How to help boyfriend with anxiety

How To Help Your Anxious Partner — And Yourself : Shots

Hanna Barczyk

Living with anxiety can be tough — your thoughts might race, you might dread tasks others find simple (like driving to work) and your worries might feel inescapable. But loving someone with anxiety can be hard too. You might feel powerless to help or overwhelmed by how your partner's feelings affect your daily life.

If so, you're not alone: Multiple studies have shown that anxiety disorders may contribute to marital dissatisfaction.

"We often find that our patients' ... partners are somehow intertwined in their anxiety," says Sandy Capaldi, associate director at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania.

Anxiety is experienced at many different levels and in different forms — from moderate to debilitating, from generalized anxiety to phobias — and its impacts can vary. But psychiatrists and therapists say there are ways to help your partner navigate challenges while you also take care of yourself.

Start by addressing symptoms.

Because an anxiety disorder can be consuming, it can be best to start by talking with your partner about the ways anxiety affects daily life, like sleeplessness, says Jeffrey Borenstein, president and CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation in New York. Something as simple as using the word "stress" instead of clinical labels can help too. "Often people may feel a little more comfortable talking about stress as opposed to ... anxiety [disorders]," Borenstein says.

Don't minimize feelings.

"Even if the perspective of the other person absolutely makes no sense to you logically, you should validate it," says Carolyn Daitch, a licensed psychologist and director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders in Farmington Hills, Mich. Try to understand your partner's fears and worries, or at least acknowledge that those fears and worries are real to your partner, before addressing why such things might be irrational.

Anxiety doesn't have an easy solution, but helping someone starts with compassion. "Too many partners, particularly male partners, want to fix it right away," Daitch says. "You have to start with empathy and understanding. You can move to logic, but not before the person feels like they're not being judged and ... misunderstood."

Help your partner seek treatment — and participate when you can.

If your partner is overwhelmed by anxiety, encourage your partner to seek therapy. You can even suggest names of therapists or offices, but don't call the therapist and set up the appointment yourself, Borenstein says. You want the person to have a certain level of agency over treatment.

Capaldi says she often brings in a patient's partner to participate in therapy and to bolster the patient's support system at home. "The three of us — patient, partner, therapist — are a team, and that team is opposed to the anxiety disorder," she says.

But don't talk to your partner at home the way a therapist might. For example, don't suggest your partner try medication or ways of modifying behavior. "Let the recommendations about treatment come from the professional" even if you yourself are in the mental health care field, Borenstein says. "I personally am a professional, and I wouldn't [prescribe anything] to a loved one."

It can also be helpful to do some research on whatever form of anxiety your partner might be living with, Capaldi says (The National Alliance on Mental Illness' guide to anxiety disorders is a great starting point). "Many times, people with anxiety feel as if they're misunderstood," she says. "If the partner takes the time to research it a little bit, that can go a long way."

For tips on how to help your partner pick the right type of therapy, check out this guide from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Encourage — don't push.

When your partner suffers from debilitating anxiety and you don't, your partner's behavior can be frustrating, says Cory Newman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine. But you should never patronize or diminish your partner's fears. Comments such as "Why can't you do this? What's your problem?" will probably be ineffective.

Instead, try to encourage your partner to overcome the anxiety. "Channel your encouragement in a positive direction," Newman says. "Say something like 'Here's how it will benefit you if you can face [this] discomfort.' "

Daitch cites the example of someone with an immense fear of flying: "Start off saying, 'I really understand how scared you are of flying. It makes sense you'd be scared. You can't get off the plane if you have a panic attack, [you're] afraid you might embarrass yourself ... or it feels like you're out of control when there's turbulence.' See things from their perspective."

Then you can try to gently push your partner to overcome those fears.

Cultivate a life outside your partner's anxiety.

To maintain your own mental health, it's important to cultivate habits and relationships that are for you alone, such as a regular exercise regimen or weekly hangouts with friends. Have your own support network, like a best friend or a therapist (or both), for when your partner's anxiety overwhelms you.

