Anxiety disorders are extremely common, affecting about 40 million adults in the U.S. each year. While anxiety disorders are highly treatable, a large percentage of people with these disorders do not receive adequate treatment or any treatment at all. So the day-to-day grind of living with anxiety and coping can often fall to loved ones to help in times of flares and/or crisis. If you have a partner, friend, or family member that experiences anxiety often, here are things you can do to help.
Anxiety symptoms range from mild to severe and can interfere with daily activities, job performance and relationships, says the National Institute of Mental Health. Symptoms vary from person to person and do not have the same impact on each person. For this reason, it’s important to talk to a person about their particular symptoms.
Find out which symptoms are the most bothersome and work to alleviate those as possible. The external view may offer a unique perspective but be careful not to dismiss their perspective in favor of your own. Sharing with them the way the symptoms appear from the outside may put their mind at ease. At least no one can tell that I'm shaking right now. May offer some relief from the social aspects of the condition.
Validation is extremely important. Validating feelings tells a person that you accept them exactly as they are, anxiety and all, and most importantly, that you believe them, that their feelings are real and not "all in their head." This can be very powerful and helpful for someone who is struggling. To validate someone's feelings and symptoms, summarize the things they’re saying to you and repeat it back to them. It shows that you are listening and that you understand. Then tell them that you believe them, that you know this is a hard thing to deal with, and that you're there.
As mentioned, many people with anxiety do not get treatment. Why? According to Psychology Today, logistics and the fear of being stigmatized were the top reasons. Embarrassment, not knowing where to go and not being able to pay for care were also factors. If you can remove any or all of these barriers to treatment, you will do a great service to the person who is struggling. Treatment generally does help, so it’s incredibly valuable to help them seek the care they need.
But what if your partner doesn’t want to get treatment? Encourage them without pushing. Talk them through their fears and objections of treatment without invalidating their feelings. It may also a good idea to tell them that you will be there with them each step of the way.
Recovery can be a long, arduous process. And some will never be fully recovered but may move into a place of better management. Be sure to stand by them and encourage them along the way. Understand that there will be ups and downs, as well as moments of mayhem. Do not add to the chaos. Rather, be patient and allow the treatment time and space to work.
Keep in mind that your partner is not being difficult or dramatic. Anxiety is a real, often debilitating condition that’s as scary and frustrating for them as it is for those around them. It may help to remain calm and help them talk through their symptoms so that if they ask for help you are there and ready to do so. It may also help to ask their permission to talk to their counselor about suggestions for the hardest moments and to add those ideas to a handy list.
Anxiety is among the most challenging conditions to navigate. But support goes a long way toward successful management.