When someone you love is struggling with anxiety, knowing how to support them isn’t always straightforward. It’s easy to play “psychologist” and try to rationalize with your partner, or play “martyr” and try to take their burden onto your own shoulders. But, at the end of the day, you’re not a psychologist or a martyr…and those approaches simply don’t work.
So, what does work? There’s no straightforward answer to this question. Each person and every relationship is different. However, in our experience as counselors, we’ve found the best ways to support a loved one struggling with anxiety include the following:
1. Ask questions and listen. Your partner may not know that his or her fears are unfounded, and may or may not realize their worries are unlikely to come to fruition. Rather than attempt to convince them their anxiety is illogical, ask them why they’re anxious. What’s worrying them? Listen without judgement and bring love and understanding to the conversation. Sometimes, just hearing their own words explaining their fears is enough to make them feel better or see the reasons for anxiety are unfounded.
2. Be present and available. Even if you happen to be a real-life psychologist…you’re not your partner’s psychologist, and it’s not your responsibility to swoop in and “fix” their issues. Just being present and available for your loved one can help them regulate their fears and keep further worries at bay. When your partner is ready to seek help, they will.
3. Understand their needs are different. Your idea of happiness might be a day of solitude, hiking in the mountains. Maybe it’s watching Sunday football, surrounded by friends and excitement. Your loved one’s idea of happiness might be to NOT have a panic attack that day. Don’t force your version of happiness onto your loved one by attempting to push them to do what you think would make them feel better. Pushing them may add to their anxiety, as they worry about the pressure, pleasing you, or meeting your expectations.
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. If you’re dealing with your own adverse emotions, let your partner know what’s going on. Anxious or not, they can handle the news. They don’t want to be treated like a fragile child. They want to be kept in the loop and to know what you’re thinking, or what’s going on—otherwise, their anxious mind WILL assume the worst.
5. Continue with your own self-care. We know it’s hard to watch when your partner is in pain. At the same time, your own self-care is important so you can be strong. There’s no need to feel guilty about going on with your life. Go to your best friend’s birthday party, go to the gym, enjoy your interests and hobbies. Putting your life on hold for your anxious partner will only serve to build resentment that will ultimately impair your relationship. Just remember, while you’re out and about, check in with your partner from time to time to keep them informed or let them know you’re thinking of them.
Severe anxiety is a mental health disorder that has a major impact on overall quality of life, not just for the person suffering, but for those closest to them. If your partner is ready to seek counseling for anxiety, or if you feel couples counseling would be a positive next step, please request a free phone consultation with a member of our counseling team. Creative Counseling Center employs some of Denver’s best and most qualified therapists and counselors. We would be honored to help you navigate the challenges you or a loved one are facing in life.