When Someone You Love Has Anxiety

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.

    [irp posts=”1100″ name=”The Things I’ve Learned About Anxiety – That Only People With Anxiety Could Teach Me”]

  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.

    [irp posts=”824″ name=”Anxiety in Kids: How to Turn it Around and Protect Them For Life”]

  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.
  12. 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.

  13. 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.

366 Comments

Natalie

I’ve been living with my boyfriend for two years, and the pandemic and losing his job has triggered his depression even worse. He was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when he was younger, but his parents didn’t think it was a real issue. He won’t see a therapist because he said they have never helped him in the past. I’m at the point where I am feeling truly defeated every time he has an episode, because I also freeze up and I can’t be his emotional punching bag anymore. He’s constantly putting himself down and I’m constantly reassuring him that he’s a smart, good looking person. He has a good heart, and I know there’s so much potential to have a great future together, but I have no idea what to say anymore when he’s freaking out. I’m constantly making sure he has a comfortable place to live and feel safe, but his emotions are so intense, he can’t handle it if I happen to have a bad day and need a hug once in a while. It’s like my feelings don’t matter because I’m not the one with depression and anxiety.

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Unknown

My husband is goong through anxiety. I have tried to help him. But didnt know how ecxactly i can deal with it. Should i tell him that its effecting me also, as i feel frustated and ddont wamt to talk with him when he have sudden mood swings. After that i didnt talk to him for 2 3 three days and it is damaging me also.

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A.C.T.

This articles biggest point I got out of it was the fight or flight….for both of us. Let me explain.

My wife has all but given up in everything. I think this is her flight reaction. I am frozen with no direction when everything I do, or offer, is always the opposite of what she wants in that instance. (If I ever get it right, I might be at about 20% right and 80% wrong on my guesses) Does that mean I have anxiety? I don’t think I do.

This pandemic has exasperated the feeling of her giving up. She doesn’t want to do anything, watch anything, take care of our son, decide on dinners. She wants to sleep and play video games. I’ve tried bribing her with her favourite meals, I’ve had to push her out the door to see friends she wants to see, but the long drive gives her anxiety. I tried to hold her hand on the drive, as much as I could, but I need both hands to drive. I give her small tasks, so she has a sense of accomplishment, but she’s managed to bungle up most of them or she forgets, I just pick up the slack and pieces. She feels worse for screwing up these small things and feels bad, and as frustrated as I am with having to do every little task, I (kind of) get it. Am I wrong to help nudge her? It seems every nudge, regardless of direction, is always the wrong answer. If I don’t nudge her, she says I should know better and be more supportive, if I nudge her and she fails, it’s my fault for pushing her, she told me she didn’t want to do it. If I support her in cleaning the kitchen, setting the table, vacumming the house before her big Christmas dinner and leave some chocolates on the table she asks, “is that your contribution to the whole dinner?”. I don’t want to take it personally, but her snide remarks are attacking me personally. How does everyone supporting with those loved ones who have anxiety, deal with it? I’d really like to know how to “not take it personally”. I didn’t react negatively, I just let it slide off my back, and said, “your dad will love them.”

What do you say when the person with anxiety gets very upset? I’m constantly getting yelled at for “standing there with nothing to say”. I don’t know what to say, I have a million thoughts running through me, but everyone of them would probably make things worse when we argue. It’s rarely an argument, it’s more like her being upset with something or me and yelling at me and then pulling everything out for the last 17 years that I have ever said or done that offended her. I can’t win against a list that only gets longer each time and the stories get twisted over time. If I try to hug her and tell her it will be alright, she pushes me away. If I don’t hug her, she’ll say, “can’t you see I just need a hug! don’t just stand there”. I’m also frozen. I’m normally the kind of guy who believes growth only comes if you will make yourself uncomfortable. But I’m frozen when it comes to her anxiety because I am always wrong in my words and action. I don’t find all her arguments logical, and I can’t argue against something illogical. That’s not how my brain works. Her memories are spotty in places, partially from therapy, partially from meds, partially from over exhaustion when she was a new mom. I don’t even want to argue, I’m not even the kind of guy who wants to fight about anything, I just want to know what I can do to fix it, which I know I can’t, but now it has me frozen. When I am the one to vent, that’s all I want, is what we can do together to make it better in the future. She knows how I think and can ask, but she gives up as soon as she realizes it’s not simple, like her refusing to live within a budget because tracking expenses and receipts are a lot of work. I want to hug it away, or give her space, whatever she needs, but I’m wrong 80% of the time, how can I pick? Between the extra chores, and taking care of our son, I’m awake most days from 7am to midnight. I don’t stop or sit until after 10pm most days. I only have so much energy and patience in week or a month or a year. She wants a divorce every 6 months for something small to me, but it’s huge to her. I say it’s so small, it’s not worth fighting about, she says I don’t care how she feels. How do I wrap my head around how big or small something is for someone with anxiety?

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Leah

Wow – what an amazing love…
Having had somatised anxiety for 30 years, reading this heart felt account, might I suggest this sounds like a very solid dose of depression and will require professional help. Perhaps some medication for 3 months to stabilise and get some sanity back for both of you relatively quickly.

Once that support scaffold is in place – then find a good psychologist your wife clicks with. It may take a few duds before you find someone right for her. Then comes the ‘cognitive behaviour therapy’ CBT. This is where your wife will learn how to rewire her brain to help manage the anxiety.

You say you have a young child. It could very easy be postnatal depression. This can poke its head up 18 months or more after the birth and is very normal- especially for a first baby and if her friends and support network are far away.

