Wifeys & Gentlemen,
I have been in staycation mode since my office is closed down for the week (it’s one of the best perks of my job) and I am starting to feel a little sad that it’s almost time to get back into my work routine. It’s always such a place for me to exist in. On the one hand, I am addicted to routine. It comforts my anxious mind and gives me a sense of order in an otherwise chaotic universe. On the other hand, I know a girl like me could get used to the lazy life (if I had the funds to back it up) and I like not having to do anything I don’t want to do.
One of my cooler traits is that I can make a routine out of anything, even nothingness. The downside? When I have less “purpose” or “focus” I tend to be really hard on myself. Despite being sad to go back to work, now is also the time where I start beating myself up and becoming hypercritical of everything I did or didn’t do with my time off.
Having anxiety is rough in these moments because I (and those like me) tend to catastrophize things in my mind, making it harder to come back to rationality. I cover myself in pressure and blame and sometimes tell myself that everything is wrong or falling apart because I’m lazy or tired.
More than anything, I often feel a sense of guilt for the people who have to put up with me when I am feeling this way. Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful for my friends, family, and especially my rockstar husband for being so supportive and hearing me when I need to be heard most. But it can be hard not to feel like a burden or a chore, you know?
I started thinking about relationships and how hard it must be for a partner, spouse, or close friend to support someone who has general anxiety or an anxiety disorder. I know my support system is great! However, that isn’t the case for everyone. In fact, many partners and spouses might not have any idea where to start.
So, thinking about what my support team is like, I put together this short list of best-practices that might be helpful if you want to support someone in your life who struggles with anxiety (or any type of prolonged issue).
Remember, as with all of my tips and tricks, nothing is a one-size-fits-all. Anxiety looks and feels different for everyone who experiences it; some of these suggestions might work well for you, some may not. If you feel like your partner needs more support than you can give, encourage them to seek professional help. Please know that it isn’t your duty to cure, save, or even accommodate your loved one.
Support is the one and only goal.
Learn About Anxiety
You don’t have to be a psychologist to have a working knowledge about anxiety. If you are in a relationship with someone who has a generalized or diagnosed disorder, I would definitely encourage you to read some articles and do a little light research on what the disorder is and what it’s like to experience it. Even understanding undiagnosed, day-to-day anxiety might be helpful if your partner or loved one is prone to anxiety or panic attacks.
Knowledge is power and it can help create a baseline for understanding how they think and how to communicate with them.
Your partner might need (or want) you to make certain accommodations for them to help them avoid anxious situations. While this can be okay sometimes, you’ll want to make sure your partner understands that you have a life too. If there are times where you can’t be accommodating, make sure they know. You want to give them space to be themselves without compromising who you are in the process.
It sounds cheesy, but this is a good time to practice those “I” statements. Be empathetic but also willing to clearly explain how you feel or what you think. When you are able, consider areas where you and your partner can compromise, but also know that it is perfectly fine to want to be independent as well. Find balance.
Do not Try to “Fix” Them
You are your partner’s partner, not their therapist. I cannot tell you how many relationships I’ve been in where I’ve made the mistake of taking on this role; it never, ever ends well. You begin drowning in an obsession with correcting them. It puts pressure on them to recover and pressure on you to find an answer for their suffering. Our loved ones cannot get better simply because we want them too. They do not owe you a speedy recovery and it is unfair to expect someone to be “okay” before they are ready.
Let your partner know that you want them to feel better because you love them but also encourage them to want that for themselves. If your love is unconditional, you’ll be there for them at any stage of their process. Be the cheerleader they didn’t know they needed instead of trying to manage or control their condition.
Learn their Love Language
Happiness and safety looks different for everyone. If you haven’t done this already, it is a great idea when supporting someone with anxiety to know how they need to be loved and cared for. If your lover needs a candle lit bubble bath and a massage to feel better, surprise them whenever you have the time and resources to do so! Perhaps it’s something as simple as grabbing the mail or filling up their gas tank that will really brighten their day. Maybe it’s just hearing that you love them?
Learning your partners love language goes a long way in making them feel seen and cared for while reminding them of the light at the end of the tunnel.
Don’t be afraid to ask your partner what they need from you when they are having an attack or episode. You’d be surprised how often he/she might not really need or want anything at all. Maybe they just need to be alone for a little while?
I can say from personal experience that there have been times where I’ve had needs that I’ve been too nervous or embarrassed to express. I feel like I’ll come off as needy or that my husband will think I’m taking advantage or asking too much of him. When he says “do you need anything?” or “how can I help?” it really does take a load off of my mind. I know he’s genuinely asking and will listen to me and do his best with what he has.
Sometimes, it’s enough to just be asked. Sometimes, that’s the relief your partner needs.
Prioritize Your Own Self-Care
No matter how severe your partner’s anxiety, supporting them through an episode or attack can be mentally and emotionally draining.
You MUST take care of yourself, too!
I love the phrase “you can’t pour from an empty cup” and I think it rings especially true in cases where you are trying to help someone you love deal with hard times or rough moments. Make sure your own mental and physical health are strong before you try to focus on their wellness. Are you sleeping enough? Eating well? Doing things that make you feel good? Relaxing? Unwinding? Are you getting support for the hard things going on in your life?
Check in with yourself and make your care a top priority. Your partner will understand and want this for you as well.
I know that, for many of us, these times are so tough and uncertain. I worry every day about things that are almost always out of my control: COVID-19, my pregnancy, my husband’s status as a teacher this fall, my family, my dog, money, school, work, eating well, sleeping enough, etc….
While I am doing my best to focus my energy on the things I can control, the pieces that make me feel more grounded and centered, I would be nothing without the support of my loved ones. I hope you all are getting the support you need! Please feel empowered to reach out to someone if you aren’t. You deserve care and attention. ❤
Let me know in the comments if you have some special ways that you support your partner when they’re down. I’d love to hear them and add them to my list :).
Until next time,
Carry on Wifeys & Gents!
Side-note: I just wanted to say a quick thank you for all of the loving support I received on my last post. I know a lot of my current anxiety is a direct result of the tragedy and loss my family has recently experienced and it has been genuinely heartwarming to receive so much love from you guys!
See this Sunday for a new podcast with a fun twist! 😉