HOW TO HELP SOMEONE WITH ANXIETY
Is Anxiety Affecting Your Relationship?
Living with or loving someone with anxiety can be a difficult and confusing experience. You might feel scared or intimidated by the severity of their panic attacks. Questions about how to solve this problem can confound and confuse you with no direction in sight. Perhaps your relationship is suffering from anxiety-driven irritability, anger or rage.
For all of these reasons and so many more it’s important to get clear on how you can help someone with anxiety. The first step is to empower yourself and your relationship with some important facts. And then, based on these facts about anxiety, create a plan of action that supports both you and your loved one.
MINDSETS FOR HELPING SOMEONE WITH ANXIETY
For the purposes of this blog we’ll use the word “partner” to refer to your ‘other person’ (e.g. wife, husband, friend, parent, girlfriend, etc). With this in mind, let’s begin by empowering you with the right mindset regarding your partner’s anxiety. Mindset is an important first step to coping with anxiety because it guides where you’ll put your attention and the energy that goes with it.
Perhaps the most important mindset for helping someone with anxiety is the ability to separate your partner from the anxiety. This is critical because without this you might accidentally begin to treat your partner as the problem. In reality, the anxiety is the problem. After all, if the anxiety were not present and your partner was free from it, you wouldn’t be reading this article in the first place.
“You Are Not Your Anxiety.”
If it’s helpful, you can think of your partner’s mind and body as a place that anxiety visits
– like an unwelcome house guest. Let’s call this visitor Mr. Anxiety. In his absence your partner may be calm, clear headed, creative and patient. But Mr. Anxiety has the power to show up whenever he wants, totally unannounced and without reason.
He can show up in the middle of the night… before a big event… or even in the middle of a peaceful evening binge watching Netlix. He can show up slow and mild, just annoyingly hanging out in the background. Or he might storm in like a tornado, leaving near destruction in a matter of minutes.
How rude. How unkind. This Mr. Anxiety is a real problem. Let me say that again. The anxiety and the anxious behavior is the problem, not your partner. Your partner does not need managing. The anxiety needs managing.
DOES MY PARTNER HAVE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY
Now that you are clear on the problem, let’s get some clarity on how the anxiety is showing up. Anxiety can be a sneaky thing and it often shows up in a wide range of experiences, from mild to severe. From nagging to debilitating.
Let’s talk first about generalized anxiety. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is unique from stress and tension. Stress and tension tend to be situational and you are likely to feel relief when the stressor passes. But those who live with GAD experience frequent anxiety for months, potentially years.
As you review this list of signs and symptoms of anxiety, think about how you experience your partner and if they have talked to you about any of these pain points. The National Institute of Mental Health outlines these signs and symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder:
- Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Having difficulty concentrating [brain fog, difficulty making decisions]
- Being irritable [angry or episodes of rage]
- Having headaches, muscle aches, stomach aches, or unexplained pains
- Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
- Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep
Remember, your job is not to diagnose or treat your partner. In fact, attempting to do this is not only ineffective and inappropriate, but it can also lead to hurtful power dynamics in your relationship. For diagnosis, seek the support of a team member at Guided Wellness Counselor or another licensed mental health professional.
IS MY PARTNER HAVING PANIC ATTACKS?
Not everyone with anxiety has panic attacks, but some do. Is your partner having panic attacks? The NIMH explains that, “Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear, discomfort, or sense of losing control even when there is no clear danger or trigger. Not everyone who experiences a panic attack will develop panic disorder. Panic attacks can occur as frequently as several times a day or as rarely as a few times a year.
Read More About Panic Attacks from the NIMH During a panic attack, your partner may experience:
- Pounding or racing heart
- Trembling or tingling
- Chest pain
- Feelings of impending doom
- Feelings of being out of control
If you think your partner may be having panic attacks it’s okay to talk to them about their symptoms. Let them be in charge of how much information they want to share with you and remain open and curious. Remember that symptoms of panic attacks are real, felt sensations and for this reason can be very scary. For example, it’s not uncommon for someone to go to the ER with a pounding heart and chest pain, thinking they are having a heart attack only to find out that they are having a panic attack.
HOW TO HELP SOMEONE WITH ANXIETY AND PANIC ATTACKS
Now that you’re empowered with knowledge, let’s talk about how you can help someone with anxiety and panic attacks. Let’s start with the most basic and important step.
Ask them how you can help.
I know it seems obvious but let’s talk about why this is important. Someone experiencing anxiety and panic attacks may likely feel out of control of their experience. Remember, Mr. Anxiety is an unpredictable little bastard, pardon me. So asking them how you can help puts the ball in their court – it’s empowering.
If your partner doesn’t know how you can help, ask if it would be okay to ask them a few more questions. Let’s get this conversation started. You might ask them:
- Does it feel better when I give you space?
- If you’re having a panic attack, do you want me to talk with you or stay quiet so you can calm yourself?
- Is there anything I’ve done before that’s been helpful?
- Is there anything I’ve done before that hasn’t been helpful?
HOW TO HAVE A CONVERSATION ABOUT ANXIETY WITH MY PARTNER
Here’s a few more tips for having this conversation with your partner. First, keep it light. Do not pressure them for answers. They may need time to think and feel about how they’d like your support. In fact, they may decide that the best thing you can do is to leave them alone!
