3 Questions To Ask Your Partner To Help Them Understand Your Anxiety, According To An Expert
Dealing with anxiety on your own can be challenging. And often, having a supportive partner around to help you through it can be a real source of strength. But occasionally, you might find that your new love is amazingly rad, thinks you're cool, too, and also seems not to know very much about anxiety at all — or, worse, has some beliefs about mental health that aren't based in fact, or are even stigmatizing. Many people simply don't have a vocabulary around mental health, thanks to decades of stigma, and unfortunately, sometimes it's up to those of us with mental illness to help people who don't understand, well, get it. If you aren't sure about how to start a discussion about mental health, it can help to ask your partner questions to help them understand your anxiety through some serious empathy.
Anxiety disorders come in many forms, from generalized anxiety to PTSD and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and there are many preconceptions about each — preconceptions that can be broken down with a little bit of empathy. And of course, if your partner isn't willing to try to empathize with you about your mental health, then, heck, that's a sign they probably won't empathize about much else, either (and yes, that's a red flag). You're in this as a team, after all.
If you're in need of a general framework to start the conversation, counselor Heidi McBain suggests these three questions as ways to help your partner get a bigger, more accurate picture of anxiety and how it impacts your life. Here are three things to ask your partner if you want them to better understand your mental health.
1. "What Do You Know About Anxiety?"
McBain says that the main thing the partner of a person with anxiety should know is that anxiety isn't the end of the world. "These conditions are treatable with the help of a trained therapist, and sometimes anxiety medication prescribed by a doctor as well," she says. That's normal. Anxiety disorders are also common; the Anxiety & Depression Association of America estimates that they're the most common mental condition in the U.S., and that only a little over a third of people with an anxiety disorder actually gets treatment. So acknowledging your condition and getting help for it is already a big step in the right direction, and your partner should know that.
2. "Do You Know The Difference Between Anxiety And Stress?"
"The term anxiety gets used in society a lot of today to simply mean “worried” or “stressed”," says McBain. "But a true anxiety diagnosis goes so much deeper than this." And that's an important thing to discuss. Sometimes terminology can be misleading. Feeling worried about something isn't the same as having anxiety about it, and anxiety disorders aren't just slightly more intense concern. Understanding this difference can help your partner avoid trivializing your anxiety, and understand when you need help.
3. "What Do You Notice About Anxiety In My Life?"
Anxiety, McBain says, "is pervasive in the person’s life, and if left untreated, can be debilitating in that people change their behavior and where they go, who they see, how they act, etc. In extreme cases, people may even stop leaving their house and interacting with others." If your partner has noticed this behavior, helping them understand that it's a product of anxiety may clear some things up for them; if they haven't noticed anything, this may nudge them to make some connections.
Once your new partner has got a clear picture of what your anxiety is, this is a chance for them to articulate how it affects them and what they've noticed about your mood. And then you can start working, together, on how to help manage your anxiety, improve awareness of it, and facilitate your treatment.