Partners definitely need support of their own, Capaldi says, "whether that means their own therapeutic relationship or just friends, family [and] other interests or activities that set them apart from the world of anxiety they might be living in."

And don't let your partner's anxiety run your family's life. For example, someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is closely linked to anxiety disorders, might want family members to keep everything very clean or organized in arbitrary ways. Newman says it's important to restrict how much you will organize your household around your partner's anxiety — and not to indulge every request or mandate.

"Try to be respectful, but also set limits," he says.

Help your partner remember that the goal is to manage anxiety — not to get rid of it.

"A lot of people with anxiety disorders understandably view anxiety as the enemy," Newman says. "Actually, it's not. The real enemy is avoidance. Anxiety causes [people] to avoid things — like applying to schools, flying to a cousin's wedding — [that can lead to] an enriched life. ... And that causes depression."

It can also reduce the number of life experiences you and your partner share.

"You can have an anxious life, but if you do things — you're doing that job interview, you're saying yes to social invitations, you're getting in that car and driving to the ocean even though ... you don't want to drive 10 miles — you're doing those things still," Newman says. "OK, you might need [medication] or therapy, but you're still living life."

Susie Neilson is an intern on NPR's Science Desk. Follow her on Twitter: @susieneilson.

7 Tips for Supporting a Romantic Partner With Anxiety

So you’ve fallen in love with an anxious person! Sorry about that. As a professional anxiousologist (and having been on both sides of that equation), as I procrastinated while writing my book Hi, Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves, I came up with a few tips for how you can make it a bit more bearable for both of you.

1. Don’t try to fix them.

You’re this person’s husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, lover, polyamorous partner, not their therapist. (And if you are, stop dating them immediately because that’s creepy and unethical.) They cannot be well for you. It’s unfair to pressure someone to live up to your idea of how they should be, and they may end up feeling like they failed you. It makes your love conditional. Instead, just let them know that you’d like them to feel better because you love them — not because they have to be well in order to be loved.

2. Don’t try to explain to them why they shouldn’t be afraid of something.

Your skittish schmoopity-schmoo likely knows that their fear isn’t rational and/or the bad thing probably won’t come to pass. Making them feel like a jackass about it isn’t going to help. Consider asking them why this particular thing upsets them so much. Often, the act of throwing a deep, dark fear into the spotlight and spinning it out to its worst possible outcome can have the effect of neutralizing it. And for the love of all that is holy, don’t make fun of them for it. Let them be the one to point out how silly it sounds out loud, or you might run the risk of them clamming up and feeling like they have something new to fret about.

3. Be honest and set expectations.

Gonna be late? Call or send a quick text so they’re not picturing you mangled in a ditch. Got a big bill to pay or a medical test coming up? Don’t try to hide it; talk through it. Treating your partner like a fragile child — even if you just don’t want to worry them — creates a weird dynamic in a relationship. And besides, anxious people are pretty perceptive and will sense that something is amiss. Let your sweetum boo-boo-pie in on what is actually happening, or their mind will likely rev into high gear and assume that something infinitely worse is afoot.

4. Be OK with the fact that happiness looks different for different people.

For some, it’s balloons, dancing, party hats, or Jaeger bombs at the club. Others, an Instagram snapshot with toes in the sand, or Deepak Chopra drawn in latte foam (#bliss #bestlife #blessed). For an anxious person, it might be a day that passes without a panic attack or having to pound down Tums. It might just be having the wherewithal to get dressed and walk around the block. Calm is a terribly underrated emotion, but it’s just as valid as joy.

5. Make them feel safe.

Often one of the greatest fear of an anxious person is that they’re unlovable just because they’re anxious. As often and as naturally as you can, let them know: “We’re in this together and I’m not going anywhere.” In fact, just screenshot that sentence and text it to your sweet cuddlenumpkins (seriously — I’ll stop) right now. I promise it won’t be weird. OK, it might be for a minute, but you’ll both be glad about it later.

