I am very excited about this article as it was written by the love of my life. My boyfriend, Riley, put together these tips from his personal experiences dealing with me and my anxiety.
Living with someone who lives with anxiety can be incredibly frustrating, challenging and extremely difficult. You want to be there when they need you the most, you want to hold them up with your love, soothe them with your words and your touch, but often it doesn’t seem to help. I should know- I’ve experienced it all with my girlfriend.
Along the way, I’ve discover that there are five excellent things we can all do to support our loved ones through their anxiety. I’m here to share them with you today so we can all alleviate a little suffering. Perhaps they can even help you too?
#1: It’s not your fault that you don’t understand EXACTLY how they feel
If you’ve never personally lived with anxiety, you have no idea what that person is going through and that’s fine.
For a long time, the fact that I didn’t understand first-hand bothered me a lot, and I got caught thinking about how I could never help with something I don’t understand. Eventually I came to a realization that I don’t need to understand something to offer support. Sometimes this support is through a conversation, sometimes it’s running my hands through my girlfriend’s hair until she falls asleep. It all helps.
When your partner is in a great mood, try having a conversation with them to find out what helps when they’re experience an anxiety attack. Then if you’re around the next time it happens you can help! Support is support and will never ask for your resume.
#2: Stop asking if they’re OK!!
Asking your partner if they’re ok when they’re in the midst of a bout of anxiety isn’t the most helpful thing to do, even if we do it with the best of intentions! I’ll hold my hands up here- I’m just as guilty of this as the rest of us.
We all know those subtle cues our partners give us when something isn’t right so why remind them of the one things they’re probably obsessing over, the thought that they are not “okay”.
Replace this question with something that provokes dialog like, “How are you feeling?”. Try your best to encourage your partner to talk and offer your support where you can. Talking things out with your partner or with your self is an incredibly powerful problem solving tool, don’t be afraid to use it.
#3: WTF is normal?
Normality is NOT what TV and the movies shows us. The reality is that almost 20% of American adults suffer from anxiety (National Institute of Mental Health). This means that the person beside you is more than twice as likely to have felt the effects of anxiety than have watched the World Series…The truth is, anxiety is part of the spectrum of what being human is all about. And that is perfectly fine.
The thought that you aren’t “normal” doesn’t just trigger those negative thoughts patterns and a fixation on what seems like unshakeable truths, it also feeds the cycle of anxiety and negativity. According to my girlfriend and a number of people she has spoken to over the years, this idea crept into her head the second she felt the slightest bit of anxiety and only made her feel worse.
Remind your partner that they are in no way shape or form alone in this battle and in no way does it make them any less of an amazing human.
#4: Know when to stand back
Kenny Rogers wasn’t just talking about poker when he said “Know when to walk away”. If your partner has already begun the process of developing strategies to help them cope with attacks, respect that their process may not involve you whatsoever.
It’s great to have that open dialog but sometimes all you need to do is remind your partner you are there IF they need you. My girlfriend focusses on journaling and meditation while I keep the dogs quiet and prepare snacks.
#5: Be patient
I’ll admit it, I’m by no means the most patient person in the world. But if there’s one thing we can all do to help our partner, it’s taking a breath and not allowing frustration to enter our thoughts.
I was in an airport 2700km from home the last time my girlfriend had a major attack. From there it took about 38 hours to drive what should have been just under a 4 hour flight. Frustration joined us on the first leg of the drive but I soon realized that the world was still spinning.
How did I get past the feeling of all the blood in my body rushing to my head? I asked myself one simple question; “what could be more important than the wellbeing of the person I love?” Nothing. It’s not easy and I often have to remind myself of the answer, but I never doubt it.
Next time your partner struggles with anxiety, just remember these five tips. Be kind to yourself, quit asking if they’re ok, forget “normal”, stand back when you need to, and exercise your zen patience. THAT’S all they need to survive their anxiety.