Loving Someone With Anxiety: 8 Tips To Help Support Your Partner
By Jenny Chang
Updated November 29, 2019
Reviewer Karen Devlin, LPC
Anxiety is the most crippling mental illness amongst U.S. adults, affecting almost 40 million people every year. Chances are, your partner or someone you love is one of them. How can you help your loved ones, through the good times and the bad? Understanding anxiety and treating your partner with validation, kindness, and sympathy are all crucial steps to supporting your loved one.
How To Love Someone with Anxiety
The best way to love someone with anxiety is to understand what the condition entails. Your partner will have fears and worries that are unfamiliar to you. Anxiety includes many signs and symptoms, and there are many different types of diagnoses. Understanding anxiety in all its forms will help you become a more supportive, sympathetic partner.
What Is Anxiety Disorder?
The terms "anxiety" and "anxiety disorder" are catch-all phrases to describe several conditions related to an intense feeling of fear or panic that disrupts daily activities. This is completely different than typical anxiety that anyone feels during moments of stress or nervousness. People with anxiety disorder suffer a chronic fear of particular experiences or environments and will take steps to avoid them.
Common anxiety symptoms include - but are not limited to:
- Physical symptoms, such as sweating, rapid breathing, an increased heart rate, gastrointestinal upset, or uncontrollable shaking or trembling
- Emotional symptoms, such as feeling constantly afraid, nervous, or tense
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep disruption (accompanied by constant exhaustion during waking hours)
- Avoiding situations or conditions that will bring on feelings of anxiety, known as ""
Types Of Anxiety Disorders
There are several types of defined anxiety disorders, each of which relates to specific symptoms.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) includes feelings of panic or worry about everyday events or situations, such as work, health, education, or social outings. 6.8 million adults have been diagnosed with GAD alone, with more cases found in women than men.
- People with Panic Disorder (PD) suffer from regular, intense panic attacks. These physical reactions to sudden feelings of overwhelming fear include increased heart rate, sweating, and shaking. Panic attack causes range from triggers or feelings of panic associated with another anxiety disorder. Those who have the panic disorder - about 6 million adults in the U.S. alone - will intentionally avoid situations that bring on their attacks, even if it affects their work or personal life.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder is a condition where separation from a loved one (or someone to whom the diagnosed is attached) triggers feelings of panic. This type of anxiety manifests in feelings of constant worry: people with separation anxiety change their daily routines to avoid being separated from the person to whom they are attached.
- Social Anxiety Disorder - includes feelings of anxiety or panic in social environments. People with social anxiety disorder avoid large gatherings or situations where they are the center of attention, such as public speaking engagements. Panic attacks and social anxiety often go hand-in-hand: those who have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder often have panic attacks before or during social gatherings. 6.8% of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with SAD.
- Agoraphobia - According to the Mayo Clinic, agoraphobia is an "anxiety disorder in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed." Agoraphobics seldom to never leave their homes, avoiding situations such as public transportation, being trapped in a space alone, being alone in open space, or being in a crowd of people.
Tips To Support Your Anxious Partner
Even if you learn everything you can about anxiety, you may not know what to do if your partner is feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or panicked. The most important thing to understand is that this condition is not something that can be "fixed" or "cured." It is a valid medical condition that requires treatment. If your partner suffers from anxiety, there are some steps you can regularly take to be as supportive as possible.
1. Discuss Your Partner's Anxiety With Them
When your partner is feeling calm and ready to talk, ask questions about his or her anxiety. What does their anxiety feel like and look like? Does he or she suffer from panic attacks, or do they have chronic worries over specific issues? What are their triggers?
When a woman who suffers from anxiety was asked what she wished her support system understood about her condition, she stated that anxiety education was vital: "Be informed about our illness. Understand the feelings and reality of what your partner is facing and be there in the same way you would for a person who has a physical illness. Learn our triggers."
2. Know the 3 Types of Panic Attacks - and Their Difference from Anxiety Attacks
Both panic attacks and anxiety attacks are frequent in those with anxiety disorders. Even if your partner does not have panic disorder, he or she will most likely experience a panic attack at some time. Knowing the difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks is essential to supporting your partner through these times.
Both panic attacks and anxiety attacks have the same physical and emotional symptoms: they are short periods of uncontrollable fear, accompanied by heart palpitations, sweating, shaking, and irrational fears of death, harm, or loss of control. However, the main difference between the two episodes is a trigger causes an anxiety attack.
