7. Remind them that you’re a team.
No one wants to deal with a mental illness alone. And a lot of people who deal with them do suffer in silence because they do not want to worry or burden those they love. They don’t want to be judged or minimized, they have told themselves that they will always have to go at it on their own. So, it is important to remind your person that you’re a team. Say things like “We will get through this together” or “We will figure out what to do next.” It helps for them to believe that they are in something gentle, and that they are safe to open up.
8. Take care of yourself, too.
Loving someone with anxiety can be emotionally taxing for a person who may not understand them on a deep level. And while it is beautiful to try for them, to want to be their savior, you also have to take care of yourself. Try to ensure that you have a good self care routine, that you are taking time to come back home to who you are. Make sure that you are finding ways to replenish your energy stores, because loving someone with anxiety can deplete them. It is important to have your own life outside of the relationship, because you want to make sure that someone isn’t codependent on you for their healing. Remind yourself that you are not responsible for fixing them. That is work they have to do within themselves, and professionally. You can hold their hand through it, but you need your own space too.
At the end of the day, someone with anxiety overloves. They know what it is like to feel isolated, and so they want to give everything to another human being in order to ensure that they would never feel the same. Someone with anxiety has a mind that works to convince them lies surrounding their worth and their value. Therefore, being the person who holds their hand, who stands by their side while they fight to navigate their illness, who knows how to love them on the hard days — that reminds them that they deserve to be loved the way they love others. That reminds them that there are those out there who want to care for them correctly; that there are those who want to stay.