Depression and anxiety are kissing cousins. They often go hand in hand.

It’s normal for everyone to feel anxious or depressed from time to time in our lives, and especially with CV19.

Losing interest in the people and things we love is the first sign things are really not right….as is extreme fatigue and not being able to get out of bed all day.

Don’t be afraid of medication. There’s new stuff now that is non addictive and has no side effects like weight gain.

I take Effexor during the day and Seroquel at night or I couldn’t function.

I finished uni 30 years ago and have worked professionally for all that time.

Anxiety doesn’t have to be a death sentence.

It comes and goes for most.

It may become chronic for others. This means you have to treat it with respect and manage it.

Mine will never go away, but I’ve stopped fighting it. I have learned to live with it.

Every day is a blessing. Most days are fabulous. Some days are rough – and you learn to listen to your body instead of over riding your safety switch to your own detriment.

When my anxiety starts to kick off – I know now to stop, think and listen. Manage it or it will mange you.

I am proof you can have utterly debilitating anxiety and overcome it.

You can get well. You can have a quality superb life and healthy relationships and a successful career in anything you choose.

Cheers,

Leah

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Brett

Hey mate. I feel your confusion and pain. The woman I love is very similar and I’m at my wits end. The whole don’t get offended when I speak to you that way starts to wear thin very quickly and it cuts deep. I’ve just ordered a book called Loving someone with anxiety. Should be here in a couple of days. I’ve been reading a lot of post and insights online trying to get my head around it. Not being able to say anything is the worst. Frozen. I hear you. Good luck brother. I’m not down yet

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Mark R

I have been searching for information on Anxiety as I am dating a sweet girl for about 3 months now – anxiety is something she is getting counselling for, so I am trying to understand it better for both me and, maybe one day, for her.

But your post smacked of familiarity to me. I had similar experiences with my previous partner of 3.5 years. The description you gave about freezing with no idea how to fix something you so desperately wanted to fix struck a chord with me. Your description of her frustration with you either helping too much or not enough (such as with the Christmas dinner, or whether you hug her enough/too much!) resonated with my experiences. Sadly, my partner and I split up, though in hindsight it was for the better, for me at least.

The only advice I can offer, if you want it and as someone not qualified in mental health professionally but has lived through and experienced enough of it, is to seek professional help for both of you. The most difficult part will be the anticipation of bringing this up with her; I would imagine it will require a hell of a lot of courage and, in your mind, maybe timing? Chose an opportunity when you can be alone to talk it through with her, be honest with how the current situation is making YOU feel (don’t talk for HER!), tell her what you would like in your ideal future together, then receive her reaction (it could be very fierce!) – wait until she is finished, listen carefully, then reaffirm your ideal future together. Then she may receive THAT message a little easier, to which you can then bring up counselling together.

I sincerely hope you both have a happy future together and will keep my fingers crossed for you both. Much love, bro x

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WifeOfGAD

Wow, A.C.T., I can relate to so much you have said. My husband has GAD and is very high functioning. He has a great job, super intelligent but when it comes to us, it is super stressful. I can’t do anything right in an argument. Whatever I say is wrong (or don’t say) makes me a bad person, a bad wife. Argument never stick to the issue at hand but become a bigger part of our marital issues – usually how bad I am as a wife. He won’t seek help, he helps himself and has done a tremendous job weening himself off medications and finding solutions to try and break the barriers in his mind (he has sleep issues due to the anxiety).

Since being off the meds, the arguments are getting worse and worse, something rubs him the wrong way and once he snaps there is no reasoning with him. He is never physically abusive but he often resorts to mud slinging when the anger is controlling him and he never sees it, never acknowledges it, no matter how reasonable I try to show him. He is an amazing person but I am exhausted and finding it more and more difficult to carry the roll of the bad guy.

Any help pointing to a book or an article to help me is much appreciated.

Regarding the article above, I found it troubling as a person married to someone with GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) for almost 20 years. The article calls out not to worry that the person with anxiety knows how valuable you are – that is not enough. It a relationship the partner of someone with anxiety needs to be shown, have it articulated, reinforced that you see their value, how they take on additional responsibilities, how they are strong through the increased pressures of living with someone with the disorder. The disorder needs to be acknowledged as a part of the relationship and that everyone is working to live with it, not just the one with the anxiety. This may seem insensitive to the person who is suffering with anxiety but it must be said. If the anxious person is suffering, their partner will suffer too – watching them suffer with no way to help, other than to pick up the pieces, duties, needs of your life together and let them focus on what they need to get better. That takes its toll too and needs to be acknowledged, supported, appreciated, loved.

Thanks for this article and the stories shared by others. It is comforting and provides direction for me in a difficult time.

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liz

I relate so much to your post. My husband wont really get help for his anxiety We have been to couples therapy and the counselor thinks he has GAD as well and recommended he see someone to get medication but he wont he is so against any form of medication. but everything you said is us. The article doesn’t say anything about what his GAD does to the spouse. Its so hard and in the end somewhat abusive to us and our kids. He gets controlling and he berates the kids when they do something wrong and me. When he is having an episode its never a simple oh you spilled your juice its ‘why didn’t you think about where your hand was. you were leaving on the table and not sitting up properly, your always leaning stop doing that. And so on for 5 minutes until we are all so defeated. but sometimes he is just like….darn you spilled your oj lets go get a towel and clean it. It all depends on his anxiety level which there is no rhyme or reason to when its bad. It can last for weeks or months then we can have a few great months or weeks. Its like being on a rollercoaster you cant get off of and you have no control over. regardless of the fact that he is doing it because he has GAD its still abusive to be berated for what seems like hours for making a mistake when he is anxious. And telling him to stop is like telling him to fly it just doesn’t happen I have to yell or run away for it to stop. Telling him to stop and you need time is more like picking a fight so its better to just wait it out but I cant.. I just cant… its so painful.

