You or someone you know has likely experienced anxiety, our body’s natural response to stress. Unfortunately, merely being aware of anxiety does not negate the difficulty in dealing with it. When a loved one is suffering from anxiety, it can be difficult to know how to best help.
To provide the best support for our loved ones, we have to be aware of how anxiety develops, what the identifying triggers are, and how to cater our response to the needs of our partners.
Get to know the ways that anxiety is triggered and how your partner exhibits it
Whether anxiety is triggered through job stress, an untidy house, disruption to a regular schedule, or myriad other reasons, understanding these triggers is the first step to helping ease the negative effect on your partner.
Once you’ve identified your partner’s triggers, you will soon be able to understand how anxiety manifests itself. Ranging from excessive drinking to tightness within the neck and shoulders (plus everything in between), anxiety can exhibit itself in many ways.
The manifestation of anxiety is an important way to realise a flare-up even if you and your partner have not spoken about it. Through understanding how our partners exhibit their anxiety, it is possible to place yourself in a mindset to help.
Be sure to listen
As much as we may want to help with direct action or suggestions, an important aspect of helping an anxious partner comes down to listening. Your partner must know that you have no negative judgement of their current mindset and that they should feel free to communicate what is bothering them. This is not always necessarily a verbal task but can be achieved through active listening and empathy.
Though the urge to interject may arise, understand that even if you believe you have an answer that could help, the act of sharing is itself therapeutic. Knowing when to make suggestions and when to remain silent will allow your partner to be entirely open without feeling like you’re ‘taking over’.
Having conversations about anxiety and showing your partner that you accept it is a powerful way to validate their experience. By validating your partner’s experiences and worries, you will exhibit to them that you are a reliable shoulder to lean upon
Know when to be there, and know when space is required. Dealing with anxiety is a process and not a zero-sum game of elimination. Praise positive steps in the process, but be mindful that setbacks will happen, and they are not to be demonised. Don’t dismiss your partner’s feelings or concerns, even if you think these issues are not rational or in proportion to the situation. As mentioned, anxiety is triggered and manifests differently for everyone.
An effective way to show support is to encourage expression and creative endeavours. Creative endeavours do not need to be classified as writing the next classic novel, but an expression of self is incredibly important to a satisfying mindset. If your partner decides to paint a picture, or even expresses their desire to seek professional help, it is important to support expression, even if the medium is foreign to you.
Though we can try to rationalise each and every thought, small actions can have a significant effect on your partner’s mindset. For example, a small walk around the block to remove your partner from an enclosed environment, completing some household chores that seem trivial yet can alleviate stress on a mind, can have a far larger effect than perhaps first thought.
Be honest with yourself (and open to criticism)
Relationships aren’t always the smooth texture of a serene lake on a windless day. Anxiety may not stem from your relationship, but you must be open to the idea that there are tangible ways your actions may affect an anxious mind.
By understanding your partner’s interpretations of things you may get wrong, and being aware that changes in your processes can be beneficial to your partner’s mindset, you can remove any added stress to their mood.
Not everything that is shared may be your fault at all, but the urge to defensively wave away any criticism can have adverse effects.
Being open to criticism also shows that you are taking your partner’s plight seriously, and are committed to helping.
Understand that anxiety is different for everyone
Though your personal way of dealing with things may provide the best outcome for you, your partner could have an entirely different mental language that benefits from another process.
By understanding what actions your partner most effectively benefits from, you can cater your support specifically for them. Sometimes, people enjoy pragmatic solutions to their problems, whereas other times, the most benefit you can provide is merely being a supportive listener as your partner details their struggle.
Know also that what may work one day is not guaranteed to work the next. Much like our emotions, anxiety is malleable and will not always respond to the same solutions.
Though this can be difficult to understand, it will ultimately be fruitful towards a better mindset, and a better relationship.
Know that you cannot ‘do it all’
As much as we want to be the constant pillar for our loved ones to always rely upon, there is no shame in understanding that professional help is needed. You are not lesser of a person for admitting that you don’t have all the answers.
Be supportive of your partner in their search for professional help, and make sure to practice self-care. If you believe that the support you are providing is at a detriment to your own mindset, there is no shame in taking a step back and caring for yourself.
Communication is once again key: a happy relationship blooms when all participants are free and encouraged to feel and express whatever they’re experiencing – and this can be the greatest gift you can give to an anxious partner or friend.
If you're looking for support with anxiety, either for yourself or a loved one; booking in a free 15 -minute consultation with us at Online Psychologists Australia could be the first step to a happier and healthier life.
You'll be matched with a professional, experienced psychologist who best fits your unique needs.