Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

When Someone You Love Has Anxiety

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When you love someone with anxiety. Man. Woman. Child.

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.

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. When someone you love has anxiety, their list is likely to look at little like this:

  1. It’s no biggie. So don’t act like it is.

    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.

  2. There’s a bit to know, so if you can understand everything you can … well that makes you kind of awesome.

    It makes a difference to be able to talk about anxiety without having to explain it. On the days they don’t feel like they have it in them to talk about it, it means a lot that you just ‘get it’. If you’ve tried to understand everything you can about what it means to have anxiety then that’s enough. Anxiety is hard to make sense of – people with anxiety will be the first to tell you that – but it will mean everything that you’ve tried. They’ll love you for it.

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  3. It’s 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 adrenalin to get the body ready to run for its life or fight for it. This is the fight or flight response and it’s in everyone. It’s just that in some people (people with anxiety) the ‘go’ button is a bit more sensitive.

  4. You’ll want them as part of your tribe. (Seriously. They’re pretty great to have around.)

    Because of their need to stay safe and to prepare against the next time anxiety rears its head, people who struggle with anxiety will generally have a plan – and they will have worked hard to make sure it works for everyone involved, not just for themselves. They’ll make sure everything has been organised to keep everyone safe, happy, on time and out of trouble. They’ll make sure everyone has what they need and if there’s anything that hasn’t been thought of, well it’s probably not worth thinking about. Notice the good things they do – there are plenty. Let them know you love them because of who they are, including who they are with anxiety, not despite it.

  5. Anxiety has nothing to do with courage or character. Nothing at all.

    Courage is feeling the edge of yourself and moving beyond it. We all have our limits but people with anxiety are just more aware of theirs. Despite this, they are constantly facing up to the things that push against their edges. That’s courage, and people with anxiety have it in truckloads. Remind them that you see who they are and that this has nothing to do with that anxiety thing they do sometimes. People with anxiety are strong – you have to be to live with something like that. They’re sensitive – they’ll be as sensitive to you and what you need as they are to their environment. That makes them pretty awesome to be with. They’re reliable – to control for the potential of something triggering an attack, anxious people will go the extra step to make sure there’s a plan and that everyone is safe, happy and have everything they need. They’re intelligent – they’re thinkers (which is what gets in their way sometimes). They can be funny, kind, brave and spirited. So I suppose it’s like this – they’re no different to anyone else. As with everyone, the thing that trips them up sometimes (their anxiety) is also the thing that lifts them above the crowd.

  6. Make sure there’s room to say ‘no’. And don’t take it personally.

    Sometimes plans might need to be changed to steer clear of anxiety stepping in unexpectedly. People with anxiety will be sensitive to your needs (they’re pretty great like that) and changing plans isn’t something they’ll do lightly. Your flexibility will never be taken for granted. There are many things in the environment that most people think nothing of, but which can be the beginning of an anxiety attack for a brain on hyper-drive. Things that are ambiguous or neutral can sometimes be read as a threat – not by the person, but by an overprotective brain. People with anxiety are super-aware of everything going on – smells, sounds, people, possibilities. It’s exhausting when your attention is drawn to so many things. Don’t take ‘no’ personally – they’re never meant like that. Know that just because they might not want to be doing what you’re doing, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be with you. Keep offering – don’t assume everything you offer will be met with ‘no’ – but be understanding and ‘no big deal’ if you aren’t taken up on your offer. They are saying no to a potential anxiety attack. Not to you.

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  7. Loads of lovin’ never hurt anyone.

    Be compassionate and be there. Talk up the things you love about them. There will be times that people with anxiety will feel like they are their anxiety and that they are a source of difficulty. (Who hasn’t felt like they’re making things harder than they need to be? C’mon be honest.) Specifically, I’m talking about when plans have to be changed, when you need to book a few rows back from the front row, turn the radio down, take the long way. If this is the worst you have to deal with in a friend, sign me up.

  8. 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.

  9. 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 they already know this. (Oh boy do they know this!) They would have told themselves not to worry a billion times the number of times you’ve said it to them. If it hasn’t helped so far then one more won’t make a difference. Be understanding, calm and relaxed and above all else, just be there. Anxiety feels flighty and there’s often nothing that feels better than having someone beside you who’s grounded, available and okay to go through this with you without trying to change you. Telling them not to worry is as effective as asking you not to think about pink elephants. Really try not to think about pink elephants swinging from a vine. With flowers in their hair. Just stop thinking about them, those crazy big pink babes. See how that works?