Any help is greatly appreciated. I think my husband just needs mediation but he wont… I don’t want a divorce but this is beginning to affect my happiness and my children’s.

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Joe

My wife has anxiety, some days worse than others and I can identify with a lot of the comments. ‘Walking on eggshells’ sums it up. I feel that some days everything I do will be wrong. Even if yesterday it was right!
I know she can’t help it and she always says not to take it personally but man is it hard?
If I ask how I can help? That increases the stress as she feels she is the only one making decisions.
If I do something off my own back? She would have prioritised differently and I’m making things worse.
She meditates and is speaking to someone so I know she wants to fix it. It’s just so difficult feeling that you can’t make it better and every choice you make could make it worse.
I’m going to hit my head off the wall as it seems more productive. Rant over.

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florica d

hi, my son is 30 years old and 2 months ago started for the first time feeling anxious and scared of loosing his job due to corona situation. It got worst and he wanted to quit his job because he feels not being productive and feels guilty . He lives in a different country from me with his wife and they just bought a house in June. We talk every day and keeps telling me he is scared and never felt like this before, can’t concentrate and i can see on his face the sadness and i dont know how to help him. Please what should i do? His wife is trying so hard but he cant get out of it . Should i tell him what i think like he suffers from anxiety or i shouldnt? It’s ok to tell him that he needs professional help or not? please help as i dont know how to talk to him. Thank you

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Maria

I went through something similar with my ex. The fear of losing his job because he wasn’t sleeping much due to anxiety. It was some sort of tornado that kept revolving in “I’m not sleeping, I’m not productive, I’ll get fired” “If I get fired I’ll have no job, no money and you’ll stop loving/respecting me” and so on. At the moment I didn’t know it was anxiety or GAD. We broke up for a few months, because he insisted he didn’t need any help and just needed to be by himself. Even though we weren’t together, I encouraged him to talk to a professional on various occasions, because it was starting to affect his physical health too. He blocked me from every social media we had, he was still in denial. I prayed for him to get better and get help.

After months of being apart we reconnected. He was getting counsel and medication. We got back together, even though it was not easy with the mood swings. In the end (2+years later)we didn’t stay together for other reasons, but I don’t regret one minute insisting on him to look for help.

Hoping anyone going through a similar position can find this helpful.

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NKL

I live with an extremely anxious/phobic person, who lives in obsession and fear for the mere possibility of some particular danger, regardless of its probability.
The pandemic has exacerbated this to a new level. She is in an extremely germaphobic state. If anybody touches any house part which isn’t “trusted” with their clothes, the clothes must be washed. Or hands must be disinfected with alcohol. If any object touches another “contaminated” object, it becomes contaminated, and so on if a third object touches the second. Deliveries must all be quarantined for days outdoors, reaching the point where it ends up raining on packages. All based on worst possible predictions which are ridiculously improbable.
We have a child together and I am not sure what else to do, because I feel I reached the point where I become numb just to get going. Her family is also quite desperate with her rage tantrums and accusations.

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Gerard

These are helpful tips, not only for anxiety but in dealing with the daily stresses we find ourselves in. Very worth reading content, Thanks for sharing!

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Vinny

My partner is dealing with GAD and it gets triggered often by things which might look pointless but it does.it gets worst sometimes and leads us to argument fight and abuse . I always try to be calm with her most of the time.

I most of the time fail to help her get out of it and find myself helpless but I really need to learn someways to support her during those worst episodes and bring her back to normal . She is highly intelligent and creative and likes to be appreciated for every thing she does.

She is as described in the article very over protective and highly caring and plan things in advance .

But when it triggers her it definitely makes her feel sick and I need some advise and inputs as in what way I can make her feel better.

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Mia

Like the article says… Just be there. Do things that she normally does to take some added stress off of her. Be there for her when she calls for your help. Just be there.

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Oscar

Living with someone with anxiety is a pain in the flippin arse. If I had my time again I would never have opted into it. He can’t get a driving licence because it would make him too anxious, so I do all the driving, and we live miles from anywhere. He can’t go to the supermarket, so I have to do all the shopping (we live in a remote area and shops are miles away). He won’t travel anywhere on holidays or attend any events whatsoever (parties, weddings, etc), so I go alone to those. Obviously we never go out, to restaurants or the cinema or anything. He can’t get even himself to the doctor or the dentist, let alone take our son to the doctor or dentist, so I have to take our son to all appointments and then practically trick him, an adult, into visiting either in an emergency. It’s been nearly 20 years. I’m demoralised. I feel like I’m a parent to him, which is deeply unsexy. He refuses to seek any help. And yet all I ever see is articles telling me how I can do more for him, when in fact I’m the one who’s been making his life possible for two decades. What I’d like to see for once is an article entitled something like: ‘So you suffer from anxiety? Here’s an inkling of what your partner might have been going through because of it’. That’s all. Sorry for ranting. I’m flippin exhausted

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SB

YOU ARE NOT ALONE, I M IN THE SAME BOAT,PARENTING MY PARTNER ON MANY SIMILAR ISSUES PLUS HE HAS BIPOLAR DISORDER TOO.

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Sarah

You chose to be with this person. You CAN CHOOSE to walk away from them. They are struggling with this illness every day . Words fail me.

