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How To Help A Spouse With Anxiety

How To Help Your Spouse Deal With Anxiety


For me, it often happens in the evening . It feels like a sudden Visitor at your door who comes in unannounced and spreads an uncomfortable, heavy, warm, wet blanket over you, gradually but quickly covering your whole body, and I feel it mainly in my chest. As soon as I feel myself covered, Im very aware of the sense of unexplained dread thats overcome me. Often my vision narrows and its difficult to concentrate on what people are saying. I can feel my heart pounding. My breathing is shallow. And its hard not to just sit there, paralyzed, and feel intense fear for something that I dont know how to define.

Sometimes it takes a long while for the feeling to gradually dissipate. Other times, it just sort of leaves quickly, like it wanted to slip quietly out the back door without anyone noticing. Its exhausting. And the most frustrating part, every time, is the nonsensical, illogical way the Visitor just comes and goes, without any sort of reason, at least none that I can think of.

Anxiety attacks are a beast, and Ive experienced them for years. Every time Ive had to deal with anxiety, my wife, Kristin, has been there right beside me, walking the road. She can tell when the Visitor is at the door because she can hear me trying to catch my breath.

Feeling anxious?

What Is Anxiety Exactly?

However, this process is only made to come and go as needed. Its not meant to pop up without warning and interfere with everyday life.

What Spouses Can Do

Learn To Recognize The Signs Of Anxiety

Anxiety disorder is the most common mental health condition in the United States, affecting up to 18% of the population. Knowing the signs of anxiety can help you realize when someone you love is having fearful thoughts or feelings. Symptoms vary from person to person but can be broken into three categories:

Ways To Help Your Spouse Through Anxiety

Is your spouse experiencing anxiety? Wondering how to help?

One in 13 people experience anxiety worldwide, according to the World Health Organization . So if your spouse is experiencing anxiety, he or she is not alone.

People who live with anxietywhether chronic or situationalneed emotional support from those closest to them. That means its critical for you to know exactly how to help your spouse through anxiety.

Weve pulled together 8 ways to help your spouse if theyre having anxious thoughts or feelings. Lets dive in.

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Anxiety Is The Opposite Of Acceptance

A healthy form of worry will tell you something isnt right it comes via that quick pull at your heart or that tight feeling in your stomach. This signal helps you act, such as when you speak up for someone who is being treated poorly.

Unhealthy levels of anxiety make you feel as though an emotional rock is in your stomach almost all the time. Anxiety causes you to reject things that are not dangerous and avoid things that might benefit you. It also can stop you from taking healthy action to change things in your life that are hurting you because it makes you feel hopeless or stuck.

so practice being uncomfortable. You dont need to either ignore or obsess over an uncomfortable thought. Take constructive action if you can. Sometimes your partner just needs you to be present with his or her feelings, and sometimes you need to offer that same gift to yourself. You can show your presence to your partner with soft eyes or a soft touch, and be present for yourself with a calming breath.

Can Anything You Say Help


We may think we need to be like Bob, and only send affirmations of love to our anxious spouse. But remember, love is not empty platitudes.

Love also means speaking the truth. It has been noted that non-hostile criticism can actually help an anxious spouse. If you can give your spouse feedback that does not in any way communicate rejection but provides an alternative, more balanced perspective to negative thoughts and beliefs, it is likely your spouse will consider it. The key part is that is cannot communicate rejection in any way.

Going back to Betty and Bob, lets create a hypothetical scenario to emphasize this:

If Bob, getting frustrated with Betty, told her in a gruff voice to just calm down, it would have sent the signal that he was not happy with her feelings which, given her emotions at that moment, she would have sensed keenly as disapproval and rejection.

Instead, Bob could have started with empathy and told her how disappointing it must be to miss the ferry and scary that she may not be able to make the car payment.

At this point, once Betty knows that Bob cares and understands, Bob could provide some alternative thoughts about the situation such as switching shifts with a co-worker, or arranging a flight that would get her there on time, etc.