  10. Don’t try to change them.

    You’ll want to give advice. But don’t. Let them know that to you, they’re absolutely fine the way they are and that you don’t need to change them or fix them. If they ask for your advice then of course, go for it. but otherwise, let them know that they are enough. More than enough actually. Just the way they are. 

  11. ‘You just need to get over it,’ said the person who doesn’t get it.

    Anxiety just happens and often there’s no real target. So if you’re suggesting they just need to ‘get over it’, the obvious question is get over what? If people with anxiety only needed a bit of direction to ‘get over it’, they would have given it to themselves and been over it long ago. Telling them to get over it is like telling them they’re doing something wrong. You don’t tell an asthmatic just to breathe. Tough love isn’t love. It’s just tough. Actually it isn’t even that.

  12. Don’t confuse their need to control their environment with their need to control you. Sometimes they look the same. They’re not.

    The need to control for everything that might go wrong is hard work. For the same reasons that drive anxious people to make sure that everyone has what they need, everyone is looked after, that things are under control and the likelihood of anything turning bad is minimised – for the same reasons you’re looked after – you might also feel controlled. See it for what it is. It’s the need to feel safe and in control of the possibility of anxiety running the show – not the need to control you. You might get frustrated – that’s okay – all relationships go through that. Having compassion doesn’t mean you have to go along with everything put in front of you, so talk things out gently if you need to. Don’t be critical though. Nobody likes that.  Just remember, while your resistance might look more like a ‘won’t’ theirs looks more like a ‘can’t’.

And finally …

Know how important you are to them. Anyone who stays around through the hard stuff is a keeper. People with anxiety know this. Being there for someone during their struggles will only bring the relationship closer. Nothing sparks a connection more than really getting someone, being there, and bringing the fun into the relationship – because you’ve gotta have fun. Be the one who refuses to let anxiety suck the life of out everything. And know you’re a keeper. Yep. You are. Know that they are grateful – so grateful – for everything you do. And that they love you back.

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236 Comments

Tom Barton

Okay…here’s my two cents worth. Everything in the article is excellent and heart-felt. Good advice for those living with an anxiety-prone person.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder is in my family. It has travelled down my mother’s side of the family and into both my brother and me. We get the “panic attacks” (such a horrible term) when we have any symptoms that might relate to cancer or problems with our eyes. Cancer because it has killed most of our family, including our parents and eyes because bother he and I are terrified of blindness.

His wife and my wife both tell us horrible things when the panic strikes. “you’re not acting like a man; snap out of it!; how could you do this to your children?: think of the shame you are causing in our friends”…blah…blah…blah.

1/ People who have panic attacks and GAD cannot control it…yelling at them or telling them to snap out of it will just make them feel worse (and they already feel like crap anyway).

2/ Insulting the person makes them feel even worse. Denigrating them by telling them to “act like a man” can push them to suicide. Don’t go there!

3/ Give them space… Take them to a doctor who will listen to their concerns and reassure them. This WILL help.

4/ Medication like Seroquel can help.

5/ They will come out of the panic…it just takes a little time. Be patient.

That’s it.

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Apple

I would like to add for anyone suffering from panic attacks, many mental health facilities offer programs that teach you to overcome them. These are regular mental health facilities with licensed psychologists and psychiatrists. I attended a 16 week workshop and have been panic free since. The programs have about a 75% success rate and success is greatly based on your participation. It was not easy – but neither is living with panic. In my program, we received one lesson per week and began learning about the fight or flight response and chemical reactions and triggers etc. We had to learn to become objective observers (this took time and happened gradually) of the panic attack such as what was the first symptom, then the second symptom (increase in heart beat, tight chest or sweaty palm etc). We also practiced and desensitized ourselves to the symptoms (example, running up the stairs to increase our heart rate so that a simple increase in heart rate was no longer fearful. Anyway, it is hard to sum it up here – but the programs (and go with someone familiar with these programs not general counseling) … the program works. I got to the point I was getting excited catching the first symptoms and once I got excited about it (yes, smiling in line at the grocery story happy about the panic attack), the fear of the panic was gone and I never had another panic attack. Yes, there are times I have anxiety over things, and that is normal and healthy. But panic is a thing of the past. Well wishes to all.

