Anxiety is unpredictable, confusing and intrusive. It’s tough. Not just for the people who have it but also for the people who love them. If you are one of those people, you would know too well that the second-hand experience of anxiety feels bad enough – you’d do anything to make it better for the one going through it.
We all have our ‘stuff’ – the things that we struggle with. Ultimately, they are the things that will make us braver, wiser, stronger, more compassionate and better humans. It’s just the way it works. The difference with anxiety is that the struggle is more visible.
Over 40 million people have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder according to the Anxiety and Depression Organization of America. And while certain anxiety-related disorders like Social Anxiety Disorder are split evenly between the genders, women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder.
It’s hard to explain what it’s like to live with anxiety unless you’ve experienced it. But for every woman (and man) who struggles with these issues, there is a whole host of people around them who want to try and understand.
Whether we struggle with anxiety, confidence, body image – whatever – there are things that we all need to make the world a little bit safer, a little bit more predictable, a little less scary. We all have our list.
The following is a list intended for individuals who love a woman with anxiety.
- Don’t try to change us.
You’ll want to give advice. But don’t. Let us know that to you, we’re absolutely fine the way we are and that you don’t need to change us or fix us. If we ask for your advice then, of course, go for it. but otherwise, let us know that we are enough. More than enough actually. Just the way we are.
- She is no less a woman for having anxiety.
Women from various backgrounds who are diagnosed with this mental health disorder lead successful, productive lives. They have proven to be functioning mothers, daughters, wives, and professionals in our society.
- Don’t try to make sense of what’s happening.
People with anxiety know that their anxiety doesn’t make sense. That’s what makes it so difficult. Explaining that there’s nothing to worry about won’t mean anything – it just won’t – because we already know this. Be understanding, calm and relaxed and above all else, just be there.
- Anxiety is best dealt with when understood.
Books, movies and support groups can help loved ones understand anxiety from a medical and social perspective. Utilizing resources can empower everyone.
- Anxiety is all-consuming and obsessive.
Of course, we may realize that the obsessions aren’t reasonable, and may try to ignore them or stop them. Unfortunately, this effort tends to only increase our distress and anxiety.
- It can be treated, but not cured at all.
The goal of all treatment for Anxiety and Panic Attacks is the alleviation of symptoms. Some people call this a “cure.” However it is done, the relief may be temporary or it may last for years. Let’s hope it lasts for the rest of your life; nothing could make me happier.
- It can be a great survival mechanism.
With anxiety, we form a deeper sense of empathy for other people, our mind becomes a lot more focused and we have a greater appreciation for the happy and joyful moments in your life.
- Sometimes they just need to be alone.
There are times when your loved one might decline to hang out over the weekend or with your friends so that they can be alone to decompress and just be by themselves. Try to remember to not take this personal. Remember their anxiety isn’t a reflection on you or your relationship with them. People who deal with anxiety often just need more time to work things out in their head and think about everything going on in their life, especially if they’ve been particularly stressed lately.
- Tough love doesn’t work.
Avoid putting pressure on your loved one to change quickly. Avoid acting like her therapist. We do not need negative comments made about our condition; nor do we need advice. We need someone who is patient, forgiving, and flexible; we need to always feel loved.
- Don’t be afraid to set boundaries.
A woman with anxiety needs to feel secure but if she is constantly making requests to do this and if the requests begin to affect your relationship, according to the Anxiety and Depression Organization of America, boundaries must be set. Catering to each and every request in order to ease her anxiety can actually have the reverse effect; it can increase.
- Anxiety can change shape.
Anxiety can be slippery. Sometimes it looks the way you’d expect anxiety to look. Other times it looks cranky, depressed or frustrated. Remember this and don’t take it personally.
- The relationship will get better with time.
Loving a woman with anxiety can be challenging. With the above recommendations, one’s experience can be a healthy one and the love between both partners can become stronger. The woman you love can heal from her “injury” just as if she had a broken leg. She may experience a lot of pain along the way. With the acceptance of the disorder and with the focus on recovery, much can be gained.
- Don’t feel like it’s up to you to solve all of their problems.
You and the love you give are not the solutions to your loved one’s anxiety, but it can certainly aid as a balm. They don’t expect you to solve something in their brain they don’t even understand themselves and it’s important to remember this so you don’t feel burdened. Being someone that is simply there for them and listens to what they’re going through can often be all they need to feel understood and cared for.
- We’re not “crazy.”
We know there are plenty of times when their anxiety makes absolutely no sense. Even if you both discuss the reality of the situation, their thought process is still thinking about the worse outcomes.
- They need strong and stable relationships to truly thrive.
Relationships that are back and forth and fail to offer any real support, stability or longevity can make them feel unable to really connect with someone. They need their partner or loved one to keep them grounded and make them feel safe.
- It’s not about you.
It’s about us. But we need your support and your patience. Thanks for being there. It means more than you know.
- Meditate together.
One aspect of anxiety is racing thoughts that won’t go away. Meditation helps with this part of the problem by quieting the overactive mind.Try meditation or mindfulness practice together.
- Anxiety is physical.
Anxiety is a completely normal physical response to a brain that’s being a little over-protective. It’s not crazy and it’s not deficient. There’s a primitive part of the brain that’s geared to sense threat. It’s all action and not a lot of thought and it’s in all of us. For some people, it fires up a lot sooner and with a lot less reason than it does in others. When it does, it surges the body with cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline to get the body ready to run for its life or fight for it. This is the fight or flight response and it’s for everyone. It’s just that in some people (people with anxiety) the ‘go’ button is a bit more sensitive.
In the thick of an anxiety attack nothing will make sense, so best not to ask what’s going on or if they’re okay. No. They won’t be okay. And yes. It will feel like the world is falling apart at the seams. They’ll be feeling awful, but they’ll get through it. If you’ve seen it all before there’ll be no need to ask anyway – and they’ll love that you know not to. Ask if they want to go somewhere else – maybe somewhere quieter or more private. Don’t panic or do anything that might give them the idea that you need looking after. Go for a walk with them – physical activity is the natural end of the fight or flight response, which is the trigger point of anxiety. Otherwise just be there. They’ll know what to do. They’ll have done it plenty of times before. Soon it will pass and when it does they’ll be able to talk to you about what has happened, but wait for that. Then listen. We all love when someone is able to just be there.