Adult Romantic Attachment and Cognitive Vulnerabilities to Anxiety and Depression: Examining the Interpersonal Basis of Vulnerability Models ProQuest Psychology Journals ProQuest,

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Managing Your Reactions To The Anxiety

When your partner talks about his or her anxiety in the context of your relationship, its easy to take it personally and become upset. Its easy to interpret the anxiety as selfishness, rejection or an attempt to create distance, said therapist Michael Hilgers.

You will want them to just get over it, Hilgers said. You will want them to just not worry about it.

The moment you make it about you, youll start to feel upset. You might react defensively and say something mean.

If you cant bend without shaming, you will only make the problem worse, Hilgers added.

Then you partner will strike back. Flash forward to an hour later and youre fighting. The argument has snowballed. You might not even remember why you are fighting.

Instead of allowing the anxiety to rile you up, take a moment to calm down. Remind yourself that the anxiety most likely isnt about you. Youre not the source of it. Its about your partner.

Calmly address what your partner is feeling. You can say something like, Im really sorry you feel that way. That must be hard. Is there anything we can do to help you feel better about that?

Managing your reactions is more important than managing your partners reactions, said Talkspace therapist Marci Payne. It can help you be there for your partner and set boundaries. If your partners anxiety causes you to flip out every time they bring it up, it will be impossible to support them.

How To Support An Anxious Partner

Having a partner who struggles with anxiety or has an anxiety disorder can be difficult.

Partners may find themselves in roles they do not want, such as the compromiser, the protector, or the comforter, says Kate Thieda, MS, LPCA, NCC, a therapist and author of the excellent book Loving Someone with Anxiety.

They might have to bear the brunt of extra responsibilities and avoid certain places or activities that trigger their partners anxiety, she said. This can be very stressful for partners and their relationship.

Partners of loved ones with anxiety may find themselves angry, frustrated, sad, or disappointed that their dreams for what the relationship was going to be have been limited by anxiety.

Thiedas book helps partners better understand anxiety and implement strategies that truly support their spouses, without feeding into or enabling their fears.

Below, she shared five ways to do just that, along with what to do when your partner refuses treatment.

1. Educate yourself about anxiety.

Its important to learn as much as you can about anxiety, such as the different types of anxiety disorders and their treatment. This will help you better understand what your partner is going through.

2. Avoid accommodating your partners anxiety.

3. Set boundaries.

In her book Thieda devotes an entire chapter to effectively communicating this to your partner. Essentially, she suggests being empathetic, using I statements and giving specific requests.

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They May Deny The Problem

A depressed spouse may deny that they have any problem at all, Ben-David says.

âMany people with depression or mental health issues donât want to be âfixed.â They may just want to be heard. If in the process of listening to your partner, if you hear things that are too hurtful for you to handle, then turn to a professional for help,â he says. âYour spouse may not identify their behaviors as depression. If theyâre acting out with sex, drinking, drugs, or food, they may say, âI need this. It eases my stress.ââ

Encourage your spouse to get help and a diagnosis from a mental health professional. They can start with talk therapy and, if they need it, prescription medication, Barber says. Make an appointment with a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, or family doctor for a diagnosis, and begin therapy.

âPsychotherapy plus medication has shown to work better for depression than just medication. Medication without talking is not going to help,â says Barber, who adds that medication may be more appropriate to treat people with severe depression.

Some couples choose to have therapy together, especially if depression has led to sexual issues in the marriage, such as an affair, Ben-David says. Your depressed partner may prefer to do solo therapy. If theyâre struggling with addiction, they need to treat that before tackling their depression, he says.

Recognize That Your Feelings Are Valid But Feelings Arent Always Facts

How To Help Your Spouse Deal with Anxiety

Emotions come and go without warning and it can be easy to jump to a negative conclusion.6 Practice giving your relationships the benefit of the doubt and reframing your negative thoughts in a more positive light. Instead of saying, I always push people away and nobody loves me, say I attract love and people are drawn to my warmth and energy.