6. Live your life.

Ugh. So your partner is going through one of their extra-panicky or agoraphobic phases again. It’s hard to watch the person you love in such pain, and probably even worse for them to be going through it. But it’s your best friend’s birthday party or your niece’s graduation and you can’t or don’t want to miss it. Go. Even if it’s by yourself and you have to tell people your beloved isn’t feeling well. (That’s actually not a lie.) This might seem like a wrenching betrayal, but it’s a healthy thing to do. It’s a relief, both of your partner’s guilt over holding you back or dragging you down into their muck, and of any resentment — it’s OK, totally valid feeling — that might be building up on your end. Just remember to check in and let them know you’re thinking of them and that you’ll be coming home safe and sound.

7. Ask.

Wacky thought here, but your smootchiemuffins (I lied.) might have a few notions about what might ease their angst, and been afraid to express them. Be open, even if you don’t agree, or for them not to have any answers. Sometimes it’s enough just to be asked and know someone is there to listen.

6 ways to overcome anxiety in a relationship


Gradually get used to insecurity

Intimacy means that you open to another those corners of the soul that you hide from the world. If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, then you may worry: what if your partner stops loving when he sees you with flaws, oddities and character complexities? If you are truly dear to a person, he will accept all facets of your personality.

“You don't have to talk about all the dark experiences right away,” says psychologist Stacey Rosenfel. “Try to open up gradually, practicing openness and insecurity in communicating with a partner, gradually gaining confidence, over time, fear will weaken.”

2. Be direct about what you expect from a relationship

Any person with an anxiety disorder is familiar with endless thoughts about the same thing, you can not free yourself from obsessive thoughts, although you understand their stupidity. The problem can be especially damaging to relationships. For example, a friend used to call you after work, but now she doesn’t call you for several days.

You begin to be tormented by the thought that she is tired of you, in fact, she has a project deadline. Of course, you should not constantly ask your partner if everything is in order, but if something has been bothering you for a long time, you need to say so. For example: “I know how busy you are, but every day I expect you to call in the evening. If you do not call, I am tormented by doubts whether I am tired of you.

“Anxious people's brains tend to get stuck on thoughts,” says Los Angeles psychologist Jenny Yip. “Usually they represent the worst option. To save a relationship, you need to explain from the very beginning what you expect, so that there is no uncertainty, because of which there are gloomy forebodings.

3. Separate your "anxious self" from your "true self"

One person on Twitter wrote: "Anxiety is conspiracy theories about yourself." Don't let negative self-hypnosis ruin your relationship. “Instead of listening to her voice, listen to the inner voice,” says psychotherapist Jennifer Rollin.

"Anxious Self" can say: "If I open up to him, tell him about my anxiety and work with a psychotherapist, he will leave me or consider me unbalanced." We often begin to imagine frightening scenarios, many of which are unrealistic.

In this case, it is useful to practice responding to anxiety on behalf of the "true self," explains the psychologist. It will certainly try to calm you down, for example: “Working with a psychotherapist does not mean that you are crazy, you want to become better in every way. At worst, if he thinks you're crazy, it will say a lot about him and nothing about you. You deserve a partner who won't judge."

4. Recognize that you cannot control your partner completely

When learning to cope with an anxiety disorder, it is important to let go of the need to control everything, including things that are out of your control, such as your partner's shortcomings. It can annoy you that during the football season he spends half of every Sunday with friends. But you can’t deprive him of any freedom because of anxiety, can you?

“Anxious people often want to control the situation, which is not always possible. You can explain what you want, but if a partner cannot fulfill all your desires to the smallest detail, this does not mean that he is not suitable for you. It is important to respect and appreciate his individuality - you and him are different people, not Siamese twins, ”says Jenny Yip.

5. Tell your partner about your anxiety disorder and how it manifests.

You don't have to fight it alone. Open up to your partner, tell how anxiety manifests itself. For example, you often blush and sweat because of social phobia. You can understand how best to deal with this disorder. A partner can become an ally, helping to maintain balance in stressful situations.

“Sometimes when we try to hide anxiety from others, fearing their reaction, it starts to build up. Telling your partner will save you a lot of stress because you won't have to hide your symptoms anymore. Sometimes you can defuse a tense situation by talking about anxiety,” says Stacey Rosenfeld.

