Does Your Partner Have Anxiety? Here’s How to Support Them (Including What Doesn’t Work)
I’ve had anxiety since I was a teenager. All of my most meaningful romantic relationships have been impacted by it in some way. Most of my partners have been well-intentioned, but all, never having experienced anxiety themselves, struggled to support me the way I needed. Now, 5 years into a healthy relationship, I’ve learned a lot about what can be truly helpful when you’re spiralling into the depths of your own panic-ridden despair — and of course also what does not help.
If your partner is having anxiety-related struggles, here are some tips on how you can support them. I’m not saying every one of these tips will meet your partner’s needs perfectly. Think of this as a list of ideas on what might help, based on what has helped me.
Let Them Speak
When I’m in an anxious state, I talk a mile a minute. I know not everything I’m saying is in line with reality. But when you’re in that mindset, being cut-off only feels like a further loss of control. When your partner is feeling this way, let them say what they need to say, even if it doesn’t make perfect sense, or you worry that by verbalizing their thoughts it will make the situation worse. Expressing those thoughts, strange as they may be, is really important.
Help Them Breathe
The brain-body connection is so powerful, and it can be used as a tool when working through anxiety or a panic attack. Breathing techniques not only give your partner something to focus on, but it also works to “trick” the body into thinking they are in a state of relaxation. If you can get your partner to participate in any kind of breathing technique, or even just work with them to slow their breathing, it could help.
Comfort comes in so many different forms, and each person will have their own preferred method. If your partner feels crushed under the weight of anxiety, they might want a hug, or a weighted blanket, or to hold a pillow close. You might already see your person practice this on their own when they’re trying to cope. Facilitate by being the person on the other side of the hug, or wrapping them in said blanket, or bringing the pillow to them. When it comes to comfort, a little goes a long way.
What inevitably follows an anxious episode or a panic attack is severe shame. It is truly humiliating to feel like you’ve lost all control, only to be manipulated by this unseen force, causing you to say and do things you’re not even sure you feel or want. Knowing that my partner has an open heart and won’t judge me, no matter what happens during that time, lessens the feelings of shame and guilt I know I’ll feel when it’s over.
Don’t: Try to Fix It
People don’t need to be fixed. Your partner doesn’t need to be saved. If your partner has anxiety, they need to learn to self-soothe and cope independently just as much as they need you for support. Those aspects are not mutually exclusive. You don’t need to micromanage their way out. What’s important is being present — and maybe incorporating some of the other tips suggested here too.
Don’t: Tell Your Partner to “Get Over It” or “Calm Down”
Nothing is more painful than having your feelings invalidated — am I right? Telling your partner to “get over it” or “calm down” does exactly that. Saying something of that nature is likely to make your partner feel judged, alienated, and alone. If you’re so worked up about someone else having a panic attack, maybe you need to calm down.
Don’t: Try to Figure Out Why They Are Anxious
While it’s important to understand the nature of what triggers your partner’s anxiety, it may not be important to have that conversation in the moment. It’s possible that discussing the very things that trigger a person’s high anxiety while they are highly anxious may lead to, well, more anxiety. Have this conversation another day, when the feeling has passed, and your partner feels that they are in the emotional state that is imperative to these kinds of discussions.
It’s important to remember that anxiety can be such a varied and different experience for everyone. What I have found really works for me may not work for your partner. In general, I think these tips will be helpful. And if ever in doubt, simply as your partner how you can support them.