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My Partner is feeling anxious. How can I help?

You’ve tried everything—listening to their concerns, attempting to understand their fears, seeking the advice of friends and family. But taking care of a spouse who is battling anxiety can be draining. Their worries can spill over into other aspects of your life and can in turn foster anxiety in you.

That’s why it’s critical to learn how to manage your partner’s anxiety, and your own, so that you can both thrive, together.

Validate and acknowledge your partner’s feelings without patronizing them.

Saying something like “snap out of it” will upset your partner—as the feelings they are having are often things they can’t fully control. Encourage your partner to talk about their anxiety: what does it feel like, and how does it express itself? If he or she doesn’t feel like talking, encourage your partner to write their anxious feelings down; that may help the thoughts leave their heads for a bit. Allow your partner to choose whether or not they share those written thoughts with you.

Do mindful activities with your partner.

Practice deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and stretching. Be patient with your partner and use these activities to show him or her that you want to focus on destressing, together.

There is a book called The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook you can work on with your partner. It has multiple exercises for those who need more structure in managing their anxiety. You can do some of the exercises together to get a better sense of what your partner is going through.

Remind yourself of all of your partner’s good qualities.

You chose to spend your life with your partner knowing that they are anxious. Remind yourself of their other attractive qualities.

Keep a journal of your own.

Keep track of your own anxious thoughts and feelings to have a better understanding of what is triggering them.

Practice compromise.

For example, if you want to go to a concert but know your partner hates large crowds, find a smaller, more intimate venue that won’t heighten their anxiety.

Take a hike.

No, that doesn’t mean telling your partner to take a hike when they get anxious. Anxiety responds to exercise, so when you or your partner are feeling particularly anxious, it may be a good idea to take a walk, go for a run, or hit the gym.

Encourage your partner to seek professional help if necessary.

You can assist your partner in setting up an appointment and going to that first appointment with him or her.

The bottom line is your spouse’s anxiety is a behavioral pattern that probably started long before you ever got together. We love our partners and know them pretty well, but we may have come into their lives 20 to 30 years after it got started, like walking into a movie halfway through.

We also have our own interests and our own faults. Maybe we are impatient or intolerant. Remember to treat your spouse as you would want to be treated.

Andrew King, PhD

Andrew King, PhD, a psychologist with Baptist Behavioral Health, offers some advice for spouses whose partners are battling anxiety.

Parent Magazine