My experience dating someone with anxiety
Jamie gives some advice about what has helped his partner with their anxiety
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I am dating someone with an anxiety disorder and it is something that affects my partner daily. They can have very good days where their anxiety will barely affect them at all, while other days they can feel that they are consumed by their anxiety, and can end up having multiple panic attacks in one day. Dating someone with anxiety issues or an anxiety disorder can be very stressful. Sometimes it can feel like the anxiety is a third person in the relationship, someone who wriggles in between you and your partner. The anxiety can constantly sow doubt and confusion.
Anxiety varies from person to person. Being with someone who has anxiety can be hard and it’s difficult to watch someone you love feel so consumed by something you cannot see, which if it gets worse, can lead to panic attacks which are felt throughout their whole body. According to an RCSI study done back in 2013, just over 1 in 10 19-24-year-olds are experiencing an anxiety disorder at any time. It can be tough to deal with for both people in a relationship, but here are some ways I’ve found to help my partner, which might help if your partner has anxiety.
Look out for their symptoms and triggers
Symptoms for anxiety can be brought on by triggers. The key here is to talk to your partner about what they feel can trigger their anxiety, and what they experience emotionally and physically when they feel anxious. Triggers may be a social setting like a party, a crowded bus/train, or it might be events like a bad day at work/college/school or an exam which can be pressuring them.
Keeping a lookout for their symptoms and triggers can help you both learn when they need extra support and help them face the situations so they know they’re not alone. Also, it can be beneficial to help them break down the situation into smaller, more manageable steps, offer support to help identify possible solutions and weigh up which ones might be worth trying.
Some of the most common symptoms in a person with an anxiety disorder are
- Being worried/constantly feeling something bad will happen
- Asking the same questions repeatedly/seeking constant reassurance that everything's ok
- Becoming upset with mistakes, or finding small changes of routine hard
- Restlessness, trembling, shaking
Help them focus on the positive aspects
Anxiety can also make a person feel very negative about themselves and the situations they are in because they can feel different to everyone else around them, including their partners. Try to be understanding of this and realise that your partner's emotions may vary greatly depending on the severity of their anxiety. Helping them to keep a balanced view by focusing on the positive and not just the negative aspects of their day can be helpful. For example, helping to highlight any positives in difficult situations they may have to face such as getting through a tough day at work or passing an exam can help to lessen negative thoughts.
Try to get them to visualise the positives that they will experience when they get through the situation and the emotions that they will feel. Through my experience, my partner has described that living with anxiety can sometimes feel like something that will go on forever. But by listing the positive emotions and aspects, this can help your partner realise that their low mood and/or emotions are only temporary while in a difficult situation or place.
Don’t forget to look after yourself
Living with anxiety is hard and can be draining. Remember that you can only do so much for your partner. You are not in control of their emotions, anxiety, or the decisions they make. Remember to look after yourself, go out there and be active, do the hobbies you enjoy, read a book, listen to your favourite music etc.
Looking after yourself mentally and physically is just as important as looking after and supporting someone with anxiety. While anxiety can add stress for both individuals at times, try not to let it consume your relationship You have to live your own life and your partner will learn to manage their emotions and anxiety independently.
Here’s an article to some things you can do when feeling anxious.
Be understanding and supportive
Being with someone who has an anxiety disorder can be hard to understand because it can be hard to empathise with them when you aren’t feeling anxious yourself. You also can’t solve a lot of problems that cause anxiety logically as a lot of what the person is struggling with comes from how they are feeling. Anxiety can feel emotionally draining. What you can do is rather than solving the problem of what's causing their anxiety, be there to comfort and support the person. At times, people who struggle with anxiety can feel like it comes on suddenly without knowing why it happened. Asking a person why they’re anxious can be a difficult question because they may not know the answer and this can be part of the reason why anxiety can feel so scary.
Asking why they feel that way can make them question themselves in a negative way and feel alienated from others because it may make them feel people don’t understand what they are going through. It can also worsen their anxiety, especially if they’re having a panic attack. Staying supportive, caring and loving when they are experiencing symptoms or an attack will help them at that moment and can be discussed after they begin to feel better. Asking them “how can I support you when you feel anxious?” may help both of you to understand how to deal with their anxiety together. One of the best ways I’ve found to help my partner when they feel anxious is to do breathing exercises where we count from 1-10 while taking in deep breaths every odd number and exhaling on the even numbers, It gives them something to focus on and can help calm them down. Another thing I like to do is run a hot bath for them and pop in a bathbomb with a calming scent like lavender.
Remember, it’s also important that even when they feel they’re having a good day and their anxiety is calmed down, be supportive and loving to show how much you care for them.
If you need help in dealing with your anxiety, here are some organisations can help:
- Jigsaw - contact your local Jigsaw here
- Samaritans - a free, confidential listening service. You can contact them at 116 123
- Childline - a free, confidential listening services for people under 18. You can contact them on 1800 666 666
- The Headspace app or the Calm app are excellent resources for anxiety management tools (deep breathing, mindfulness and meditation