Anxiety disorders can be crippling, isolating and all-consuming for the roughly 40 million American adults who suffer from these mental health conditions.
A support system of friends, family and romantic partners can be hugely helpful to those with anxiety, but only if their loved ones understand what they do (and do not) need to cope. We asked our readers to tell us what they wish the people closest to them understood about loving someone with anxiety. Read on to see what they had to say:
1. The best thing you can do is listen.
“You don’t have to have the answers. It can’t be fixed even though you want to fix it. Just listen. Let them know that you’re there. Let them have space if they need it, or if they need a hug, please indulge.” ― Allyson L.
2. Acknowledge our anxiety instead of sweeping it under the rug.
“Don’t treat it as if it’s a passing thing or that it doesn’t exist. Truly understand if your partner could make it go away, they would.” ― Jenn S.
3. Your support means the world to us.
“I have been with my boyfriend for over a year. I know I’m not always the easiest to love. I will get on his nerves and sometimes make him wonder why I act the way I do. But when I’m overthinking and doubting myself, it means the world that he’s still by my side ― accepting our differences and still loving me when I sometimes find it hard to love myself.” ― Melissa H.
4. Please don’t tell us to just ‘calm down’ or that we’re being irrational.
“’Calm down’ is about as effective (and just as annoying) as trying to baptize a cat. We are usually 1000 percent aware whatever we are anxious about is irrational. Telling ourselves that does not magically turn our brains off.” ― Kelly R.
5. Don’t take it personally when we’re having a bad day.
“Know that our anxiety is not about you, even if you think you triggered it. We’re feeling intensely overwhelmed. Offer us something that may help distract or decrease the intensity. Part of our anxiety is in the brain and cannot be helped. Other externals factors can be. Offer an escape (i.e.: ‘Let’s go outside’) or anything you know might help reduce our symptoms.” ― Ryan N.
6. Remember: Not all anxiety is the same.
“My husband and I both suffer from severe anxiety and depression. While we both suffer, it affects us differently and what helps me may not help him. I need physical contact and reassurance. He needs space. Knowing what helps your significant other will make your relationship strong.” ― Melissa M.
7. Not all manifestations of our anxiety are bad.
“Anxiety is not always bad. Some days, loving a person with anxiety means they will think deeply and passionately about loving you. Nervous energy is still energy. Rarely does my anxiety allow me to make decisions without deep and meticulous thought. You will be thought of and cared for like you never have before.” ― Hope J.
8. We are deeply grateful for your patience.
“Patience truly is a virtue. You may not always understand our anxiety, but as long as you show love and compassion for our discomfort, that’s really the most important thing. My boyfriend will often just check in if we’re at a party, discreetly asking if I’m OK. Just a simple way to show he cares.” ― Christina R.
9. Do some research about our condition ― it might help you understand us.
“Be informed about our illness. Understand the feelings and reality of what your partner is facing and be there in the same way you would for a person who has a physical illness. Learn our triggers.” ― Melissa J.
10. No, you can’t “fix” us, and that’s OK.
“My husband had to learn that sometimes what’s wrong doesn’t require fixing― just a minute for me to process.” ― Kayla D.
11. Take our feelings seriously.
“When my anxiety disorder was undiagnosed and untreated, I was having panic attacks that I believed were heart attacks or blot clots. My fiancé drove me to the hospital both times and took it very seriously. It meant a lot that someone believed me that something was wrong, even if it wasn’t as life-threatening as we thought. Anxiety can be terribly crippling and it just helps sometimes for someone not to minimize it or brush it off.” ― Erika C.
12. Encourage us to take care of ourselves.
“Participate in healing activities with me or encourage me to stay active in things like yoga, dancing and walking. Encouraging me also means allowing me time to do these activities by taking the kids for a bit.” ― Sandra B.
13. Remind us that there’s no shame in seeking professional help.
“Encourage your partner to see a therapist. Getting treatment for anxiety can save your partner’s life, increase their overall wellbeing and improve your relationship.” ― Hope J.
14. Just be there for us on the dark days.
“I have a very understanding boyfriend who not only ‘gets’ my need to sit in the closet sometimes, but bought me a blanket for when I am sitting in the closet and will join me in there when my anxiety is too much for me to leave my safe place.” ― Pixie M.
**Some responses have been lightly edited or condensed for clarity.