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Chiara C

So relieved to read this, my husband has been suffering with health anxiety since March 2019, and I have been sick and frustrated with me adapting to meet his needs. Fortunately he has seemed help and it has improved. But I do understand what you are feeling. I honestly think if he hadn’t started help I would have walked out, many times I sat in the car thinking about walking away. Anyway help is the key, to not even try I think is selfish as it monopolizes the relationship. Good luck to you.

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Shelly

I really feel for your situation. I suffer with chronic anxiety and it is debilitating but I’m also very stubborn, I refuse to let it define me. Your spouse has lost the fight, it’s easier to wallow in the own little world then face up to life. Unfortunately you have had to take on the ‘life stuff’ yourself and I wonder if by doing so you have unintentionally made him more unwilling to try. I’m really hoping that doesn’t sound harsh. Maybe time apart would heal some wounds. I hope everything work out for you.

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Mary

Oh my god! I am hearing u. I feel like my other half had the anxiety under control until he realised I could maybe do life for him. He does nothing anymore except his little routines, kind of like self soothing things- I love him but I don’t think I can do the rest of my life like this. I left a 23 year relationship because my ex was like that- without the anxiety- just always let me organise absolutely everything and I Always feel like they are just being unaccountable- I get anxious and I have lived this way for more years than I dare to acknowledge- but I am diagnosed ADD (33)- my medications help me get over myself and on with living. But I can’t live his life for him and I am tired of always being in the firing line.

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Royal

Exactly!! Like what the hell… I feel like the most unappreciated person ever!! It’s like I’m being punished for something I have no control over. I just really don’t know smh

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Serena

Wow! I love that I have come across this. Thank you for sharing/venting. And that sucks you have to go through that. I have a partner with anxiety, we are just realising the extent of how it affects our lives. We are both 32 and I want to get married and have children and he just can’t get it over the line. He makes me feel like I am crazy for wanting these normal things. We fight so much and I’ve never cried so many tears because of the way he makes me feel. I am not sure if I should get out if this relationship now or persist with him. He’s a wonderful person aside from his anxiety. They seem incapable of love and distant all the time.

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Lu

Hi thanks so much for sharing. I am 31 and experiencing the exact situation you describe.
Its very frustrating and scary to imagine a life like this but also hard to walk away from someone you love.
Can you offer any advice? Have you persisted?

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Luli

I’m reading this and it’s me. Thank you for letting me feel like I’n not alone. My boyfriend is the perfect guy but he suffers from anxiety. A mild version from it I guess but is affecting our daily lives so much. He’s so irritable and he finds it normal. He has flying phobia so now all the traveling is awful, and we live in his country away from my family so I always have to travel alone. I’m 31 and I want to have a family but he’s always thinking about the worst and how everything can go wrong.

He says that he will seek help but he only “tries” to go therapy and then he never does it. I’m devastated to lose him but I think I can’t help him and if I stay with him I will be unhappy. Any advice of an article/book or anything that will help him realize that he has anxiety and he doesn’t have o live this way? I would just love for him to see that he could live a better life…

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Wife of person with anxiety

Im tired of “walking on eggshells” all the time with husband. I recently read an article on anxiety and he shows a lot of the symptoms of something called underlying anxiety or latent or something. Always tapping your foot etc, always irritated etc. I just thought he was a jerk now im trying to understand a little better. We are married but barely. (I found out he was cheating 5 years ago (for over half our marriage). It almost killed me but by now we’re actually good enough friends. Im not looking at him as anything other than a friend. Whatever romantic feelings i had for him finally left 5 years ago). But i want to know what we should think of when the person denies they have a mental problem and the other person is forced to “walk on eggshells “ for lack of a better term? I hear we should “have compassion” but what does that mean? Try not to irritate them? Years ago i too learned to just nod and agree. But then they don’t like that either. But thats my go-to behavior. It seems like the advice we are given is nice enough, but then it seems like we as the partner are losing ourselves in the end…im probably just being annoying! Just having a rough Sunday.

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Kelly

You are defiantly not annoying!!! It’s a real difficult situation.. actually sad because they won’t get help… My spouse is in denial as well.. won’t even do marriage counseling. Yes, I need to do better at nodding and agreeing— it’s mentally draining trying to explain things as it just doesn’t sink in with him.

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Samantha

I feel your pain … I feel like my partner emotional punch bag… terrible situation… I feel so unloved n cared for…
It’s easy for people to say leave as where would I go 😢
I am a fun loving caring person, I try my very best
Big hugs to everyone going through this….

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Ellie Davis

It’s interesting to know that anxiety is a physical response to a brain that is being over-protective. My husband and I will be having his sister over for a couple of months, and we are looking for advice because she suffers from anxiety problems. I will pass this information to him to make sure we both understand how anxiety works and how to help her.

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Brad W

I am 35 years old and didn’t realize that I may have anxiety until recently when I started reading up on it & every damn thing I read is spot on with the way I feel. I am a relationship with 3 children and lately it seems as if my disorder has gotten intense. We fight almost constantly about the most ridiculous things, I used to think every fight was her fault cause she is “crazy”, but I’m slowly started to think maybe I’m the crazy one. I’ve had issues in the past with alcohol and drugs mainly marijuana. Looking at it now I guess I was subconsciously self-medicating. So i now have my first appointment scheduled with a psychiatrist but i still haven’t talked to my wife about my anxiety because i dont think she will understand. Because of my drug/alcohol past plus dramatics i caused i feel she won’t believe me and just claim I’m making it up or wanting attention or trying to be the victim or something. Lately my emotions feel like they have been getting more intense and i really dont want this family to be broken because of it if there is any advice anyone can give to help me in my situation please tell me. She is a good woman and i just want her to understand what this is and that it is real and not made up.

