First of all, I want to acknowledge that if your partner suffers from anxiety, you are probably suffering, too. That’s why learning how to help someone with anxiety is an important step for their mental health — and yours, too.
When you’re tightly woven together as a couple, if something uncomfortable is happening within your partner, you will also be affected.
The good news is that because of this interconnectedness that comes from loving someone with anxiety, you are in a unique position to help regulate your partner’s anxious emotional state. You can learn how to help them move through an episode of anxiety more quickly and comfortably.
And then, you’ll both feel relieved.
And when your partner’s anxiety does flare up, remembering a few important points will help you cope.
Remind yourself that you are not the cause of their anxiety and neither are they. Don’t take it personally and don’t judge or blame them. Also, remind yourself that when your partner is under the influence of anxiety, they aren’t in a position to take care of you. It’s your turn to step into the role of being their caregiver until the anxiety passes.
Once you do that, you’ll be in a position to offer the help they need.
Here are 5 ways to help someone you love cope with anxiety.
1. Become an expert on your partner’s anxiety
Loving someone with anxiety means you need to learn about anxiety in general (there are many great resources online). Then, you need to understand how anxiety shows up in your partner specifically.
What does your partner feel when they are anxious? Where does your partner feel it in their body? What triggers their anxiety? How does your partner’s face change when they are anxious?What specific symptoms of anxiety is your partner prone to experience?
Part of what compounds anxiety for many people is the feeling that nobody understands, and that they are, therefore, all alone. By becoming an expert on how your partner experiences anxiety, both mentally and physically, your partner will know that they are not alone and that you are there to quickly help them feel calm, safe, and secure.
2. Identify how much physical closeness helps soothe their anxiety
More than likely, when your partner is having an anxiety attack, their irrational fears have thrown them into a state of perceived threat.
So, notice whether your partner feels more relieved than threatened when you move toward them or when you stay at a bit of a distance from them. Will they be more comforted if you gaze into their eyes and give them a big hug, or if you sit next to them on the couch and help them slow down their breathing?
If you aren’t sure whether your partner feels better if you move closer or would prefer that you give them a bit of space, you can do a little experiment together where you move in super close to your partner. Then, ask your partner to position you in a way that is most comfortable to them.
Once you know how much closeness is ideal for your partner, you can do a better job of soothing them when they are feeling anxious.
3. Listen, support, and relieve
At the first sign that your partner is experiencing anxiety, reach out to them with the amount of physical closeness that you’ve determined is most soothing, and then invite them to talk about what they’re experiencing, thinking, and feeling.
Listen carefully without judging or belittling. Let your partner know that they are not alone and that you’re there for them. Ask how you can help. Remember to keep your tone of voice even and sweet, because loud or clipped voice tones can actually trigger the sense of threat and increase anxiety.
After your partner has shared with you what they’re anxious about, remind them that this is a temporary state and go over the list of things that help them get through anxious situations.
If you don’t have a list yet, write down the things that most help your partner get through episodes of anxiety so you’ll be prepared to remind them of the process when they need it most. The list might include a long embrace, talking it out, intentionally taking several deep, slow breaths, moving their body, and repeating a positive affirmation.
4. Create a shift
Once your partner has talked through their current anxiety, move into action to help ignite a shift in their emotional state. Talking, alone, does not usually bring about a significant shift.
Here are a few ideas that can quickly create a positive mental and physiological shift in your partner’s anxious state:
- Use humor and laugh together
- Play patty-cake or catch
- Dance together
- Go for a walk or run
- Do synchronized deep breathing
- Cook a meal
- Look at your favorite pictures
- Brush each other’s hair for 10 minutes
- Talk in a funny accent
Get creative! You’ll be surprised at how well this will work.
5. Reflect on progress
You can help improve your partner’s overall relationship to anxiety by pointing out improvements and progress as they occur.
Improvements might include shorter episodes of anxiety, less severity of anxiety symptoms, no longer getting anxious over certain past triggers, greater hope and confidence around anxious situations, and meeting specific goals related to the things that provoke anxiety.
Any time you notice even the smallest improvement, be sure to amplify it by commenting on it in detail in a very positive and affirming way. This will reinforce and accelerate your partner’s progress.
By supporting your partner who struggles with anxiety in these five ways, not only will you provide a safe place your partner to heal more quickly, you will become more securely functioning as a couple, too.
Dr. Lynda Spann is a relationship therapist and coach. For more information, visit her website.
This article was originally published at LyndaSpann.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.