Several years ago, anxiety almost crushed me.
I didn’t want to leave my house, and when I did—my feet tingled, my left eye blurred, and I felt like I could jump out of my skin.
I was suffering. So I told my friends.
And their support—their love—carried me through that season.
One friend called every day to see how I was doing. Another encouraged me to try medication. Another gave me a book with the exact words I needed to hear. And my husband reached out to my former therapist for advice.
Those relationships saved me.
When your partner has anxiety..
Maintaining a relationship — whether it’s a friendship or a marriage — with someone suffering from anxiety is a challenge. It’s a delicate walk between supporting the person when they need it most and empowering them with the courage to face anxiety on their own.
So, if you know someone struggling with anxiety and you want to help them through this season in the most loving, supportive way possible, here’s how to do it.
1. Empower your partner to face anxiety on their own
When we love someone, we want to solve their problems. This is especially true with anxiety. We think that, if we string the right words together, we’ll be able to “fix” the person.
But, while your words can provide comfort and temporary peace, they cannot solve another person’s problems.
If you try to solve this person’s problems whenever they arise, you risk subconsciously sending a message to them that they are not strong enough to deal with anxiety on their own.
Or, even worse, it could cause them to become dependent on you to “fix” their anxiety, leading to codependenceand a host of other problems down the road, especially if the relationship ends.
Your goal is to support—not solve.
Do this by empowering the person to face their anxiety head-on. This could take many different forms, but here are a few examples.
- You could send them resources about meditation.
- Instead of trying to solve their problems, you could simply sit, listen, and let them talk through their issues.
- You could offer a word of support when the person is having a hard day.
Whatever you do, make sure you subtly place responsibility on the other person to address their anxiety. You can be the ship’s first mate, but they’re the captain.
They don’t need to be “fixed,” they simply need to be supported.
2. Talk to your partner about their anxiety
The purpose of these conversations is not to remove anxiety, but to provide a safe space where the person is free to express themselves — especially on bad days.
Often, the pain of anxiety is compounded by the feeling that no one understands you. It might take time, but if you can show the person they’re not alone, you can provide a powerful antidote to the lies anxiety tells them.
There are two things you absolutely should not do when talking with someone about their anxiety:
a. Don’t push: Pushing someone who’s not ready to share about their anxiety could make them feel cornered. And, instead of creating a safe space, you will instead create one where they feel attacked.
b. Don’t judge: In order to create a safe space for the person to share, they have to know it’s a judgment-free zone. Whatever comes up, do your absolute best not to judge the person for it. Often, what you’re hearing or seeing is not the person themselves, but their anxiety.
3. Be self-aware
Outside factors can quickly and easily increase anxiety in others. If you are in a relationship where anxiety is a factor, it’s important to be self-aware enough to know how your actions are affecting the other person.
Are you reacting emotionally to your partner or friend’s anxiety? Do you get frustrated by it? Do you avoid talking about it?
Your goal isn’t to walk on eggshells. Instead, it’s to understand the effect your words and actions have on another person, so you can express yourself without unknowingly causing harm.
How do you become more self-aware?
One easy way is to start journaling, either in the morning, at night, or both. Write down what you experience each day—events, emotions, all of it.
Also read: 5 practices to become more self aware.
How did those things make you feel?
Did you encounter any challenging situations? If so, how did you react? Why do you think you reacted that way?
This step can be difficult, because it requires being very honest with yourself. It might feel uncomfortable in the moment, but in the long-run, it will help you choose thoughts, words, and behaviors that are not only healthier for others, but for yourself as well.
4. Take care of yourself
You may feel the pull to set your needs aside and only focus on your spouse or friend experiencing anxiety.
While it’s important to help when you can, remember that you cannot give from an empty cup. Taking care of yourself will help you avoid burnout and take better care of someone else over the long term.
Here are some simple ways to take care of yourself:
a. Maintain your hobbies and relationships: Maintaining a relationship with a person struggling with anxiety can be challenging.
You’ll need to lean on other people for support when you find yourself stressed out, frustrated, or simply tired of dealing with the effect anxiety has on someone you care about.
We want to be able to handle everything on our own, but that’s not how it works. We all need help sometimes.
b. Discuss expectations: It’s important both you and your friend or partner are on the same page regarding your expectations of each other.
Do they expect you to help with every problem they experience or help them “cure” their anxiety? Because those are unrealistic expectations.
You can act as a support system, providing guidance and help where necessary, but you cannot solve their problems. Only they can.
c. Understand you are affected more than you might think: It’s impossible to stand in a storm and not get wet.
Even though you are not the one experiencing anxiety, your partner or friend’s anxiety can still affect you. Knowing this, make sure you’re taking the proper time to process all the emotions and events brought up by your friend or partner’s anxiety.
Take time to journal, meditate, do yoga, exercise, eat well, and whatever you must do to stay healthy yourself.
5. Continue to learn about anxiety
Sometimes the biggest problems in relationships come from misunderstandings. The same is true with anxiety.
If both people are unaware of the nature of anxiety or how to deal with it, it can cause a myriad of problems.
For example, a phrase thrown out during the depths of someone’s anxiety might be taken as legitimate, if you don’t understand where they’re coming from.
However, if you understand that, at that moment, it’s not so much your friend or partner talking, but their anxiety, you’ll be able to handle it gracefully, without being hurt or offended.
Not only does a clearer understanding of anxiety help you deal with their anxiety better, it can help you process your own emotions more healthily as well.
To sum up…
Someone has placed a lot of trust in you by sharing their anxiety journey. But with that trust comes a lot of responsibility. Anxiety can be scary not just for the person experiencing it, but for those close to them too.
By knowing how to best help the other person and yourself, you greatly increase the chances of anxiety bringing the two of you closer together, rather than pushing you apart.