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Veronica

My partner has anxiety. And the article is on point, however I feel like I have exhausted all that I can do. I need some light shed my way so that I may continue to help and not to give up on us. We have been together for over 10 years and have a 5 year old. His anxiety has morphed into many stages and I am now at a point were I am struggling to want to be in the relationship. When we began dating, my partner had said he suffered from anxiety in his past. He had received treatment at a facility in Encino and it had worked for him. As time passed, his anxiety came back and he had stopped his treatment sessions. I encouraged him to go back, however he is at a point where we he cannot travel far without panic attacks. I hate saying this however, my son and I are like prisoners. We are unable to do things without my partner’s approval, just feeling trapped. I want to help, however I feel exhausted and just at the lowest point of unhappiness. We have tried neurofeedback system delivered at home however money became an issue. What can I do to help?

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Moira

It’s good to read the comments from those living with a partner with anxiety. The phrase “walking on eggshells”! That is my life. My husband’s anxiety is ramping up as he gets older. I am constantly on alert and it’s affecting my health. Perhaps meditation and more physical activity is the key because I MUST find a way to rise above what’s happening.

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Paul

As the partner with anxiety, I can reassure these things are true. I have been diagnosed with a form of childhood PTSD from the father that didn’t care about me and emotionally/mentally abused me. My mother has tried her best to be my dad and mom and has created, what I think, a very well rounded man.
That being said, I haven’t faced my problems head on until last year through therapy and that’s when all my 24 years of pent up stress and anxiety came out. I have made great progress but I’m still recovering and have anxiety and depression at times. It comes in waves and when I have my episodes, my partner holds me still, tells me that everything is going to be okay and we talk about it. This is the best way to help someone with anxiety; unconditional love and communication. I reassure her that i’m sorry and I wish she didn’t have to go through this too, even though I know it’s not my fault, but she’s always there in the end. The best way I have been able to describe the experience is
the fear you get in your nightmares of instant gloom and angst, like somethings chasing you but no matter how hard you run, you remain in place. You can’t breath, you are irrational and negative and as a man, it makes me feel like less than because I don’t feel strong or manly. I’m slowly learning that it doesn’t matter, all that matters is being me and working through it.
It takes a strong person with anxiety to live a normal life but it takes and even stronger person to love them.

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S

My partner just ended things with me because she feels I don’t reassure her enough when I try my family hardest to help her when she needs me. Sometimes her anxiety moments catches me by surprise and I get caught out and don’t act right. I feel like a complete failure and I miss her terribly

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Lurd TK

Hi Karen,

What an amazing post. I have learned a lot of ways to to cope with an overly anxious partner. Especially, when you talked about trying to change them. (Anxious partners)

I totally I agree with you that letting them know that they are fine the way they are is far more better than trying to change them in any way.

Nonetheless, I would like to add 3 more things to avoid while dating someone with anxiety and they are: #1 Don’t criticize them for having anxiety. #2 Don’t  lose your temper or patience every time the anxiety flares up. And finally, #3 Never recommend drugs for their anxiety because, you are not a psychiatrist.

Doing any of them would hurt One’s partner, making the anxiety worst and creating more stress in the relationship.

Thanks.

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Mary D H

I have anxiety, the only time it flares up is when I know someone is not being honest with me or the circumstances around are not professional. Please don’t talk to me in a different tone than someone else. I am a human being, don’t talk about me behind my back. Don’t tell me what I see, is not correct. I am not blind, but your setting off my anxiety.

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Bryan

What you describe sounds like normal human behavior. I am no doctor, but everyone does and should expect a certain level of respect.

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Lurd-TK

Hi Karen,

What an amazing post. I have learned a lot of ways to to cope with an overly anxious partner. Especially, when you talked about trying to change them. (Anxious partners)

I totally I agree with you that letting them know that they are fine the way they are is far more better than trying to change them in any way.

Nonetheless, I would like to add 3 more things to avoid while dating someone with anxiety and they are: #1 Don’t criticize them for having anxiety. #2 Don’t  lose your temper or patience every time the anxiety flares up. And finally, #3 Never recommend drugs for their anxiety because, you are not a psychiatrist.

Doing any of them would hurt One’s partner, making the anxiety worst and creating more stress in the relationship.

Thanks.

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S

It’s so dam hard sometimes not to do number 2 in your suggestions. I feel I try so hard with my partner but at a detriment to my health… it’s so hard on partners. You have so many emotions , guilt for not being there, frustration for them ruining lovely moments and days and sadness because sometimes you need things too but the perosn clouded by anxiety isn’t available to give it to you. Right now I feel like the biggest failure ever 😔

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Ann D

i might have missed it but i dont recall the idea of the person seeking proffessional help for their issues. If all you do is support by enabling how does anything ever get better for the sufferer and their partner. Surely you should be there to support them but by doing that isnt it possible to move forward with proffessionals. People wear out after a while, no matter how much you love them.

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S.

I 100% agree. You can accept a Person without accepting their Behavior. People with anxiety need HELP. They need help for their own comfort, sure, but also to keep their behavior from ruining their lives. Just read these comments. Many of them sound less like an anxious partner (although they might well be that), and more like a person who rationalizes and excuses abusive behavior by saying they are anxious and can’t change. Which is a LOAD OF SH*T. Get some Therapy (DBT is good for this stuff), learn to meditate, and stop treating people like some kind of thing that is there only to support you. You don’t get to outsource your mental health, and if someone else tries to do that To you, LEAVE THEM.

