When you have anxiety everything is affected. Your blood pressure rises, your heart beats way too way fast, and you start to sweat. You try to walk it off, do yoga, Pilates, or meditate whatever is stressing-you-out away. But sometimes nothing seems to work, and your anxiety climbs instead of disappears. Anxiety can affect your relationship, too.
There’s some confusion about the differences between fear and anxiety because they’re so similar. You have a fear of something and anxiety about something. Anxiety is a response to a vague or unknown threat. When you're anxious, you have an apprehension that seems to hang on, even when you’re unclear about what it is that’s making you anxious. Fear is much more immediate, and is an emotional response to a known or definite threat.
I have a lot of fear and stress which constantly makes me anxious. I worry about what might happen when I fly, or go somewhere I’ve never been.There are certain things I won’t do such as drive on the freeway, and there are other things I don’t want to do, but have do anyway like go to the dentist. I'll build up my anxiety as the thing I've been dreading gets closer and closer, so that by the time the actual event happens I’ve turned a fairly simple thing into an emotional ordeal, and I'm totally stressed about it.
Anxiety can be hard on you and the people that love you. Here are some things to know about dating someone who has anxiety.
1. Don’t feel guilty.
Sometimes you’re the one who will inspire the anxiety or panic attack. You don’t get a pass just because you’re dating a person with anxiety. Being in a relationship can actually add to their anxiety—there’s so much for them to worry about: not texting back in time, is this relationship going anywhere, and even simple questions such as how are you? can add to a person's anxiety. Don’t take triggering an anxiety episode personally, it’s just part of the deal when loving someone who's anxious.
When someone is in the hyper-tense state there’s nothing that they would like more than to just say some magic words and stop the physical and emotional demands that anxiety makes on them. But it doesn’t work like that. They've had to develop their own ways to cope: deep breaths, doing something active, or sitting quietly by themselves.
3. Asking “are you ok?” isn’t helpful.
When you see someone panicking and know they suffer from anxiety, you already know the answer. Try saying something supportive like “I’m here if you need me” or “Would you like me to take you somewhere a little less intense?"
4. They need to feel what they feel.
Don’t try to talk them out of our emotions. If they shut down on their anxiety, it doesn’t make it go away, it makes it fester until it explodes ten times worse. It’s better to handle panic attacks as they happen rather than to ignore them.
5. Don’t shame them about their anxiety.
Brene Brown defines shame as "the intense painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” Your anxious significant other is already struggling with feeling that they’re damaged and broken, the last thing they need to feel is shame.
6. Anxiety isn’t rational.
There’s a side to people with anxiety which knows they aren’t being rational and level-headed, but that doesn’t stop the other side preparing for battle. Don’t point out to them that what they’re feeling when in the middle of an anxiety attack isn’t rational, they know.
7. Have a back-up plan.
When you love someone with anxiety it’s always helpful if you are flexible and have other options at the ready. Anxiety can happen at any time and any place. It’s a good idea to develop plans with your partner about what to do when anxiety appears. This way there won’t be anxiety about possible anxiety leading to escalating anxiety. Maybe instead of that double date with your work friends, you could stay home and have a movie night.
8. Don’t talk about it with others unless given the OK beforehand.
People can be judgmental. Your anxious girlfriend wouldn’t want your friends or family’s opinions to change just because she gets anxious. If she has a pretty obvious panic attack, then it’s OK to alert people to the situation and how they can help.
9. Anxious people aren’t negative.
It might seem as if your anxious loved one is a pessimist or a downer as they are constantly thinking about the worst possible outcome of a situation, but they aren’t.They don’t mean to focus on the bad things that can happen, it’s just part of being anxious. Underneath the anxious and the what ifs is someone who is extremely grateful and actually pretty optimistic.
10. Try to see things your loved one’s way.
You might not be able to see things from your loved one’s perspective, but they’ll appreciate you trying. The more caring you are, and the more empathetic the better.
11. Change is challenging.
Pushing the boundaries can be difficult for even the well-adjusted person, and for someone with anxiety it can be problematic. They are already overthinking the things they know, having to modify something in their life can be all consuming,
12. Anxiety is part of who they are.
Being anxious can be a struggle, but it isn’t always limiting. It has helped shape your anxious woman’s way of seeing the world—in good and bad ways and it has made her who she is. However she is more than her anxiety, it is just one attribute.
13. They aren’t ignoring you.
People who have anxiety issues often have an inner monologue, and their attention may be divided between what’s going on in their head and you. They may not be fully present, but you don’t need to fully quiz them on your conversation. They’ve probably gotten the important parts of what you’re saying and if you need to gently bring it up again, that’s fine.
It’s not easy living with anxiety, or loving someone with anxiety, but if you treat your loved one with compassion, they’ll appreciate your standing by them, supporting them, and helping them to manage. They'll love you for understanding.
Images: Collin Key/Flickr; Giphy(7)