By Katy Colvin
Millions of individuals struggle with excruciating anxiety on a daily basis. There are many official names for the varying forms of anxiety, but the bottom line is that no matter the type of “disorder” one is diagnosed with, it can become crippling. I’ve been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Social Anxiety for three years now. Throughout that time, I’ve learned a lot about how love can be affected by anxiety, and how this type of mental illness can impact relationships. If someone you know and care for is struggling with anxiety, here are some simple truths to remember as you try to love them well.
1. You can’t “fix” them
Anxiety is often based on disproportional thoughts, irrational fears phobias. Please here me when I say, it is not your job to fix someone with anxiety. There is nothing you can do or say that will magically take the racing thoughts away. The individual with anxiety needs help and support bathed in love, not another therapist. Their anxiety is not your responsibility to fix, and it’s okay to be frustrated with this simple fact.
2. Remind them that they are not alone
So many individuals with anxiety have extreme fears over being abandoned, alone, isolated, or rejected. Please understand that despite our knee-jerk reaction to push loved ones away, all we want is someone to love us enough to stick around. Help the anxious one know that he or she is never alone. Your support and encouragement means more than you will ever know.
3. Listen without judgment
People with anxiety disorders know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have irrational thoughts. We do not need someone to tell us that we are being “unrealistic” or “ridiculous.” Remember, we are not looking to loved ones for a quick fix. We just want to feel like we are being heard, and oftentimes need to process our extreme thoughts out loud. Talking about anxiety can be a great tactic to overcoming anxiety. Remember that your loved one wants a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, and arms that embrace instead of judgmental criticism.
4. Understand that there are times when anxiety might turn them into another person
But their true selves will return. Anxiety can be a monster. It can truly steal all the joy out of a moment, and there are times when it can seem to overtake one’s entire being. However, please remember that however we react in these dark times is a result of the disorder, not our inner self. We will have bad days, and it’s important for loved ones to understand this. However, we will come back to ourselves eventually, and to be loved in these moments is truly remarkable and will prove your character to be golden.
5. Patience is key
I cannot overstate this truth: patience is of the upmost importance when learning to love someone with anxiety. It takes time to overcome a form of mental illness like anxiety, but it is entirely possible. Loved ones must be patient throughout this process. If you are not patient, it is extremely difficult for an individual struggling with anxiety to ever fully trust you. Patience definitely takes practice, but just show us you are trying.
6. Watch what you say
Some people with anxiety are extremely sensitive to how they are perceived by others. I know from personal experience that calling someone struggling with anxiety “crazy” or “too much to handle” can cause irreparable damage. Anxiety is not a choice. Why would anyone ever choose to become overwhelmed by life so often that their head starts to spin? Be kind. Be careful with your language. Be a loving friend, spouse, lover, sibling, or parent. Anxiety can be so isolating and damaging, but support is key to fighting this illness head-on.