Many of my therapy clients who have panic attacks in therapy sessions want me to sit quietly and patiently while they use a coping skill. During my silence I give them:
- The gift of time
- The gift of my trust and confidence in them
- Room and space to use tools that don’t involve me
- The knowledge that I will be a safe and present person for them to return to when they are ready
Your silent, uninvolved presence can be the greatest gift. So while your partner is coping and trying to calm: make dinner, distract the kids and hold them in loving kindness. They didn’t choose to be anxious right now and they are trying to be responsible for their symptoms.
Why Is My Partner Anxious?
Many of us want to help our partner by trying to understand why they are anxious. Maybe we think that if we could just understand why, we could solve the problem! While it’s not wrong to want to understand our partner, we must walk a fine line and remember…
YOUR PARTNER OWES YOU NO EXPLANATION OR JUSTIFICATION FOR THEIR EMOTIONS OR CHOICES.
And this is important, because anxiety is not rooted in common sense. Anxiety is not rational, logical or interested in your problem-solving abilities. It’s likely that your partner knows their triggers are nonsense or “crazy” – but the anxiety is still very real.
For example, many years ago my family experienced a once–in-a-thousand years flood. It nearly destroyed my childhood home and nearly every belonging inside not ruined by water damage was contaminated by sewage and mold. For months after this event (and occasionally to this day – nearly a decade later), when I see dark rain clouds gathering I feel a tightness in my chest and pit in my stomach.
Now, I know this reaction and fear is “crazy” (and I use that word oh so lovingly towards myself). I know it doesn’t make any sense. I can tell myself “I am safe. It’s okay”. My husband can tell me, ‘’Rain isn’t predicted for weeks.” But it doesn’t change that every once in a while this is my reaction. Mr. Anxiety taps me on the shoulder still.
So don’t force your partner to explain it all to you. And certainly don’t expect them to convince you why or how the anxiety is real. This is not a fact finding mission. Their anxiety doesn’t have to make sense to you for you to support them. A generous amount of genuine curiosity and unconditional respect of their experience is yet another gift you can give them.
DOES COUNSELING HELP WITH ANXIETY AND PANIC ATTACKS?
Before I skip straight to therapy in St. George, UT as an option for you and your partner, let’s review three key points. First, your partner may or may not want your help. Even if they want your help, you cannot make this better for them or solve the problem.
Second, you may or may not understand your partner’s anxiety. Heck, they may not even understand it themselves. Finally, the impact of their anxious behaviors can cause legitimate stress not only for them, but also on YOU and the relationship you share.
For these reasons, it can be very helpful to get help, support and guidance from a third party. This is where a therapist, counselor or other mental health professional can be an amazing resource for you and/or your partner. The skills, techniques and processes such as EMDR therapy that a therapist can apply often greatly reduce a person’s experience of anxiety symptoms and the severity and frequency of panic attacks.
The American Psychological Association confirms in their post, “Beyond worry: How psychologists help with anxiety disorders.” that, “Most patients who suffer from anxiety are able to reduce or eliminate symptoms after several (or fewer) months of psychotherapy, and many patients notice improvement after just a few sessions.” In these sessions individuals with anxiety learn to challenge their thought patterns and adjust patterns of behavior to reduce or eliminate chronic anxiety. Other forms of therapy, such as EMDR therapy, can address experiences of trauma or pain that may be contributing to the anxiety.
And don’t forget that you can also seek counseling for yourself. Living or being in a relationship with someone who experiences chronic anxiety or panic attacks can be stressful for you too. Therapy can help you learn boundaries to support yourself in the relationship and enhance your self-care so that you too can manage the impact of the anxiety on your daily life.
At the Guided Wellness Counseling practice we often see individuals who love their partner, but are stressed and don’t know how to cope with their partner’s emotional struggles. We can support you too. And remember – no mental health struggle is ever an excuse for abuse or violence towards you or others. You deserve to feel safe and respected. Always.
FIND AN ANXIETY THERAPIST IN ST. GEORGE, UT
If it’s time for you or your partner to start counseling for anxiety you’ll have a range of options at Guided Wellness Counseling. All of the therapists at our Southern Utah office specializing in the treatment of depression, anxiety and PTSD. To help you recover and grow we work with you as a unique individual and utilize methods such as mindfulness, coping skills, education, ‘talk therapy’ and EMDR therapy during weekly sessions.
In fact, many of our clients find that weekly sessions are an important part of their experience. The consistency of meeting weekly holds them accountable as they learn and practice new coping skills for anxiety and allow for follow-up so we can adjust or modify techniques as you learn what works best for you. We pride ourselves on a high rate of availability in scheduling so you never have to wait for help or support.
To get started, call or text (435)767-1424 for a complimentary phone consultation. We’ll explore your needs and hopes for counseling, then match you with just the right therapist for you. We’ll answer all your questions about scheduling or price and then make your appointment to be seen right away. We know that the first phone call can be intimidating and we won’t make you wait weeks on end before you can be seen.
Anxiety and panic attacks can improve with therapy and the support of a loving and patient partner. Encourage your partner to seek the help of a therapist. Consider if you would benefit from support as well, to cope with the stress of their anxiety on your life. Both of you deserve to be well and have a relationship full of freedom and joy. Know that you are not alone and support is available to you when you are ready.