5 Things to Remember When You Love Someone with Anxiety

Published: Oct 20, 2016
5 Things to Remember When You Love Someone with Anxiety
Anxiety looks different with every one, but here are 5 universally helpful things you can do to support your loved one who struggles with anxious thoughts.

It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon. My husband and I are completing our to-do lists so we can get outside and enjoy the day. We clean the house and start a load of laundry before he goes to get the car’s oil changed and I head to the grocery store. “I’ll see you soon,” I tell him, “We’ll go out for a lunch date!” And then we’re off on our separate errands.

One hour later, I return home to my husband’s warm smile and restaurant ideas for that lunch date I proposed. I, however, no longer want to go on that date. Or, more accurately speaking, I can’t go on that lunch date. My anxiety had been triggered at the store; although I left the house feeling grounded and content, I came home feeling overwhelmed, chaotic, and fearful.

On this day, it was an unexpectedly high grocery bill that sent me spinning. Once my anxiety is triggered, it often snowballs and is difficult to interrupt. I am slowly learning how to be kind and gracious with myself in my anxious moments. My husband is on this journey with me; as we come to know each other’s more layered and unrefined qualities, we can seek to love each other more fully—even (or especially) in moments of distress.

Anxiety may look different on you or your loved one; we all have varying triggers and reactions. My husband and I have found some helpful things to remember when you love someone who struggles with anxiety.

You are not the enemy.

Your loved one’s anxiety is not about you. You may find that, in their anxious moments, they are taking out a lot of their angst out on you. That is not fair or right, but they may still be learning how to work out their anxiety.

If your loved one is making you feel like you’re on different teams during anxious moments, have a conversation about how to keep that from happening. Let them know how it makes you feel to be wrongly targeted, and set some boundaries for anxiety-fueled behavior. Your loved one should have the space to express their emotion and anxiety; they should not let that be an invitation to take out those emotions on you. That is a fair boundary and honoring of you both—you each need to know that you’re for one another, not against!

Don’t try to suppress their anxiety.

The one thing that can significantly escalate my anxiety is when I’m told to stop being anxious. If only it were that simple! For me, the snowball rolls even faster when I’m being told the things I’m worried about are not a big deal because, to me, the sources of my anxiety all feel very real and valid. If I could snap myself out of it and return to being my more calm and grounded self, I would—believe me.

My anxiety needs to be heard; it will not disappear just because someone tells me it isn’t reasonable. My husband and I are both learning that when I can put words to my anxiety—and he listens, rather than just setting out to quell it—then the anxiety will actually be quieted much sooner than if it is told to just go away.

Maintain perspective.

When my anxiety is feeling loud, it’s usually because fear—irrational or not—has grabbed a hold of me. First and foremost, as I’ve mentioned, my anxiety needs to be expressed. Oftentimes, however, it can also help me gain a healthy perspective on that which I’m feeling fearful. When it comes to money, for example, my husband may offer actual facts of our financial situation, which counter the big, ominous cloud of generalized fear I have regarding money. He doesn’t only let my anxiety talk, but he also will lovingly share factual information that lessens the power of the anxiety.

Sometimes, we’ll work out a plan to counter the anxiety. This might mean going over the budgets we’ve made for our finances or time management, or addressing simple things we need to do that we’ve been putting off. My husband’s perspective of our lives can often help to bring me balance when anxiety is throwing me off.

It is helpful to note that this does not mean that I have no helpful perspective to offer in our marriage. Many times, my anxiety has led us to make healthy shifts in our goals, budgets, and life choices. It speaks quite dramatically, but it isn’t always speaking mindlessly. When the less-anxious partner maintains perspective, it’s meant to serve as a way of bringing balance, not complete correction, to the one feeling anxious.

Healthy activities can help your loved one adjust after anxiety has spoken.

Once my anxiety has had a chance to speak and I’m beginning to find my footing again, it’s not always easy to just jump back into life-as-usual. Hopping into the car to have that lunch date with my husband, for example, wouldn’t necessarily be an immediate option.

Suggesting healthy activities to do with your loved one can serve as a helpful transition once the intensity of the anxiety has subsided. Take a walk, visit a park, look through some old photos, or slow dance in the middle of the kitchen. Even though the anxiety may no longer be so loud, it is a lot for both of you to have engaged it. As much as you can, go slow with yourselves as you return to your day’s activities. Give yourselves time to reconnect and take a breath before jumping back into “normal” life.

Pray for your loved one.

Last but not least, pray for your loved one who experiences anxiety. Anxiety can be so complicated and disorienting, as you have surely witnessed. Pray for them—together or on your own—that they will have strength for the journey and will know peace that surpasses all understanding. Hopefully, your loved one is praying for you, as well, as you journey alongside them.

Your love and presence is a gift to the person you know with anxiety. Don’t underestimate your goodness or importance. Thank you for staying near, for seeking to understand, for seeing us in our imperfect moments, and for loving us so well.

Ephesians 4:2—Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

I am Mallory—a wife, a writer, and a dog mom to Roger. I love dry humor, clean sheets, sunny days, and frequent reminders of grace. These days, I hang out at malloryredmond.com, where I tell my stories with the hope of uncovering places of connection in our humanity. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter