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9 Things You Need to Understand if You Love Someone With Anxiety

Relationships aren’t easy for anyone, but throw a health disorder in the mix and it can get a whole lot more complicated. If your partner has anxiety, then they will be living with a long term illness which can affect many parts of their life. Their illness doesn’t affect how you feel about them, but, if you’re confused about their illness or how you can help, here are some things to think about.

1. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate

Mental illness can happen to anyone. It is a part of many people’s lives. For many when illness strikes it becomes a long term issue that is ‘managed’ but may never be cured. If your partner suffers from anxiety, they are not deficient in some way, they haven’t done something to cause their illness. Even health professionals don’t fully understand the causes of mental illness.

Understand having someone they care about in their life (you) will help them, but they aren’t anxious because they are sad, and being happy won’t fix them.

2. An anxiety attack can happen without warning

Your partner may have an understanding of their condition and recognize and avoid their triggers wherever possible, but that doesn’t mean they have a fail safe plan to prevent anxiety attacks.
The sufferer cannot always recognize when an attack is coming on, and may not be able to stop it. When they occur, attacks have to run their course.

Anxiety attacks have to run their course. Anxiety is a long term condition. Sometimes there is nothing you can do
Your partner may have to work hard to reduce incidences of anxiety, understand their condition and develop processes to prevent or alleviate an attack. Their hard work hasn’t ‘failed’ because their illness isn’t ‘cured’.

3. You can’t fix them

Understand you cannot ‘fix’ your partner or save them from their illness. You can help by understanding their situation and being patience with them.

Educate yourself about the condition. It is likely you don’t know anyone else who suffers from it and so your lack of knowledge could leave you feeling helpless. Learning about others’ experience can help you understand your partner’s feelings and yours. You may never understand why anxiety attacks happen, the sufferer may not either.
Understand though that everyone’s experience of the condition is individual. There is no substitute to talking things through with your partner to understand their experience.

4. Your partner’s mental health is personal

Respect the fact your partner’s anxiety is a private, intimate matter. Don’t discuss it with everyone as if it is not the deeply personal matter it is. Check with your partner it is ok to talk about it with trusted friends or family, and respect their decision if they want things kept quiet.

You will likely need to speak to someone about how it is affecting you, as anyone would when their partner is ill. Talk this over with your partner, after all they should respect your needs as much as you respect theirs.

5. Don’t give in to frustration

Frustration is a natural reaction; you want to help but you feel like you aren’t. Accept there will be times when you cannot (in a practical sense). Being there is the best help you can provide. Lashing out when you are both at your most helpless will be damaging to your partner’s recovery. Be supportive and patient when an anxiety attack occurs

6. Look after yourself

Take care of yourself as much as you take care of your partner. Make sure you do the things you enjoy and don’t become isolated because your partner is isolated. Keep your own support system, and talk things through with them when you need to.

7. Don’t judge, but don’t indulge either

It’s a difficult balancing act between supporting your partner and facilitating their symptoms. It is easy for someone with anxiety to avoid all social contact for fear of experiencing an attack and becoming socially isolated.
Plan a course of action should an attack occur when you are together – both at home and in public. It will help you both feel in more control of the situation.

8. Encourage them to access treatment

Encouraging your partner to enter into treatment, and helping them with ‘homework’ tasks to manage their condition is a great way of supporting them. You can’t force them to get help however. People choose not to do what’s best for them for a variety of reasons; due to shame, embarrassment, fear or guilt.

9. Don’t accept abusive behavior because of their illness

People in distressing situations lash out at the people they know and love best. If your partner lashes out at you when they are in the throes of a panic attack, let them know it is uncalled for, but it is no time for a heart to heart. Wait until the attack is over and discuss it calmly.
Never let their anxiety be an excuse for them to verbally or physically attack you.

If your partner is diagnosed with anxiety it can be a long road to recovery, and relapse is possible. Living with a long term condition is difficult for the person who is ill and the people who love them. It can be challenging to live with anxiety, but taking care of yourself and understanding and helping your partner can help you through difficult times.