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Maria

Hi,
I appreciate your insight on anxiety. I am learning more about my anxiety as years go by. I have a low thyroid and learned it can trigger depression. I have separation anxiety. I feel the pain of losing someone long after. I cry a lot. Many times I am at peace after a good cry. I have had coworker acting out tough love on me. She did not have all the facts and she was judging me. It did not help at all. She is not a qualified counsellor. After all my losses and approaching old age living alone; I need understanding. I have been working long after 65. We are no longer speaking. I did not need scolding like a little child. I know what she is saying but unless you are walking in my shoes please just be there. And when I did find that someone he bailed. I was devastated. I feel abandoned and alone in life.
Thank you for listening.
m

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hmghmdgjh

I thought that too! I’m trying to put myself more in my ex shoes. try to understand how difficult I can be, what i can do stop, and appreciate them more.

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Juan

The thing with anxiety is its slippery exterior, for me I am always wanting to feel safe, it’s part of the fear, some days it can be all about the things that might happen going to the shops and another day something else. My most dominant fear is of my wife leaving me, she is my ‘safe place’ and being intimate with her is my safest time. For me the rest of the world and my fears with it just dissapear and it is just us. Sadly though this to her feels like I am using her, so she only wants to be intimate when I am not suffering at my worst. As any one with anxiety will know after any relief from anxiety, when it comes back it feels ten times worse until you have hardened to the pain and fear, it is at this point you desire safety and relief the most but for me it is when I receive it least. This is a cycle that goes on and on through lack of understanding and the way neediness is unsexy. If my wife could change her mindset and be intimate with me when I was scared the relief and ego boost would help to the point I probably wouldn’t feel anxious, but instead we live in a perpetual state of misery because of her lack of desire for a clingy person.

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April

Ok I have a question. I am in a relatively new relationship. 2.5 months. We are both falling for each other and everything is great. I’m just looking for someone to help me understand. My partner suffers from anxiety. This past Monday and Tuesday I could tell she was off by her texts. Tuesday she admitted she was tired and worn out because there were more people at the Christmas dinner than she had expected and she needed to recover. Which often takes a few days when she has an attack. Tuesday night she got quite sick. In the hospital Monday for throwing up for 11 hours.. I never heard from her again since early Wednesday morning. I offered to go there and she said no. Yesterday morning I asked how she was. Said exhausted. I asked if I could do anything or come take care of her. She said no and that she just needed to be alone to recover and rest. I asked if she was mad at me and she said no. Just needed to rest as she was throwing up for 11 hours and had not eaten in 2 days. I told her to let me know if she changed her mind about me coming down and I’d be there. Said I missed her. She said, I will and I miss you too. I should be better by tomorrow.. I haven’t heard from her since.. I’m lost on how this anxiety can take a toll on a person, and I’m hurt by the all of a sudden distance from her and not letting me come take care of her. Is this all normal? To break down and hide for days? She normally talks to me about what’s bothering her. I’m falling in love with this woman and any suggestions people can give me would be greatly appreciated

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Anxiety can sometimes drive people to retreat to where they feel safe, particularly if something has happened that has been difficult. What’s important is understanding your partner’s experience of anxiety, and whether or not this is normal for her. Speak with her about what she needs from you when this happens. How often does it happen? What are the triggers? How long does it last? These are the questions that only she can answer. Anxiety can take different shapes for different people. I completely how confusing it can be, but we all have our ‘stuff’. The more you can understand about hers, the easier it will be for both of you moving forward, and the more connected you can be to each other.

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Savannah

I going through the Exactly the same thing as you do. I’m confuse, hurt and extremely worry about him. I read and read looking up all the answers that I can get so I can understand more. I calmly reaching out to him. let him know that I love him and he mean the world to me. but I just don’t know how long he have to suffer dealing with it. I’m scare I might loose him because the time lines none communication.

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Katie

I feel like there is never a solution and each time something happens that triggers a loved ones anxiety everything else is up for rehash and/or the littlest misspeak is taken totally out of context creating something else to be aggravated about adding to the pile. The taller the pile the harder it is to get to the bottom and begin again. His positive has gone negative and that leaves me lost and struggling for air

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Jessica MATCHETT

Exactly my sentiments. Living with a spouse who suffers is hard. I’m exhausted of having to walk on egg shells to make sure that I give enough space and understanding as not to contribute to the problem which I seem to do unintentionally at every corner. At the same time, the expressionless looks or depressing face creates an atmosphere of darkness for the rest of the family.

