Ever since I can remember, I’ve struggled with anxiety. My worrying generally comes in waves, accompanied by a brain that just won’t stop whirring, annoying insomnia and an elevated heart rate. Add a pandemic and and contentious political climate and I am done.
Loving an anxious person.
Once, a good friend of mine described the heightened anxiety she felt during her pregnancy- racing thoughts, constantly envisioning worst case scenarios- and I was surprised to hear that this was unusual. I thought my brain worked the same way as everyone else’s. When I told her this, she acknowledged how exhausting it must be to live like that. I felt so validated. This small kindness has stuck with me and went a long way in allowing me to feel both supported and understood.
The state of our world has a lot of Americans experiencing significant levels of anxiety for the first time. According to a recent study by the Census Bureau, one third of the American population is now showing signs of clinical anxiety and/or depression. It can certainly feel relentless and overwhelming. And several studies suggest that anxiety can be a contributing factor in marital dissatisfaction.
Here are my five Tips for Supporting Someone With Anxiety:
- Listen: Sometimes, I just need to verbally process whatever is bothering me. And if the person I am venting to rushes to offer solutions, it can leave me feeling defeated or invalidated. Talking through worst case scenarios and stating my fears out loud is part of my inventory of coping strategies. A set of ears willing to just hear me out can be invaluable.
- Prioritize Self-Care: The majority of the time, the best thing that my husband can do for me when I’m feeling anxious is to create the time for me to use my coping skills. For me, that is normally going for a long run or spending some time soaking in the tub. Maybe it’s seeking support from a local mental health professional or downloading an app with guided meditations (Calm is a favorite in our house). If you can recognize what your loved one does to recharge and gently encourage them to do those things, it can go along way to quieting anxiety.
- Offer Help: My anxiety can often lead to me avoiding whatever thing is triggering or worsening my anxiety. The longer I avoid, the more impossible the situation seems. This- you guessed it- makes me feel even more stressed out and anxious. Helping your loved one make a list, breaking down the situation into manageable steps or offering an easy starting point can help them to break free of this harmful avoidance behavior.
- Don’t minimize: People with anxiety often know how unreasonable their fears can sound. I once tried to explain my fear of the dentist to my husband. This quickly turned in to a discussion about whether or not we could afford a full set of dental implants. We went there because I was so certain that the dentist was going to have to pull out all of my teeth (spoiler alert: I still have all of my original teeth). As a logical human, I knew that scenario was unlikely. But, it didn’t stop my brain from careening in to that place. If my husband had simply told me I was being ridiculous, instead of listening patiently to my fears, I would have felt even worse. He will often gently remind me that it isn’t productive to worry about things I can’t control. But he also makes space to listen to my worries anyway.
- Ask: Sometimes, asking a question is the most loving thing someone can do for me. When I am in a full blown anxiety spiral, asking “what would be most helpful?” is critical. This makes me pause and take a mental inventory of how I’m actually doing. Sometimes, just in the offering of support, I feel relieved.
Living with anxiety is definitely not always easy and loving an anxious person can be so hard.
I hope that if you find yourself stuck in a cycle of worry, you know that you are not alone. Figure out how to full up your own cup. Lean on your loved ones. Breathe deeply. I find it helpful to remember that, to date, I have survived one hundred percent of my bad days. You will too. And this too, shall pass.