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Taking Control Of Anxiety

High-functioning anxiety is a pervasive disorder that can take an increasing toll on your spouses life and, in turn, your relationship. Using the tools offered by comprehensive residential treatment, your spouse will realize the potential that they hold and learn coping strategies to minimize the effect that anxiety exerts on their life. Not only that, you will have access to couples therapy to ensure that you can grow along with them on their journey to recovery.

Its a scary thought to approach your loved one about a mental health challenge, especially one they might not be aware of. But through compassion and support, you can help your spouse with anxiety and you will both be able to lead happier, healthier lives.

You Can Help Them Identify Their Anxiety Voice

In a practice called “narrative therapy,” it’s encouraged to give a name to your anxiety and write a story or draw a picture of it. And while that may sound like kid’s therapy, it’s really helpful for adults too. Helping your partner name their anxiety in some way can then make having a conversation about it later easier, especially if they are experiencing an episode where they can’t seem to separate themselves from the anxiety at hand.

Gently reminding your partner of what might actually be happening rather than what the anxiety “voice” is saying can be really helpful. Just make sure this is done in a kind, loving, non-judgemental way. This helps remind your partner that they aren’t their anxiety. Anxiety is the emotion they’re feeling, not the person they are.

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A Tendency To Question

A questioning nature can also factor into relationship anxiety.

You might need to ask yourself about all possible outcomes of a situation before deciding on a path. Or maybe you just have a habit of carefully considering every decision.

If you tend to ask yourself a lot of questions about your choices, even after youve made them, youll likely spend some time questioning your relationship, too. This isnt always a problem. In fact, its usually healthy to take time to think about choices you make, especially significant ones .

It could become an issue, though, if you find yourself stuck in an endless pattern of questioning and self-doubt that doesnt go anywhere productive.

Learning To Forget What You Think About Anxiety

How To Help A Spouse With Anxiety

As someone with family members or friends who have anxiety or a panic disorder, it’s important to understand what anxiety really is. For example, did you know that someone with anxiety can experience physical symptoms even when they’re not mentally anxious? Did you know that one of the symptoms of a panic attack is a feeling of imminent death or doom, combined with intense physical symptoms that are nearly identical to heart attacks?

If you’ve never had anxiety, it’s extremely difficult to empathize and understand, because it is so much different than the normal anxieties people experience in their everyday life. If you start trying to “cure” your friend’s anxiety by assuming you understand what they’re dealing with, you’re going to struggle, and you may actually upset your friend or family member more.

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They Rely On You To Nudge Them In The Right Direction

As long as your partner is not actively having a panic attack , getting some fresh air is really important. Going for a walk outsidewhere you might even run into some puppies!can often help relax anxiety. A walk around the block is a great option if your partner is feeling particularly off. This change of scenery can do wonders for their mind and to help calm their nerves.

The hard part of this is, when someone is feeling anxious, it doesn’t typically feel great to leave the house. Their anxiety brain is trying to keep them ‘safe,’ which for many can mean staying in the place they feel the most grounded and have the most control. However, the benefits of going outside are profound, so try to encourage them to go on a walk with you creates a safe space for them to get the benefits while feeling contained and supported.

Know The Warning Signs Of Suicide

The risk of suicide is always elevated during major depressive disorder. Its important to know the red flags and get immediate medical assistance:

  • Talking about suicide
  • Getting a means to attempt suicide, such as purchasing a gun or stockpiling pills
  • Extreme mood swings very high one day and deeply discouraged the next
  • Social withdrawal
  • Preoccupied with thoughts of death
  • Noticeable changes in normal daily routines
  • Feeling overwhelmed with hopelessness
  • Engaging in risky or self-destructive behavior, including drug or alcohol abuse or reckless driving
  • Giving away belongings

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