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Lisa

I am currently in a relationship with a father of 2 girls. We have been living together for 8 months now. His girls reside with us weekly alternating weeks. One of the girls has recently been diagnosed with moderate depression and anxiety and was advised that she see a psychologist. She had her first appointment a few days ago, and we were just informed by her mother that during the session she had a complete panic attack or breakdown and it came out that his daughter has extreme anxiety about me, and is even scared to be at our home when I am present. I’m not sure how I am supposed to deal with this? I feel I should talk to her but I don’t know what to say. The thing is, when she is around me she acts completely normal and happy and has even started giving me hugs before bed, so I am very confused.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Lisa I completely understand why this would be so confusing for you. What you are describing though is not really that unusual in stepfamilies. Something that all stepchildren are vulnerable to is a ‘loyalty bind’. This isn’t anyone’s fault and it can happen in any stepfamily. A loyalty bind is when the stepchild feels as though they are betraying the other biological parent (in your stepdaughter’s case, her mother) if they show loyalty or love to the step-parent. When you think about it through the child’s eyes, it’s very understandable how it can happen. They don’t do this to cause trouble or to make things difficult for the new step-parent. It’s just a really confusing situation for them. Feeling stuck between two people they care about is understandably going to produce anxiety in certain situations. It explains why, when she is just with you, she is really happy and affectionate. When it is just you, she doesn’t have to worry about her mother feeling displaced or as though she loves you more. Of course, the adults in your stepdaughter’s life know that this isn’t about you competing with her mother, or that you have no intention of ever wanting to replace her mother, and even if her mother feels completely okay about you being in your stepdaughter’s life, for kids it can be confusing.

When kids are in loyalty binds, one of the reasons it feels so awful for them is because they might feel a need to ‘prove’ their loyalty to the biological parent by talking about their dislike of the step-parent – even if they adore the step-parent. Again, it’s really important to remember that this isn’t bad behaviour, or wanting to cause trouble, and it doesn’t mean that your stepdaughter’s mother is doing anything at all to encourage this (though that can sometimes happen inadvertently) – it just means that your stepdaughter feels a great need to let her mother know that she is loyal and loves her and that you won’t change that.

If you suspect this may be happening, the best thing to do is to work with her mother and gently give your stepdaughter the following messages:

>> From you: that you are never going to replace her mother, that you never want to replace her mother, and that she can have relationship with you and her mother at the same time – both loving, but different.

>> From her mother: that she (the mother) loves that you are in her (her daughter’s) life, that she knows how much her daughter loves her, that she absolutely 100% supports a relationship between you and her daughter.

>> From both of you: that you both understand how difficult it can be when you are in a stepfamily; that you understand it can be difficult sometimes because she doesn’t want her mother to feel ‘left out’ or replaced; that you both understand and would never let it happen that her mother is replaced.

I hope this makes sense. Here is an article that might also be useful http://www.heysigmund.com/being-a-stepparent/. As I said, without knowing more I can only speculate that this might be going on, but it’s not at all unusual in stepfamilies for loyalty binds to happen, and behaving one way in front of you and expressing different feelings about you when she is with her mother is a classic sign. I also really need to be clear that it dosen’t mean anybody is doing the wrong thing – it’s just something that happens sometimes, and it’s just one of the things that stepfamilies have to work through. Sometimes it’s just about weathering the storm and trying not to take it personally.

Your thoughtfulness and open heart towards your stepdaughters will help to make this work and will help you to be a wonderful presence in their lives.

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Laura

Thank you for this article! It is good to read about a few tools that I can use to understand how I can deal better with having a boyfriend with anxiety. I’m happy that we’ve talked about it a lot before and he tries to explain things about it to me. It is still something I struggle with and sometimes I don’t know what to do. Ever since we started dating he has been leaning a lot on me emotionally and i’ve been taking up part of his fears, which was very exhausting and has given me a lot of stress. We now know that I can’t fix his problems and he has been seeing a therapist. It now goes a lot better with both him and me, but I am still afraid that I won’t have enough energy to be a support for him everytime it gets rough for him. No matter how much i want to help him and care for him, I notice that i takes so much of my own energy. I love him very much and really want to be with him, but I worry his fears will always be there and I will always have to take care of things we should actually be doing together or things he should be taking care of himself. Is there anyone in a similair situation who has some advice?

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Nikki

Hi Laura,

Im with you on that one.
Just continue to be there for him and always give him an assurance that everything is gonna be okay.