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Anon

That’s the difference then . If they are trying to change by learning and meditation, isnt that enough?
Or do you keep attacking THEM telling them their behaviour needs to change even when then they are not doing anything wrong?
Telling them they need to do more than meditate?
In fact by saying that its only making it all worse?
At what point to we say i need to see my role in this and compassion is important.

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joe

I agree 100%..I have a best friend of 30 years I just had to let go of due to her severe GAD and overthinking.She refuses all mental therapy…but is at the Doctors constantly “imagining” she has this or that phisically.I feel terrible I could not enable her any longer…but so relieved I dont live in her world of denial anymore.PLEASE for the sake of loved ones who dont want to go away….GET HELP…keep looking until you find something that helps even a little.I refuse to enable this and refuse to clog up my life to illogical overthinkg.Its not at all fair to your loved ones.WE have feelings to.I am a recoeverig alocoholic .sober many years…I KNOW what it feels like to pull your pants up and get help…admit life is not working and work hard to be better…..no one should have to “tolerate” ME …..when I refused help.

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Kate

Sooooo I’m wondering how to navigate my new life style, my 28 year old step daughter moved back in with her daughter who’s 5 my husband and I understood that this was needed because she has anxiety , my granddaughter was tested in school and found to be on the autism spectrum ( she’s just now starting to develop language) also shortly after they moved in my husband had what can only be described as a mental break ie sudden onset anxiety disorder. So I’m having a lot of difficulty seeing to all their needs and wants while trying to maintain my own damn sanity….. any suggestions would be appreciated.

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Elena

Thank you so much for sharing this information ❤️
I hope that you know this has changed lives and helped others understand what people with anxiety go through.
God bless you❤️

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Reed T

Hello. I am a 21 year old college student that has suffered with anxiety for the majority of my life. As a young child my mother would tell me stories about how impactful my anxiety could be to my everyday life. I have been in a committed relationship for about a year and a half now. We have a beautiful bond, goals, personalities and the like, but my anxiety causes terrible arguments. I am learning more about my anxiety and how to control my reactions, but I feel like he doesn’t understand me completely. If he does, he responds in a very negative way. He usually becomes very hostile, shuts down, makes me feel like a crazy lunatic. When I tell him to just give me a hug or comfort me in situations like this he replies, “He shouldn’t have to “‘baby”‘ me.” I don’t know how to help him understand. Sometimes I worry that these arguments will eventually break us apart. To think that is devastating, considering that my anxiety is the only culprit.

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Lucinda

I’m married to a man that has anxieties he tells me I don’t understand what he’s going through yes and I have made the comment that what do you want me to do cradle you I’m trying to understand what to do for people with anxieties. Some of the things you have written i have seen in our relationship.
My husband has the mood swings I thought he might be bipolar I see now it the anxiety.

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S

As a person who has just broken with their partner as a result of her anxiety and arguments I would just say it’s a horrible thing for you to have to live with and I’ve experienced it myself so I do understand as a partner of someone with anxiety tho I think it’s hard for them to always feel in a place to support or help. When they are tired or need something themselves it’s not always easy to remember in that moment why you are acting the way you are. Sadly mental health takes away that perosn and replaces them with a different version and sometimes it’s easy to comfort but others it’s not and it gets frustrating when you feel you can’t , not only Cos you need something yourSlef but you feel bad and selfish for getting frustrated. I don’t know what the answers are Cos I don’t think I did a good job of soothing my partner (although I work in a caring profession and I feel I give so much) maybe trying to understand better each other helps a little. Good luck with it all

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Robert J

I found this article very interesting so thank you.
My partner is 28 and suffers with anxiety, one minute everything will be fine we will be happy enjoying luch or whatever it is and then something might happen and he will change. For example yesterday I was waiting on a call from an old colleague to take down information for a reference. After their call I can the feel the mood has changed and he says his anxiety has kicked in. I never know what to do or how to react so I try to just keep his mind off it, talk about the food or something. But it lingered and we went upstairs and I said should I put something on, he didn’t want me to so we just sat in silence. He then said he didn’t like this and said “I just need a cuddle” . When i first met him he told me that his ex would always cuddle him and reassure him when he was having an attack. However I see this a mothering technique and feel it will be more damaging in the long run as he will fall dependent on me to make it go away everytime- which isn’t something that can work long term.
I spoke to him about this and informed him I will always give my support and be there with him but I don’t feel that method is healthy for either of us.

Can someone please give a second opinion on this.

Thank you

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Maxima

Hi Everyone.

I’ve been reading up a lot lately on living with a partner who has anxiety.
In most articles, there is mention of ‘just being there’ for them. I’m not exactly sure of what this means.

I spend a lot of time talking to my partner. I actively listen to my partner (diagnosed with anxiety as a child) when they seem anxious or frustrated. But I never really know what to say to make it better. I’ll listen with all my time and attention but I just feel lost with trying to respond in a way that allows my partner with anxiety to feel comfortable or consoled. I don’t know what the right words to say are, if there are any at all.

How do you all think I can be there for my partner in a more effective and sensitive way?

