Just sit and hear us out for a second.
Anxiety is something that we all feel from time to time, but for a loved one with anxiety, it’s something that affects almost everything he does.
When dating an anxious person, you’ll have to understand that he's constantly battling feelings of fear and panic. This means you’ll have to get used to changing plans to accommodate his anxiety or avoiding certain situations all together.
But it’s totally possible to have a fulfilling, loving relationship with someone who suffers from anxiety.
To better understand his situation, just remember these important facts:
1. You should learn when you’re needed
When your loved one is freaking out, it’s crucial to know when you should comfort him, and when he needs space. You should also understand that his moods will vary. While he may want you leave him be some days, others he will need you to hold him.
It’s important that if he asks you to leave, you do so willingly and don’t beg or plead to stay. He knows how to handle his own anxiety; let him get through it however he sees fit. Refusing to leave him be will only make matters worse.
2. Make sure you're saying the right thing
When a panic attack comes on, no amount of saying “everything is okay” or “calm down” is going to make it stop.
Asking, “are you okay?” won’t help either. Consider his situation: His heart is pounding, palms are sweaty, chest is tightening and he's mentally battling a ‘fight or flight’ response. Honestly? Part of him probably thinks he's dying.
Make sure that whatever you say to him is helpful and constructive. For instance, you could try “remember your breathing,” or “you’ve gotten past this before, you’ll get past it again.”
3. Never judge his self-medication
Anxiety sometimes comes with a variety of medications. Since you’re not the one inside of his head, you can’t dictate how much or how little medication he needs. Even if you’re just trying to help, know that this is an area where he needs that control.
Chances are that he doesn't get the amount right every time, but it’s not for you to judge — just be supportive.
4. Know that everything is harder for him
Whether it’s picking up groceries, finishing a work project, or scheduling a doctor’s appointment, even the smallest things can stress out people with anxiety and make their hearts race.
While you might be tempted to tell him he's being dramatic, don’t. Your negative comments or body language will only make things worse. Just remember, while these are petty tasks to you, they kick-start a war zone in your loved one's mind.
5. Listen to him
Being able to talk and feel heard is helpful. It raises his self-esteem and helps him explore the things that cause and reduce his anxiety.
Being lectured, on the other hand, is unhelpful. Focus on helping him talk rather than doing the talking for him. To do this, ask open-ended questions and never be afraid of silence. Even though you may hear nothing, he's struggling to sort through thoughts in his head.
There will be times when you want to interrupt or assist your loved one, but you just have to listen and be sensitive. Muster up patience and be as empathetic as possible. He can’t help that his brain is spinning out of control.
6. Don't leave the plans to him
People with anxiety don’t want to make the plans. He is indecisive and the smallest of choices could potentially ruin the rest of his day.
Instead, calmly let him know what it is the two of you are going to do. If he doesn't feel up it, accept it and don’t pressure him to reconsider.
It’s also important to know that alcohol provokes symptoms of anxiety, so even if he's up for a heavy night out, a hangover will be a trip for his nerves. It’s a good idea to avoid making drinking plans with him if he has anxiety.
7. He gets tired easily
Anxiety is exhausting for everyone involved, but only those who suffer from it get the full effect of how tiring it is. Anxiety causes people to live in hyper-tense states, which means he's on alert at all times, looking out for danger and over-analyzing things that have happened, are happening and could happen.
Since those of us who don’t have anxiety can’t fully comprehend this, we’ll never know just how exhausted he'll feel. Give him a break and don’t push him when he says he's tired or doesn’t feel up to doing anything.
8. He knows he's irrational sometimes
If you think he doesn’t know how irrational he's being, you’re wrong. The problem is, knowing he's being irrational doesn’t stop his thoughts from racing. In fact, sometimes knowing that he is being irrational fuels his anxiety.
If it was as easy as saying “that’s irrational, there’s no point worrying about it,” then those living with anxiety wouldn’t suffer like he does. Since he doesn’t need you to point out the obvious, what you can do is be compassionate, understanding, and supportive.
9. He isn't always present
When someone suffers from anxiety, he's not present so it’s important to support him when he falls into the depths of his mind. The strangest things can set off anxiety, and when it happens you may see the vacancy on his face or have other ways of knowing that he's lost in thought. Gently nudge him back to reality, remind him where he is and what he's doing — he'll appreciate you doing so.
Part of managing anxiety is controlling the inner monologue that comes with it. Sometimes it can require his full attention, which means he'll drop out of conversations. Never assume that he is ignoring you or uninterested in what you’re saying.
10. He panics when you panic
Watching someone who's suffering from an anxiety attack can make us panic, however, it’s crucial that you stay calm to avoid feeding his panic. If you need to, you can scream in your head, but only if you know how to mask it.
Out of love, we often ask “Are you okay?” after something traumatic happens, but when it comes to anxiety, this isn’t helpful for him.
If he's feeling fine but you think something is up, asking whether he okay is only going to make him think about it – analyze all the possible reasons he’s NOT okay, or worry about why you’re asking if he’s okay in the first place. Instead, stay calm. Your peaceful presence can do wonders for him.
11. He may find comfort in strange things
Sometimes the strangest things will help him deal with his anxiety, but no matter how odd he is, never criticize or question his comforts. Instead, make a mental note.
For example, if you’ve noticed that he seems calmer after painting, then get your paint supplies stocked up, or if he's less anxious when your DVDs are in alphabetical order, then get sorting.
Sometimes it’s easier to spot this stuff when we’re looking from the outside in. If you notice something reduces his anxiety, never hesitate to keep it in mind for next time. Brainstorm with him about little things that help.
Discovering and researching things that have helped others may also make you both feel better.
12. He KNOWS it’s a burden
He already knows how much of a burden his anxiety is, so he doesn't need a reminder. He understands that he is sometimes unreasonable, unreliable, and that it’s frustrating for the people who love him. It’s something he’s likely beaten himself up over, so don’t make him feel worse by reminding him.
That said, you can (and probably will) express frustration or anger about his anxiety from time to time, it’s just important to do so as lovingly as possible. When you say it in a negative way, you trigger or increase his worries.
It’s normal for things to slip out sometimes, but try to avoid it as much as possible. Tough love doesn’t work in these situations. If you want to speak about the issue, be gentle.
13. He’s still a human being
For some reason or another, there tends to be a stigma around mental health issues.
Remember, he is still a human being with all the complexities that everyone else has, so treat him accordingly. The only way to have a successful relationship with a person who struggles with anxiety is to love him regardless of his issues. In fact, you’ll have to learn to love him because of it.
It’s pretty easy to get focused on the doom and gloom of any issue, especially ones that hurt the person you love. Instead of focusing on the negative, remember that his greatness came before and will come after the anxiety issue. Choose to see the upside of the situation.
14. He loves you
Anxiety is rough on everyone involved, which means you too. He understands this and is aware of what it takes to support him. He knows he’s hard to live with and that you go to great lengths to support him.
Sometimes anxiety can evolve into rage or depression. It’s a shape-shifter; it takes on a lot of different forms. But in the midst of a bad episode or a difficult time, do not forget that he loves you, cares about you, and appreciates you more than you know.