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John

Laura: I don’t even know where to begin. When I read the article I kept thinking, why didn’t I see this coming and why wasn’t I more compassionate. When I look back on my failed marriage of 15 years I can see each of the points in the article clear as day and they haunt me. Like you, I questioned whether or not I had the strength to take this on. I decided to marry my partner and that my a superior skills of compassion would carry the day. This was naïve. If I could do it all over I’m not sure I would. It sucked the joy out of my life. It’s not anyone’s fault, but I would say that if something in your gut is trying to tell you something, think long and hard before getting in deeper. It was much bigger than me and still haunts me that I eventually had to step away.

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John

My partner and I have been together for 8 years. We recently bought our first house together, during which process my partner began experiencing extreme anxiety around our relationship. She has previously suffered with more general anxiety. There was nothing ‘wrong’ in our relationship she could point to, but she felt she wasn’t in the ‘right place’ for her. Shortly after buying the house, her feelings became so intense that felt she had to move out and stay with relatives. I love her more than I can express, and not having her next to me at the beginning and end of each day is so hard. We have tried to maintain distance to give her space, and she has begun seeing a counselor. We both still love each other, but she has told me that she no longer knows whether that is enough. I think neither of us know any longer whether these feelings are simply those of a person growing apart from a relationship, or manifestations of an anxiety disorder focused on the what means most to her.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

John this sounds so confusing for you. It’s a healthy step that your partner is getting counselling. This will hopefully help her with strategies to manage her anxiety so it is less intrusive into your relationship.

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Adam

For someone who has suffered for many years with anxiety, I’ve finally had it with it all. I have only yesterday lost the only good think that had ever happened to me apart from 4 kids. I’m now at the bottom of the barrel but I’m not staying down there I have to much to gain . I want the woman of my dreams back in my life and I want my life back. So today is the start of a new beginning. I am a good person I am worthy of her and if I was not a good looking bloke I would not of had her on my arm. I’m not ashamed anymore of being this way as it what makes me who I am.

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Stephanie

I have a problem and I would realily love some advice. I recently started dating a guy and just found out he had anxiety. He told me. It’s been about a month but I’ve know him since in was 18. we have seen each other in like 15 years and we hit it right off. he had a bad day and that’s when he told me about the anxiety. I goggled about when u like a guy with anxiety and what to do.. I found nice words to say and sent him a text and let him know I’d be around when he was ready.. I copied the text and sent it to a mutual friend that has known him since he was tiny and asked if I was being annoying and them I went on to tell her what I had googled about when u like someone with anxiety but I sent that to him by mistake and he hasn’t spoken to me since.. I am heartbroken we were awesome together. does he think I’m a bitch or do I need to give him time. I just wanted to cheer him up. I immediately apologized and explained what I was doing.. it’s been a week.. I don’t know what to do but I want him back

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Talk to him and explain that it came from a place of love and that you wanted to understand more about what he was going through. Unless you are able to speak with him, it’s difficult to know what he is thinking or feeling. He may have felt as though his trust was broken a little when he spoke with you about something that was important and personal to him, and you spoke about that with someone else. All you can do is apologise.

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Scott

Please excuse my ignorance, do people suffering with anxiety actually ever become ‘cured’ for want of a better term or is it a life long condition(?) with good days and bad days with each morning being a lottery as to how the sufferer will be felling?

Many Thanks

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Scott this is a really good question. We all experience anxiety on some level – we would be dead if we didn’t. Anxiety is the fight or flight response that helps to warn us of danger and get our bodies ready to deal with the threat by making us stronger, faster and more powerful. All of the physical symptoms of anxiety are because of this very normal, very instinctive response. Anxiety becomes a problem when the part of the brain that initiates the response becomes a little too overprotective and hits the panic button too often and too unnecessarily. This can certainly be managed though, and we are learning more and more about the way we can strengthen the anxious part of the brain. People might stay vulnerable to anxiety, but without a doubt many people will find ways to manage their symptoms to anxiety doesn’t intrude into their lives. I hope this clears things up for you.

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Savannah

I am medicated for generalized anxiety disorder to the point where anxiety does not rule my life. Recently however, I had what my doctor called a “life crisis” and my generalized anxiety roared back despite the meds. I was given something to enhance the effects of my meds, but that’s another story.

It was during this anxious “breakdown” (if you will), that I realized just how hard it is to be a caregiver to someone who is anxious. It is an awful feeling to think you are a burden on someone else, especially a loved one, but it doesn’t have to fully be this way. I’ve decided to reach out less to those in my immediate family who appear to be greatly effected by my anxiety (largely because they have anxiety themselves.

The state I’m in is temporary because I’m a very different person when on optimal meds, so I try to reach out only to those who can handle it.

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Robert

Thank you for writing this.