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c g

my spouse has severe anxiety kicks. i learnt that being quiet and nodding is the key. but later he would argue with me for not caring enough to react to his actions. it feels like a cycle of never ending frustration.. it feels like he just wants to take it out on whatever is near by. the fan , the heater , the window, me.. i have learned to brush it off… with anxiety comes grumpiness , frustration , argument fight .

little things like room temperature , noise of clock ticking seems to give him anxiety and he becomes very irrational . he becomes violent and throws the remote on the ground . i got hit by remote as he was frustrated. i am helpless and speechless. you can control yourself and not the world. perfect example is when hes driving he gets triggered by someone making mistakes on the road. he once chased a guy who made wrong turn. when it rains, he talks about how the slipper road causes accident for 2 straight hours and blames me for being ignorant an not knowing or understanding his ordeal. i just dont know what to do or say because everything i say or do is gonna be blamed and he would point all fault on me . pour all his frustration on me . its like walking on egg shells.

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Karyn

He sounds very abusive. Anxiety is a horrible thing to deal with, but I think it does not excuse violent behavior. You sound like a lovely person, who is scared and frustrated too. Would you consider getting help for yourself, to build up your strength to set boundaries? Constant criticism and living in fear are not OK. You don’t deserve that. It’s not your fault. It’s ok if you’ve reached your limit and need to go. You matter too. Your happiness matters too. He sounds like he needs serious CBT and anger management. I wish you all the very best of luck xx

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Carla F

Oh yeah – he’s got bigger issues.
It’s him – not you.
Be careful.

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S

My partner just ended our relationship today. She suffered abuse as a child and now that’s left her with low self esteem and anxiety in some situations. It’s awful. She deserves to be happy and deserves love. I want to give that to her. But she makes it so difficult , sometimes I say the wrong thing and it leads to an attack of anxiety and sometimes I feel ready and equipt to deal with it and make her feel better. Other times it catches me and I’m not in a position to respond they way she would like and I get frustrated at her which is the wrong thing to do but I’m only human. I work as a nurse and just get so tired sometimes I can’t deal with the emotion of it. She said ended things saying I wasn’t supportive or saying the right things , which to a nurse I think is the biggest insult…I am very sad

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Joy

Here’s a safe site for you to access, if you ever need help. Domestic violence isn’t just about physical, but also mental, emotional, and verbal abuse. You don’t have to take it. Maybe you guys need to separate, until he decides to get his act together. You’re not alone. It’s not your fault. I am responsible for my actions and words. You are responsible for yours. And he is responsible for his. He needs to step up and take responsibility, which is not something anyone can make him do. He has to decide to do it.

https://www.thehotline.org/

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Joan

All I can say is living with someone with anxiety is very very hard. I get tired of always walking on eggshell. It was’t bad at first. He would have infrequent bouts of anxiety, he would snap and ask for a time out sometimes it would take as long as 30 minutes to get some control and he wasnt really medicated when we started dating and now he is medicated on another chemical cocktail and I might get 5-10 minutes out of him of pleasant behavior on work nights and a little more on the weekends. I walk on eggshells most of the time when I am around him now because I can feel the anxiety simmering in his voice when he talks. Tonight was a perfect example of irrational behavior, we went to dinner, he became impatient with the service, snap at me asking if I was done, I explained I just took my last bite, he requested the check and we left. Our Saturday night date including transportation to and from the restaurant lasted 70 minutes.
In the past he use to apologize for being an ass, and tell me I do not deserve to be treated the like that, well that hasn’t happen in a while. It did help when he did that. I also watch him struggle. He wishes he could turn off his brain. He describes it as being in prison with an occasional furlough for good behavior. Sad thing is he had a PET scan that confirms his description of his anxiety state. The pyschiatrist said his brain never really turns off. So what am I to do??? It is not his fault but jeez this is hard. And this is from someone whose husband died from a chronic debilitating illness that required daily dialysis at home the last three years of his life. Any insight would be helpful

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Joshua B

I’m a 48 year old male who was diagnosed with ADHD at 47. I was misdiagnosed for times. The last time, I was diagnosed with generalized Anxiety disorder. ADHD does bring with it a lot of anxiety particularly if there hasn’t been a proper diagnosis. Because the person has been living with ADHD their entire lives. I know this is an old post, but your husband symptoms sound like mine. Once I got proper treatment and proper medication… All the anxiety left.

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MG

I am a 52 yr old female and that is exactly what happened to me. My severe anxiety is gone, I enjoy the moments in life and am happier than I have been in 15 years. The ADHD diagnosis is the best thing that has happened to me. Anxiety & depression are side effects of ADHD. Don’t give up, continue to seek help until you find the right professional to help you through it.

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We teach our kids to respect adults and other children, and they should – respect is an important part of growing up to be a pretty great human. There’s something else though that’s even more important – teaching them to respect themselves first. 

We can’t stop difficult people coming into their lives. They might be teachers, coaches, peers, and eventually, colleagues, or perhaps people connected to the people who love them. What we can do though is give our kids independence of mind and permission to recognise that person and their behaviour as unacceptable to them. We can teach our kids that being kind and respectful doesn’t necessarily mean accepting someone’s behaviour, beliefs or influence. 

The kindness and respect we teach our children to show to others should never be used against them by those broken others who might do harm. We have to recognise as adults that the words and attitudes directed to our children can be just as damaging as anything physical. 

If the behaviour is from an adult, it’s up to us to guard our child’s safe space in the world even harder. That might be by withdrawing support for the adult, using our own voice with the adult to elevate our child’s, asking our child what they need and how we can help, helping them find their voice, withdrawing them from the environment. 

Of course there will be times our children do or say things that aren’t okay, but this never makes it okay for any adult in your child’s life to treat them in a way that leads them to feeling ‘less than’.

Sometimes the difficult person will be a peer. There is no ‘one certain way’ to deal with this. Sometimes it will involve mediation, role playing responses, clarifying the other child’s behaviour, asking for support from other adults in the environment, or letting go of the friendship.

