How to Support a Spouse with Anxiety

Living with anxiety is not easy, but what often gets overlooked is the fact that it can also be a major challenge for your spouse or partner (or really any loved one) too. Trust me, Anel knows all about it. We’ve gone to therapy and talked it to death, so I’m really really excited for him to be sharing his experience with you all today!

I don’t want to sugar coat things and say that our relationship is perfect because it’s not. But the fact that he stuck by me during a really difficult time in my life, and the fact that he spent hours in therapy to help our relationship means more to me than he can ever know. He is an amazing husband and father, and I’m so lucky to have found him.

Hi everyone! Anel here. I want you to know that this is all very new to me too. It’s only been about six months since we actually knew Julia had postpartum anxiety, and I have worked hard to support her as much as possible in that time. It hasn’t always been easy and there have been days where I have been frustrated. But we’re a team and a team is only as strong as its weakest player, so I do what I can to help lift her up and let her know how amazing she is even with anxiety.

My biggest piece of advice is to ask questions and educate yourself on what your spouse is going through. I didn’t know how bad it was for Julia until she explained it to me in a way that I could understand it. That came with a lot of therapy and a lot of conversations.

She showed me all of your questions, and I picked 10 to answer so here they are.

1. What is something helpful to say to show support when she’s feeling anxious? I try to listen to her without trying to “solve” her issues. I’ve learned that sometimes she just needs a sounding board so I ask her what she is feeling and try to make her explain it to me in as much detail as possible so I can understand it and she can get it off of her chest. I also try to bring her back to reality when she starts panicking by explaining things in a literal and positive way. For example, she gets very triggered when the baby is sick so I remind her that Amalia is going to be ok and that all kids get sick.

2. How do you manage Julia’s anxiety when you’re also having a bad day? It’s very hard. Sometimes I’m exhausted after a long day of work and just want to have a nice, happy evening with my family. If she was anxious or panicking, that wasn’t always possible. If I was having a bad day, I’d try to just remove myself from her space and take some time for myself because her anxious energy could be a lot to take on.

3. What is the best way to describe anxiety to someone who hasn’t had anxiety issues? Julia always says anxiety is to stress what depression is to sadness. That makes a lot of sense to me. When explaining it, try to relate it to the person who doesn’t have anxiety. When she described, in detail, the physical manifestation of hers, I started to understand how bad it was for her on a daily basis. She would literally say things like, “Now my heart is beating really fast and I’m sweating and shaking.” or “It feels really hard to breathe because of the pressure on my chest.” I would think to myself holy crap I can’t believe she feels this way every day. The descriptions were eye-opening for me.

4. Is it hard not to get frustrated sometimes? Of course. Sometimes she is triggered by what seems like a really small, trivial thing and while I know there is an easy fix, it can throw her off for hours. That is frustrating because I don’t always understand it.

5. Can you tell when Julia is having a bad anxiety day? One of the hardest parts of her anxiety for me in the past was not knowing when she was anxious. After years of working on it, she’s now able to tell me right away so that I know and I can be more helpful. Before that, though, I could only tell when she would start frantically cleaning or organizing that house. That was a red flag.

Ask your spouse to tell you when they’re anxious and explain to them that you can’t always see it. Julia used to get frustrated because I didn’t know when she was anxious but we’ve both learned that a lot of people with anxiety, including her, know how to hide it so well that even the people closest to them can’t see it sometimes. When I asked her to just tell me, that changed everything.

6. What do you do when she has a panic attack? The first, most important step is to ask her if there is anything I can do. Even if it’s something small like a little chore. The next step is to ask if she wants a hug or if she wants to be left alone. When she gets anxious, sometimes being touched makes it worse but sometimes she needs to be held. I’ve learned to always ask first. If she says there is nothing I can do, I just keep checking in with her and try to make sure she is in a calm surrounding. They always pass eventually. But sometimes she says she needs to be left alone, and I always respect that.

7. What is the biggest mistake you’ve made and what did you learn from it? Never tell someone with anxiety to “calm down,” trust me. First of all, they can’t just calm down because their anxiety isn’t like stress that you or I might be able to shut off if we need to. It is literally unstoppable sometimes so that “calm down” infuriates them. I’ve also learned to not explain to her why something she’s anxious about isn’t a big deal. Even though it’s not a big deal to me, it is to her.

8. How do you take care of yourself too? I run a business, have a toddler, and live with someone who has anxiety so there is a lot going on. My alone time is important so that I can be a rock for everyone when I have to be. I love golf and I try to get out on the course once a week in the warmer months because it is my stress relief. Taking care of myself is a priority. My advice is to find something that you love to do on your own, and schedule it into your week as often as you can.

9. What is the best way to tell your spouse that they might need to see a doctor about their anxiety? They might not be ready to hear it, but I guess I would start by timing the conversation well. Pick a moment when your spouse is calm and not anxious. Create a safe space physically and emotionally and tell them not why it’s hard for you but why you want them to feel better. I can say now that Julia has been to therapy and is on meds that she is a different person. She laughs a lot more and she’s so much happier. Remind them that they don’t have to live with anxiety and life can be so much better.

10. Have you tried therapy or read any books that have helped? I haven’t read any books but I’ve gone to therapy with Julia which has really helped me to understand how anxiety can be such a physical and intense experience for the person who has it. I always thought it was like stress, but Julia and the therapist explained that it has a physical aspect too. That made me understand it and her better. In therapy, I learned that some of the things I was doing would trigger her, so I try to keep that in mind. If your spouse has anxiety, going to therapy with them is something I recommend. It will help you understand them better and help give you tools for how to approach different situations.

It was also helpful because it opened Julia’s eyes to how difficult it was for me to live with her and the anxiety that took over our lives. Therapy was not something I ever wanted to do, but I’m glad I did it.

More questions for Anel? Ask them below!

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