My girlfriend has very bad anxiety and it’s extremely hard for me sometimes.

Especially when we start to talk about big life subjects such as where we are going to live, kids, and career choices.

We disagree on some things and many times I am unsure how to handle it.

I try my best to be calm and patient but sometimes I get very upset because she doesn’t want to try new things or switch her opinion/views.

Any tips on how to deal with this?

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Robert I understand how difficult this can be for you. This is the reality of severe anxiety – your girlfriend would also wish it wasn’t like this. Is she working on ways to ease her anxiety, because there are things that can really help. Exercise and mindfulness have been proven over and over again to change the structure and function of the brain in ways that can protect it and strengthen it against anxiety. Here is an article that will explain this http://www.heysigmund.com/how-to-help-with-anxiety/. You sound like you are a wonderful support.

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MOM

Hi,
I live with my daughter- in her 20’s . She suffers from anxiety.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to be there for her. The simplest comment or question turns into a trigger for her.
I would love to understand what I can do to help. Instead I feel I am making it worse.
Do you have any other practical advise besides ‘be there for her’?
It would be greatly appreciated.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

There are some really powerful and proven ways to manage anxiety and ease the symptoms, but they are things your daughter will need to do. Mindfulness and exercise have been proven over and over by research to change the structure and function of the brain in ways that strengthen and protect it against anxiety. There are articles on this link with lots of practical advice for how to manage anxiety http://www.heysigmund.com/category/being-human/anxiety/. If you can, have a look through for the ones you think would be most relevant for her and see if you can chat to her about trying something to help herself feel better. I know this will be hard and that she may not be open to it, but if she can hear it, I’m sure it will really make a difference for her (and you!).

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tasha

I have anxiety and the most helpful things have been 1. meditation, (mindfulness or a simple self-inquiry – in the advaita tradition – through these practices, we learn to observe thoughts and feelings without being overwhelmed by them, and increasingly become able to be present – no matter what.
2. Therapy: confronting fears in safe environment.
3. Regular exercise and diet help the brain to recover from impacts of stress – stops the minds racing – feel good endorphins – and great way to let go/forget anxieties.

Your daughter has your unconditional love, and to remind her of this -your love regardless of her anxiety – whether she gets ‘better’ or not – this is enormous support. Yes- I think it is possible for every anxiety sufferer to live a good life. it is possible to stop fearing anxiety, and fearing the things that trigger it. It might take time, but she can do it. Ultimately she is the one who has to reach out – you can only suggest the options that are out there, and offer to take her if this helps. Sometimes it takes time for the therapy or the meditation or the exercise to make a difference, but it will, and when it does her confidence will grow that though anxiety is a real challenge and obstacle – she will find her way through it if she gives herself a chance.

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Lynn

Hi, I started dating a guy last September, he was amazing, kind, loving. I have never met such a polite and caring person. He told me that he loved me all the time and we were getting along great, we shared the same hobbies, both play musical instruments.
Then on 2nd January he said he couldn’t be with me anymore, I didn’t really know him, he needed me too much and he was scared of hurting me. He has hardly spoken to me since. I have asked him if he has anxiety problems but he doesn’t know, he’s sorry, he still likes me, still cares about me. He says he can’t explain it. He knows I would do anything to help him but he just needs sleep and rest.
What do I do? I really want to help him.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

I wish there was an easy way to fix this for you. It sounds as though you have made it really clear that you would do anything for him and you can’t do much more than that. This is his growth now, whatever that looks like, and nobody can do it for him. If he has asked for space, give that to him, but set an end date in your own mind so that you aren’t left ‘hanging’ indefinitely. I wish you all the best with this.

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Brendon

Hi, I have been with my girlfriend for over three years. When we first started dating the anxiety minor and controlled. We are now engaged and planning a wedding. Recently the anxiety has severely escalated. I try to be there, but always seem to come up short. I find it tough to communicate what I am experiencing because it always comes off as being selfish, but I can’t just let it go. I am a very social person and when we were first together we did a lot of social things. This has fallen off but that side of me hasn’t dissipated. The toughest thing now is me wanting to still live my life, but also wanting to live life with her. She feels like she’s holding me back, but I can’t fathom a life without her. I’m just looking for insight on a situation where you love the person and the relationship, but you also want to live and get the most out life that you can. I want to travel and be social, we started dating because we both wanted that. That has now changed for her but not me. Just feel stuck at a crossroads.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

I can hear how confused you are about this. With every relationship there is compromise where each person might surrender some of their needs for the relationship. With some needs, this is okay because they aren’t as important. With more important needs though, surrendering them can cause trouble for each person and for the relationship – restlessness, resentment, frustration. The key is to figure out whether the cost of the compromise is worth it or whether it’s too high. This is something that only you can answer.