Learning that it’s okay to let go of relationships is such an important part of full living. Too often we hold on to people who don’t deserve us. Not everyone who comes into our lives is meant to stay and if we can help our children start to think about this when they’re young, they’ll be so much more empowered and deliberate in their relationships when they’re older.♥️
When we are angry, there will always be another emotion underneath it. It is this way for all of us. 

Anger itself is a valid emotion so it’s important not to dismiss it. Emotion is e-motion - energy in motion. It has to find a way out, which is why telling an angry child to calm down or to keep their bodies still will only make things worse for them. They might comply, but their bodies will still be in a state of distress. 

Often, beneath an angry child is an anxious one needing our help. It’s the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. As with all emotions, anger has a job to do - to help us to safety through movement, or to recruit support, or to give us the physical resources to meet a need or to change something that needs changing. It doesn’t mean it does the job well, because an angry brain means the feeling brain has the baton, while the thinking brain sits out for a while. What it means is that there is a valid need there and this young person is doing their very best to meet it, given their available resources in the moment or their developmental stage. 

Children need the same thing we all need when we’re feeling fierce - to be seen,  heard, and supported; to find a way to get the energy out, either with words or movement. Not to be shut down or ‘fixed’. 

Our job isn’t to stop their anger, but to help them find ways to feel it and express it in ways that don’t do damage. This will take lots of experience, and lots of time - and that’s okay.♥️
The SCCR Online Conference 2021 is a wonderful initiative by @sccrcentre (Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution) which will explore ’The Power of Reconnection’. I’ve been working with SCCR for many years. They do incredible work to build relationships between young people and the important adults around them, and I’m excited to be working with them again as part of this conference.

More than ever, relationships matter. They heal, provide a buffer against stress, and make the world feel a little softer and safer for our young people. Building meaningful connections can take time, and even the strongest relationships can feel the effects of disconnection from time to time. As part of this free webinar, I’ll be talking about the power of attachment relationships, and ways to build relationships with the children and teens in your life that protect, strengthen, and heal. 

The workshop will be on Monday 11 October at 7pm Brisbane, Australia time (10am Scotland time). The link to register is in my story.
There are many things that can send a nervous system into distress. These can include physiological (tired, hungry, unwell), sensory overload/ underload, real or perceived threat (anxiety), stressed resources (having to share, pay attention, learn new things, putting a lid on what they really think or want - the things that can send any of us to the end of ourselves).

Most of the time it’s developmental - the grown up brain is being built and still has a way to go. Like all beautiful, strong, important things, brains take time to build. The part of the brain that has a heavy hand in regulation launches into its big developmental window when kids are about 6 years old. It won’t be fully done developing until mid-late 20s. This is a great thing - it means we have a wide window of influence, and there is no hurry.

Like any building work, on the way to completion things will get messy sometimes - and that’s okay. It’s not a reflection of your young one and it’s not a reflection of your parenting. It’s a reflection of a brain in the midst of a build. It’s wondrous and fascinating and frustrating and maddening - it’s all the things.

The messy times are part of their development, not glitches in it. They are how it’s meant to be. They are important opportunities for us to influence their growth. It’s just how it happens. We have to be careful not to judge our children or ourselves because of these messy times, or let the judgement of others fill the space where love, curiosity, and gentle guidance should be. For sure, some days this will be easy, and some days it will feel harder - like splitting an atom with an axe kind of hard.

Their growth will always be best nurtured in the calm, loving space beside us. It won’t happen through punishment, ever. Consequences have a place if they make sense and are delivered in a way that doesn’t shame or separate them from us, either physically or emotionally. The best ‘consequence’ is the conversation with you in a space that is held by your warm loving strong presence, in a way that makes it safe for both of you to be curious, explore options, and understand what happened.♥️
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#mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #parenting
When children are struggling to physically control their bodies, we support them in ways that strengthen. If they’re struggling to write, for example, we don’t punish or shame them. We guide them and show them by doing ‘with’. We also lift them up, ‘I know you can do this. Keep going. You’re getting better and better.’ We also don’t wait for perfection. ‘You wrote a number 4! Nice work you!’ We sit with and do with, over and over. We also give them a break when they get frustrated or upset.

It’s the same for behaviour. Big behaviour comes from big feelings or attempts to meet valid needs. (And all needs are valid.) It is this way for all of us. When we’re upset or angry, the last thing we need is for someone to tell us we can’t be, or to lecture or shame us. Kids are the same.

With kids and teens though, there can be a sense that we need to ‘do’ something in response to big behaviour, so we lay down punishments or consequences with a view to teaching a lesson.

But - unless the consequences make sense (punishments never do), they risk teaching lessons we don’t want them to learn:
- that the environment is fragile and won’t tolerate mistakes. 
- that secrecy and lies are a safer option than coming to us. 
- shut down. They put a lid on expressing big feelings. The feelings will still be there, but they aren’t getting the vital guidance from us on how to calm them (through co-regulation). The risk is that they will eventually call on unhealthy ways to calm the fierce stress neurobiology that comes with big feelings.

Consequences have to make sense. Maybe it’s to repair or reconnect. Discipline has to teach. It’s not about what we do to them but about what we nurture within them. Is that trust and the capacity to learn and grow? Or is it fear or shame.

Often the only response that’s needed is a loving conversation with us. ‘What happened?’ ‘What were you hoping would happen?’ ‘What did you need that you didn’t get?’ What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right?’ Because if discipline is about learning, the most powerful consequence is the strong, loving conversation with us that lights their way and speaks softly to the safety of us.♥️

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