According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. (https://adaa.org/, 2020). You most likely know someone who has an anxiety disorder. You may even be in a relationship with someone who has an anxiety disorder. If you are, being a part of your partner’s support system can be challenging to navigate. It’s okay to not know exactly what to do or where to start to support your partner. This blog and other educational resources are a good place to start. This is a safe space where we are going to discuss how to better support your partner, be active in their treatment, and also the importance of taking care of yourself as someone a part of a support system. Let’s get started.
Supporting Your Partner
Learn about their anxiety disorder. There are several different anxiety disorders including: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder (PD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), Phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and more. Just doing a quick Google search and reading credible information can help you begin to learn about what your partner faces while living with an anxiety disorder. Every person can experience anxiety differently, so having open conversations with your partner about what they experience can be helpful. You can address their anxiety disorder as something you want to learn about to better support them and listen to their perspective and experiences.
Help set specific goals. Your partner may want to seek treatment but hasn’t been able to find the right therapist or your partner may want to go the farmers market but hasn’t been able to get out of the car once they arrive. Whatever it is that they want to do, you can help them to set specific goals to work towards. This process may not be easy for them, so give them grace as they work to overcome their anxious thoughts and feelings. Having someone in their corner supporting their goals can be a game changer when it comes to attaining a goal that they never thought they could.
Highlight healthy behaviors instead of criticizing unhelpful anxious behaviors. Our brains have the natural tendency to give more weight to negative experiences than positive ones. This means your partner may experience a tendency to remember your frustration with their anxious behaviors more than your support of their successes. To help challenge this tendency, start by pointing out their wins. Celebrate their victories, even the small ones. Your partner didn’t need to check that the car door was locked? Celebrate this with them.. You can help to support them in feeling seen as someone who is capable of doing hard things more than someone who is a burden.
Don’t assume you know what they need. As we have discussed, every person can experience anxiety differently. Ask your partner how you can support them specifically. It may be helpful to acknowledge that you may not understand what it is like to have an anxiety disorder, but you are there for them.
Being Active in Treatment
Be respectful of their journey. Not everyone is ready to start therapy and that’s okay. Not everyone is up for taking medication and that’s okay. Others are ready to do both and that’s okay too. Wherever your partner is on their journey, respect their autonomy and decisions.
Engage in couples’ sessions. Sometimes therapists may invite you to attend a few sessions with your partner. These sessions could be for you to offer support, an account of your partner’s behavior, or to ask you to support your client in doing their homework assigned by the therapist.
Encourage homework. Therapists assign homework to encourage clients to do therapeutic activities outside of therapy to aid their treatment. Holding your partner accountable and encouraging them to put in the work could help them stay motivated in person.
Take Care of Yourself
It is important to take care of yourself. If you aren’t in a healthy place, it can be hard to support someone else. Set boundaries. Be engaged in your own interests and hobbies. Have your own support system. Go to therapy if you think you would benefit from speaking with a professional. Being able to walk alongside someone through life’s ups and downs can be so fulfilling for both people but be sure to be there for yourself too.
If you are reading this as someone whose partner has an anxiety disorder, thank you for wanting to learn how to better support your partner. Everyone needs someone in their corner, and you are doing a great job doing that. If you are reading this as someone who has an anxiety disorder, thank you for being courageous and letting others support you. You can do hard things, and you don’t have to face those things alone.
“One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.” ― Shannon L. Alder
If you or your partner have any questions about scheduling an appointment, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.