3 Types Of Panic Attacks
A panic attack has no apparent cause, and they can happen spontaneously. There are three types of panic attacks:
- Unexpected - Unexpected panic attacks occur without exposure to a person's triggers
- Situational - Also known as cued panic attacks, these panic attacks come from either anticipating exposure to a situation or condition that induces anxiety or right after encountering the trigger.
- Situationally Predisposed - closely related to situational panic attacks, these attacks are related to triggers, but they may or may not happen when someone encounters their trigger. It may happen later as a delayed reaction after experiencing a situation that induces anxiety.
3. Be Familiar With Grounding Techniques
When discussing your partner's anxiety with them, ask them what soothes them when they are feeling anxious. Since anxiety is different for everyone, what works for one person may not work for someone else. If your partner experiences frequent anxiety attacks or panic attacks, ask him or her what grounding techniques they use or need when they feel an attack coming on or when they are in the middle of one.
Types Of Grounding Techniques
Grounding techniques are exercises that help someone who is feeling stressed or anxious remain focused on the present. They range from specific activities, such as yoga or taking a walk, to focusing particularly on one's environment. The most familiar grounding technique is the 5-4-3-2-1 method that helps reduce anxiety by engaging all of the senses.
The 5-4-3-2-1 method is a focusing technique to help your partner remain focused on the present by stating out loud:
- 5 items you can see
- 4 items you can touch
- 3 items you can hear
- 2 items you can smell
- 1 item you can taste
Another popular type of grounding method that has been on the rise lately is ASMR. These videos and audio recordings provide the listener with repetitive sounds, such as whispering, tapping, or brushing. The soft noises produce tingling sensations throughout the body, starting from the head and neck region - helping the listener enter a deep state of relaxation. Although ASMR is typically used for insomnia, the state of relaxation the sounds produce are also helpful for those who are under stress or suffering from anxiety.
4. Be Sympathetic
When your partner or loved one has anxiety, the worst thing you can do is devalue their fears. When your partner is revealing his or her worries, listen. It may seem unreasonable to you, but it is not to them. Instead of dismissing your partner's condition, take this opportunity to understand your loved one's anxiety from their perspective.
Sometimes your partner might just need you to listen and validate what they are feeling is real. Other times, it can lead to a wonderful bonding experience between the two of you. You can learn how you can help your partner cope, and your partner will feel loved, understood, and accepted.
5. Offer Alternatives When Your Partner Is Feeling Anxious
Even if your partner seems to have their anxiety under control, they will still have dark days when their fears get the best of them. During these times, help them cope by offering alternatives. If your partner suffers from social anxiety, suggest a date night at home with dinner and a movie. For that big vacation coming up, soothe your partner's phobia of flying by planning a road trip.
6. Be Encouraging
Although you want to help your partner avoid situations that set off their anxiety, you don't want to coddle them either. Once you understand your partner's anxiety, encourage them when they make progress, no matter how small it may seem to you.
Did your partner with social anxiety or agoraphobia attend that business party with you? Even though you had to leave early, it took everything for your partner to take that step. Consistent positive reinforcement will help your partner feel loved and understood, as well as continue making small steps to conquer their fears.
An important element in helping your partner manage their anxiety is encouraging them to take care of their physical health. Eating well, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and sleeping at least 8 hours a night helps eliminate the stress that can trigger anxiety. Exercising regularly can also help your partner de-stress. Encourage your loved one to keep up with their healthy lifestyle: offer to join them on their morning run or look up new low-carb meal ideas on the internet that you can try at home.
7. Remember That You Both Need Your Own Space
Supporting your partner with anxiety doesn't mean making their condition the focus of your relationship. Remember to set boundaries for each other, and to engage in your interests and social lives without each other. Just like any other couple, taking time apart is healthy! If you spend too much time together, it could cause codependency issues that are harmful to both of you.
8. Encourage Your Partner To Seek Professional Help - And Seek Help Together
Part of your partner's ongoing management of their condition needs to be in a professional setting. If your partner has been diagnosed by a therapist and is keeping up with their treatment, support them in their endeavors. When your partner delays speaking to their doctor about issues that are upsetting them, be as sympathetic as possible while encouraging them to attend the appointment. Offer to go with them. Your presence is the best support you can offer.
Anxiety is a condition that requires much more than either you or your partner can take on alone. Although the two of you are in this together, there is help available. Click here to access online couples counseling options. Our licensed couples' counselors can help you and your partner communicate and cope with his or her anxiety together.