6. Agree on dispute rules

Anxious people have a hard time with arguments. “Let’s imagine that you had a fight and the partner left, slamming the door. Anxious people have a hard time tolerating uncertainty,” says Jenny Yip.

To make your life easier, agree on rules for resolving conflicts. For example, that you can always postpone an unpleasant conversation, provided that you definitely return to it within a day. “Discuss the rules ahead of time so you have a plan of action. When you know what's going to happen next, anxiety decreases,” Yip explains.

Anxiety disorder: how to help a loved one during an attack


Anti-stressA person among people

Who better than the people themselves, suffering from anxiety disorders, to tell what they experience during attacks and what kind of help and support from loved ones they need ? Here's what they would like to tell loved ones about their constant struggle with anxiety.

The best thing you can do is listen

“No one is asking you for answers. You can't "cure" us, even if you really want to. Just listen. Let them know that you are there and ready to help. Don't be too intrusive if you see that we are uncomfortable, but do not miss the moment when it is important for us to have someone hug us. - Allison L.

Your support means everything to us

“I have been dating a young man for over a year now. I know that it's not always easy to love me. I often get on his nerves and he can't understand why I'm behaving this way. But when I'm immersed in endless doubts and anxious reflections, it's important for me to know that he accepts our differences and continues to love me even in those moments when I myself find it difficult to love myself. - Melissa H.

Don't tell us "just calm down"

“It doesn't help, it just annoys. We are usually 1000% aware that our anxiety is irrational. Offering to calm down won't magically turn her off. ” - Kelly R.

Don't be offended by our behavior on difficult days

“Remember that our anxiety is not related to you, even if it seems to you that you have now provoked it. We just feel a tremendous overstrain. Part of the cause of anxiety is related to the work of our brain, and now nothing can be done about it. But there are also external factors that can be influenced. Help us to distract ourselves, it will help relieve anxiety. For example. suggest going for a walk.” — Ryan N.

Remember there are different types of anxiety

“My husband and I both suffer from severe depression and anxiety. However, our symptoms manifest differently, and what works for me may not necessarily help him. During difficult periods, I need physical contact, approval and support. And he needs to be left alone. If you can understand what a partner needs in a difficult moment, it will strengthen the relationship.” - Melissa M.

Anxiety is not always a bad thing

“When an anxious person sees your love, sometimes anxiety makes their love return deeper and more passionate. Neurotic energy is still energy. Anxiety also prevents me from making rash decisions. An anxious partner is likely to be very attentive and caring.” – Hope J.

We are very grateful to you for your patience

“Patience is one of the most important human virtues. You do not always understand our anxiety, but the main thing is that you still show love and care. When my boyfriend and I come to a party, he occasionally comes up and quietly asks if I feel okay. It's an easy way to show you care.” —Christina R.

To better understand us, read about anxiety disorders

than physical illness. Remember what triggers our anxiety attacks.” — Melissa J.

You can't "fix" the problem, and that's okay

"My husband didn't realize right away that there was no need to 'do' anything with an anxiety attack, sometimes it takes me a couple of minutes to deal with it" - Kayla D.

Take our worries seriously

“Before my anxiety disorder was diagnosed and treated, a couple of times during my panic attacks I thought I was having a heart attack or a blood clot. Both times my fiancé took me to the hospital and generally took the situation very seriously. He had no doubt that something was wrong with me, even when the doctors said that it was not life threatening. And it meant a lot to me. Anxiety is sometimes paralyzing, and it is important that there is someone who will not disparagingly say: “Yes, this is nonsense.” - Erika K.

Remind us to take care of ourselves

“Encourage our activities with any health-improving practices – for me, for example, yoga, dancing and walking. You can join us or simply help free up time for these activities - for example, by spending time with the children. - Sandra B.

Explain that it is not embarrassing to seek professional help

"Suggest that your partner see a therapist. Treating an anxiety disorder can sometimes save a life or make it better. This will have a positive effect on your relationship as well.” — Hope J.

Be there for hard days

“I'm dating a very understanding young man who knows that sometimes I need to hide in a closet and sit there for a while.

Learn more