How to Support a Partner Suffering from Anxiety
I think we can all agree that it’s tricky to know how to support a partner suffering from anxiety. In this blog we look at some background on anxiety in Australia, what it’s like to live with someone with anxiety, and sharing some tips on helpful behaviours to best support your partner. In Australia, an alarming number of people are suffering from anxiety, with younger sufferers on the rise, according to Beyond Blue1. Whilst experts agree that the prevalence of anxiety is rising, they are not in unison when it comes to discussing causes and healing solutions. This is because each person’s illness is so unique to them and varies widely from person to person. Those who experience anxiety could be overwhelmed, angry or scared. However in the case of their partners, supporting a partner with anxiety is a difficult thing. Partners are likewise confused, frustrated, and can feel out of control and helpless themselves, as they watch their loved ones suffer. It is hard to know how to help or participate in their healing and ultimate recovery. “It can be a real struggle when someone is experiencing anxiety, and really difficult for their partner as well. There’s a lack of understanding around anxiety, because it can bring up fears in the person providing the sufferer with support. They may feel out of control, or experience feelings of hopelessness.
Living with someone with anxiety
Living with someone with anxiety is complicated. Anxiety is scary as it makes the person suffering with anxiety feel isolated and alone, and that no one really understands what they are going through. In truth how can they, unless they too have suffered the fears and pains of anxiety. Making decisions becomes a scary thing as all faith in themselves and their capability to manage is lost. Sufferers feel like they are forever wandering around aimlessly in the dark. They lack the confidence and strength to find their way out to get back to normality. All they want is to feel peace and a quiet mind. Anxious thoughts constantly bombard the mind leaving little space to ‘think straight’ that is, without fearing the “what-if” this happens, “what- if” that happens. Even when distracted, like watching a movie or chatting with friends, the anxiety lurks in the background like a virus constantly running negative thoughts and scenarios. Anxiety sufferers can feel sorry for themselves; see themselves as a complete failure; or experience feelings of resentment toward others.
4 Helpful Tips to Support a Partner Suffering from Anxiety
For people whose partners are suffering from anxiety, you may find the following help with your understanding of anxiety.
1. Mindful Awareness
If practiced well, mindful awareness opens the way to understanding and compassion. This occurs when you identify your own fears and feelings around your partner’s anxiety. Becoming aware of your own reactions, tolerance levels, patience and language you use when speaking to your anxious partner, will help alleviate potential emotional conflict.
2. Let your partner own the Anxiety
As the partner of someone suffering anxiety, it is important for you to take a step back and understand anxiety is not your issue. You must allow your partner to own the anxiety and support them through it. It is important for you to also be aware of your own thoughts and feelings and how your partner’s anxiety may be impacting them. This way, you can avoid over-reacting, or becoming overly emotional when your partner’s a anxiety is triggered.
3. Let your Partner Talk about the Anxiety
You should let the sufferer talk about the anxiety another fears but not overdo it. The illness is a fear of feeling, hence, talking about such feelings is part of the healing process. However talking about their feelings too much – i.e. where they begin to get caught up in their story – creates imbalance and can make the anxiety worse. There is a need to reinforce how much your partner who is suffering from anxiety is loved and cared for. You need to make sure they know that you are there for them and ready to work through their anxiety as a couple, together. You need to be gentle. Let compassion and understanding be your guide.
3. Refrain from Judgement
Don’t judge or try and draw conclusions about how your partner feels or thinks. To best support a partner suffering from anxiety, don’t tell them “this is how you should think” or “this is how you should feel”. It will be difficult for your partner to make sense of their anxiety and its effects. They will not necessarily understand why it is happening. When they hear things like “suck it up” or “snap out of it” this just puts more unwelcome and unnecessary pressure on them and makes things a whole lot worse. So try not to judge. 1 Source: Beyond Blue
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