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Trung

Hello, I have been dating on and off with this girl for about a year now . We are both in college and she loves me literally like no other and is willing to go above and beyond for me ( I’m not on the same page as her yet ) .But there’s a slight issue with our relationship and the issue is me . We have seperated several times due to my anxiety , at first I really didn’t know why I would have this feeling in my chest but I soon realize or believe that it’s due to anxiety . Our relationship has been on and off for the whole year and I really just want to know how can I go about making this relationship right . Because whenever I’m alone and we are seperated I can’t stop thinking about her . & in my mind I know she’s perfect , but for some reason the anxieties won’t go away . We are seperated again due to my anxiety and I really just want to find a way to be with her without having that anxious feeling all the time . ( ps : I’m never worried about her , trust is good everything about her makes me happy , I believe it’s an issue within myself and I’m not sure how to go about )

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Sue

My daughter suffers with anxiety. As her mother that means I feel every bit of her suffering and I am finding it extremely hard to cope at the moment. Yesterday she told me (again) that she hates herself and her life and everything about it. That is so painful for me to hear as I want to take all the pain away from her but I know I can’t. I am retired and she knows I am there for her whenever she needs me. I just needed to say this and get it out of my system as I’m finding it unbearable right now. Thanks for listening.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Sue I’m sorry this is happening to you and your daughter. Anxiety can be so difficult to deal with, not just for the person who has it but also for the people who love them. It’s awful watching your children struggle – the feelings of helplessness can be overwhelming. There are things that can help to ease the symptoms of anxiety – mindfulness and exercise are two. Here are a couple of articles explaining why mindfulness is important http://www.heysigmund.com/overcoming-anxiety-mindfulness/ and this one talks about exercise http://www.heysigmund.com/activity-restores-vital-neurochemical-protects-anxietyepression/. None of these are a quick fix, but they would certainly be worth a try if your daughter hasn’t tried them already.

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Kelly

I’m having a hard time living with my spouse who was recently diagnosed with anxiety. He has trouble relaxing as he worries about anything and everything.. When he started getting angry that’s when I demanded marriage counseling which he didn’t like. He tried Yoga many years ago and decided it wasn’t for him. He is not interested in eating healthy. Therapist suggested a low-dose antidepressant which worked really great. Marriage was easy and stress-free. He just recently stopped for no reason so now we are back to square one. I’m exhausted and it does feel like walking on egg-shells. Even though I take care of myself, I can’t help to think what this is doing to MY health after 19 years of marriage. I am understanding but it’s to the point where he needs to help himself as well.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Kelly you’re absolutely right. Anxiety can be so debilitating, but it’s important for your relationship that your spouse keeps working on managing his anxiety. The growth is his – you can’t love anxiety out of him. Mindfulness and exercise are two things that have been shown to be really powerful in helping to manage anxiety. Here is an article that talks about mindfulness and anxiety http://www.heysigmund.com/overcoming-anxiety-mindfulness/ and here is one about anxiety and exercise http://www.heysigmund.com/activity-restores-vital-neurochemical-protects-anxietyepression/

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Danny

Hi Karen,
I started seeing someone suffering from relationship anxiety we were seeing each other over 3-4 months, she has openly spoken about it and I have probably went down all the wrong ways of dealing with it in the last few weeks of the relationship.

We both had finished up in long term relationships shortly before meeting and there after quickly entering our own relationship. She had a long and drawn out break up where her X who suffers badly with anxiety/depression and guilted her into saying in a relationship she wasn’t happy in. He seemed to have cheated on her which has scared her.

I openly told her how I felt and that I had fallen for her after a few months and was willing to do anything to make it work this put pressure on her as she wasn’t at the same stage of the relationship.

We booked a holiday together and seemed to going well all the same, I was working/living around a 2.5hr drive away from her and would travel to see her as much as possible. I lost my job recently and moved home which is a flight or a 8hr drive away. We spent the last night together and it was awesome I reassured her and told her I would get another job closer to where she lived to make it work etc but again this seemed to put more pressure on her and on the relationship.

A couple of days after moving home she told me she needed space that I was putting too much pressure on her and that she couldn’t go on the holiday with me. She has removed me / blocked me after lengthy discussions on her anxiety and it turned out she didn’t 100% trust me she thought I was still with my x when we first meet which I wasn’t and reads into anything I say or do to the nth degree. But when we are together its amazing and everything / everyone else seems to fade away its only when we are not together all her doubts come into her mind and she gets bogged down.

