Since it is one of the most common mental disorders in our world today, anxiety is something that a lot of couples have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Just like any other physical or mental illness, anxiety can cause rifts in your relationship unless you know how to handle it correctly. If you’re dating someone with anxiety, there are some ways you can make sure that they feel supported and loved while also maintaining your own sanity.
What you should know about anxiety
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 31.1% of American adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, with 19.1% having one in the past year alone. That’s quite a large part of the population.
The COVID-19 pandemic has understandably exacerbated mental health conditions. The World Health Organization reports that the pandemic led to a 25% rise in the levels of anxiety and depression around the world. In many ways, it almost seems like it’s rarer not to have had these issues!
Having anxiety doesn’t prevent people from dating or having successful relationships. While they may have different needs or exhibit different behaviors, they’re just as lovable as anyone else.
Symptoms people with anxiety may experience
- Symptoms of anxiety many people experience
- Trouble sleeping
- Racing thoughts
- Obsessive thoughts and behaviors
- Difficulty concentrating
- Headaches, nausea, and other body pains
- Restlessness or feeling on edge
How to support the person you’re dating if they have anxiety
- Understand how anxiety works. Dating someone with anxiety is often challenging if you’re not familiar with what it’s actually like. Telling your partner to “chill out” or ridiculing them for worrying all the time can do more harm than good. Anxiety is not a choice, and your partner may not be able to control how much they worry about things. In order to be a good partner to someone with anxiety, it’s important to take some time and learn about what anxiety is and how it affects the person’s body and mind. If your partner experiences a specific type of anxiety, such as social anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder, learn about that as well.
- Don’t take it personally if they cancel plans at the last minute. It might hurt your feelings if your partner has to cancel their plans last minute. However, try not to take this personally. Oftentimes, people who have anxiety get extremely overwhelmed, and they cancel their plans in order to avoid anxiety attacks. They don’t hate spending time with you. They’re just overwhelmed. If your partner cancels your plans often, talk with them and see what you can do to fix the issue. Some people would prefer to have a movie night at home with you instead of going out in public. For others, they might want to do something outdoors so they don’t feel stuck in a small space. Talk with your partner and reach a solution that works for them.
- Ask them about their triggers. Triggers are absolutely a real thing, and it’s vital that you and your partner communicate about this so you don’t accidentally make things worse. Common triggers for anxiety include conflict, social events, crowded spaces, and financial concerns. In addition, your partner might experience sensory triggers that remind them of traumatic events or just times in their life that weren’t the best. See if there are any songs, smells, or situations that they want to avoid. Then respect those boundaries. If they experience something that triggers their anxiety, be there to comfort them, and offer distraction if they want to think about something else.
- Encourage them to seek professional help. You should not become your partner’s therapist just because you’re dating someone with anxiety. You are their partner, not their counselor. Even though you’re more than willing to lend an ear and let them talk about their struggles, at the end of the day, you won’t be able to help them as much as a professional therapist could. Encourage them to go to therapy. You could also start going to couples therapy together, to work with a therapist and get some ideas for managing your partner’s anxiety together.
- Talk to a therapist yourself. While you’re at it, start going to a therapist yourself. Anxiety can be contagious. If you are the only one who your partner confides in, pretty soon this will take a toll on you and your relationship with your partner. You’ll need to stay on top of your mental health so you can make sure you are taking care of yourself.
- Learn what to do if they have an anxiety or panic attack. Sooner or later, you will witness your partner in the midst of an anxiety attack or a panic attack. It’s a good idea to talk with them beforehand and ask how you should react if they start panicking. Some pointers include keeping your voice calm, helping them slow down their breathing, and staying with them until they have calmed down. Some people may also take medicine to help them calm down. Sometimes, all they need is someone to hold their hand until the anxiety passes. Always communicate with your partner and ask them if you can do anything to help their system calm down.
- Don’t tell them to stop worrying. As someone who struggles with anxiety, it can be so frustrating to hear other people say things like, “there’s nothing to worry about, stop worrying all the time.” Anxiety is a mental illness, and even though your partner knows their worries are probably irrational, or at least not as big of a deal as they seem, the anxiety will still cause them to feel stressed. Instead of telling them to calm down, try to help them overcome their anxiety by listening to their concerns and talking to them calmly.
- Enjoy spending time with them. Dating someone with anxiety can be challenging but it doesn’t have to destroy your relationship. No matter what happens, remember that you are with this person for a reason. So make some time to hang out and de-stress together. How do you like to deal with stress? Yoga? Painting? Walking by the duck pond? Chances are, your partner will enjoy the time to relax and hang out with you in a low-stress environment. And remember, even if you just spend some shoulder time together, not every date has to be huge or extravagant or expensive. If you and your partner love each other, that’s all that matters.