If you don’t have anxiety, it might be difficult to truly understand how it feels. Anxiety impacts every person differently. One person might have racing thoughts, another person may experience headaches and yet another individual could have heart palpitations. Regardless of how anxiety impacts a person, it’s unpleasant at best. Having an anxious partner can be challenging and sometimes exhausting. It’s important to be empathetic towards your partner. Anxiety is different from stress; it is a mental health issue, but it can also impact a person’s physical health. Some people feel nauseated when they’re anxious, while other people get intense stomach pain. Anxiety can cause people to have insomnia or the opposite: they can sleep too much. As you can see, anxiety can manifest in so many different ways. Watching your partner struggle to manage these symptoms can be painful. You want to fix it for them, but you can’t.
If only you could stop anxiety from harming your partner. Unfortunately, you don’t have a magic wand that cures anxiety, although wouldn’t it be nice if you did? Even though you can’t stop your partner from feeling anxious, you can be supportive and help them through those tough moments. One way to support an anxious partner is to listen to them and ask them how you can help.
What can you do?
When someone is having a panic attack, they might not be able to communicate what they need, which can be difficult to deal with as their partner. What you can do in that circumstance is be present with them. They will show you what they need physically if they can’t verbalize it. Maybe that means they want you to hold their hand or embrace them. Be patient and understand that they are trying to figure out what they need from you and from themselves.
Once your partner is able to ground themselves, they will be able to communicate their feelings better. One thing to remember is that your anxious partner is not making their feelings up. They are suffering and trying their best to cope with their overwhelming feelings. You can’t make their anxiety go away, but you can remind them that what they are experiencing is real and you are there to support them. Ask them what they need rather than telling them what to do. You can make suggestions but too much feedback can be difficult for someone with anxiety to process when they are in the midst of an anxiety attack. Your partner’s brain is operating at a rapid speed. Their thoughts are moving so quickly that they’re having trouble understanding how they are feeling at a given moment.
Being with a partner who has anxiety requires a great deal of patience. They don’t mean to come across as needy or intense, even though sometimes it might seem that way. Encourage your partner to recognize how strong they are. Remind them that all they need to do is take one step at a time. Help them to stay in the present moment. Sometimes they might not be able to see how your support is helping them in the moment, but later when they are not feeling anxious, your partner will thank you for being there for them. That’s the best thing you can do for someone with anxiety: be emotionally present, loving and supportive. Your partner is more than their anxiety, they are someone who you love and value; remember that.
Please see this link for further information about couples therapy.
About the author:
Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.
Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.