After reading your article I understand I went about it all the wrong way, I am heart broken and crushed the way it has ended. I’m crazy about her and would do anything to make it work. I am worried that she never see’s a future with me in it, that I’m a cause of her symptoms.

Do I stay away and wait for her to come back? Do I contact her and tell her I’m here for her no matter what, which I am but she has said she doesn’t want me to wait for her as she doesn’t know how long it will take her to feel good within herself.

I am so confused I’m crazy about her and to make it work worse I know she feels the same about me but it scares her and she wants me to move on

What do I do?

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

I completely understand why this is so heartbreaking for you. It sounds as though you have been really loveding and have fought to keep this relationship on track. If you have already made it clear how you feel, it’s important that you now listen to what she is asking for, which is space. Set yourself a limit on how long you will wait, but for your own sake keep moving forward.

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rhoda

This is complicated… I was in a LDR for a year, I know this person for 20 odd years, we reconnected and hit if off, going on holidays, he came and stayed with me for 3 mos, it was fantastic. He is 70 I am 59. We decided we should be together, we talked every day for over a year about it all, and when I sold my house, to move to be with him, the anxiety reared its ugly head, then he had a panic attack. He talked to his kids in his state and they said this can’t be right for you, so all of a sudden he is saying, sorry I can’t do it, I can’t. I know what we had was great, we were open, no stone unturned, we had laughter and happiness, and then he can’t. Its now a mess, he says he needs time to sort his head out, so I presume this is why he has never been able to sell his house because its his safety zone. I am seeing things I never noticed due to his attack, he lives a very quiet mundane life and he says he likes it, but its not living, when we are together, we have so much fun, so I don’t understand. How do I handle this. Is it worth hanging on…. how could i not see it, and why did his attack last for a week. he didn’t even realise it was anxiety.

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Platypus

My partner of 3 years has anxiety that showed up about 3 months ago. He worries about everything and struggles to talk about it so usually I’ve no idea what the problem is. This sends me into a state of concern about if I did or said something and feeling like he is just so unhappy in our relationship. Because he doesn’t talk about his feelings other than saying he’s stressed I feel I the dark about what’s going on for him and it leaving me feeling very lonely. There is never a moment when I can talk to him about my feelings because that is just too stressful for him to deal with.
I am trying to understand but it’s very hard to not take it personally and not feel just exhausted and tired of living on eggshells. I know he is anxious but i can’t help but feeling like it is such a selfish emotion, according to him everything is related to him and he doesn’t even see it or get to feel a bit better and apologise. I don’t even know what I am asking here, just venting that being in a relationship with an anxious partner is incredibly draining and it’s putting a massive pause on my life / our life.

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Ariel

I agree with everything in this article however there are times when the anxious person is your adult child and no matter how much you do the right things they make it almost impossible to help. In my case my child is trying very hard to get a handle on his anxiety but his immaturity (due to his age, 22) and his natural tendency to question are really getting in the way. In his eyes he is his own best physician. He has an excellent therapist he rarely sees because he doesn’t think it’s necessary. My husband and I have been patient and understanding for four years. The result has been poor academic results in university, underemployment during the summers, sporadic use of anti-anxiety medication (that work very well) and self-medication with pot that to our eyes exacerbates his symptoms but to his mind, helps. We have funded time off school without asking him to work and put no pressure on him, but that seems to make him worse. Too much free time with him translates into more anxiety. We recognize the limitations his anxiety places on him but at one point we need to stop enabling the secondary behaviours that have resulted from the disorder; things such as avoiding employment, dropping classes already paid for and then refusing to accept responsibility for any of these things. Excuses such as the prof was a jerk or my employer unreasonable can’t keep cutting it. We know who our son is when he is well. We can see clearly his attempts to make himself better but feel they are misguided. He won’t listen to our advice no matter how gently and kindly it’s given, nor does he respond to ultimatums. He doesn’t live with us but when he does visit we never know what to expect. If he’s on his anti-anxiety meds he’s himself, if not, he’s argumentative, confrontational and aggressive. We support him financially and are not willing to pull the plug because of his disorder but are unsure how much longer to keep on doing this. I see a therapist who helps me understand his issues and gives great advice but when we’re in the trenches with him it’s absolutely mind-boggling. Truthfully, I’m running out of steam.

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