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Dreamers With Anxiety: Don’t Look at the Monsters That Stare You Down

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Dreams aren’t dreams without nightmares.

We have dreams; we all do. But I know no one who has accomplished their dream without struggle. Nightmares? Name someone who has bypassed their existence. The elements those terrors are made of is what drives our retreat. Hurtful words others say are the monsters that chase us. Self-doubt (whether that be outwardly, or inwardly instilled) is the indecipherable face on each of those threatening creatures. Fear is the weapon each demon carries. And each nightmare where you run but don’t seem to go anywhere is controlled by a tar pit of anxiety.

Those of us who experience anxiety on a daily — correction: constant — basis understand the unspeakable power it has over each and every dream — big, or small — we dare set fire to. Perhaps that is why some of us end our chases so quickly. There’s a constant fear of screwing that dream up; of having attention called to ourselves; of having others think us to be odd, or overly ambitious, or selfish or anything else we fear they may think; of never making it; of defeat; of any lie anxiety convinces us of.

Those lies are many.

And, when believed, the lies that haunt us outnumber the dreams we once held tight.

People who have anxiety understand the well-meaning “wisdom” others unsolicitedly give us.

“I’m stressed, too.”

“You’ve just gotta push through.”

“Get a job.”

“Join a group.”

“Pray more.”

“Get out more.”

“If you had more faith, I’ll bet you’d see a difference.”

Everyone’s advice has merit; at some point in these advice-givers’ lives, the words they are imparting on us benefitted them, or someone else. However, because that advice was applicable in their (or someone else’s) life doesn’t mean it’s necessarily applicable to ours.

People with anxiety, raise your hands (if you feel alone, mine is held high). We know how hurtful those words — those monsters — are to us. Words have great — perhaps the greatest — impact. And often, those words lead to self-doubt, giving each of those cruel beasts a face for us to stare at. “These dreams aren’t worth pursuing anymore,” we think. “If they were, it would be easy; I wouldn’t doubt myself.”

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We begin to fear our dreams, and as result, the monsters raise their weapons. We shrink back. “What was I thinking? Look at all I would have to do! It’s terrifying; the smallest step is impossible.”

When we can’t run from these monsters anymore, we’ve hit the dreaded tar pit. Anxiety has won. It seems as though we can only sink deeper. We’re stuck. Lost. Paralyzed. Hopeless.

Facing a day? Tiresome.

Getting out? Impossible.

Socializing? Unthinkable.

We are trapped in a nightmare.

…But we can wake up. Just as nightmares corrupt our dreams, our dreams can overpower our nightmares.

Laugh. Please; laugh at this concept.

Then, think. You’ve had dreams, for a human is not a human without a dream. What dreams are your nightmares suppressing? What steps is your anxiety preventing? What passion is your fear consuming?

Only you know how to reach your dreams, and it is your decision whether or not those dreams are worth seeking after.

Yes; anxiety is a powerful, nightmarish hell that only those who have it know exists, but no amount of anxiety can withstand the power of your wildest dreams.

So, if you want to frighten the very nightmares that frighten you, rediscover the dreams you once held so close. No matter how much your anxiety haunts you, never let those go.

Don’t look at the faces your monsters stare you down with.

Don’t listen to their taunts and their lies.

Be bold toward the challenges they throw at you.

Because the dreams we hold inside of us are far more powerful than any nightmare could ever be.

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Thinkstock photo via lupashchenkoiryna

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10 Things I Want My Daughter's Teachers to Know About Childhood Anxiety

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As an individual who has experienced anxiety for as long as I can remember and as a parent of a child with severe anxiety issues, there are certain things I wish teachers and other educators knew about anxiety.

In regards to special needs education, anxiety is a relatively new concept and many people truly do not understand how difficult it can be for a child to live with anxiety. Every child deserves an equitable educational environment and for this to happen, school staff need to be aware of how anxiety can affect children while they are in their care.

Anxiety is one of those hidden illnesses and at times — even as an adult — it is difficult to explain how anxiety affects me. Imagine how much more difficult it must be for a child to articulate how anxiety is making them feel.

Most of the time, my daughter is able to “hold it together” while she is at school. But her anxiety levels would be rising throughout the school day and there would be signs she needs assistance to calm herself down. Helping her learn how to manage her anxiety has, in turn, helped me manage mine.

So in the hope of paying it forward, here is a list of things I hope will help educators to understand how anxiety may affect their students. I will add I am not claiming to be an expert on anxiety disorders, these are just observations I have made over the years!

1. Anxiety is more than being a sensitive child.

Anxiety is a reaction occurring in the body as a result of biological and environmental factors. To put it in simpler terms, anxiety is simply the body’s reaction to brain stress. Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried.

Stress and anxious feelings are a very common response when we feel under pressure and these feelings will usually pass once the stressful situation is removed. You might feel stressed leading up to a job interview or an exam, but once the job interview or exam is over, the stressful feeling passes.

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The term “anxiety” is used when an individual’s anxious feelings simply don’t go away. The anxious feelings are more frequent and ongoing and often will present without any particular rhyme or reason. Anxiety doesn’t discriminate and it does not care when it chooses to raise its ugly head.

My daughter has become anxious over leaving a pencil at school in her school desk. She has worried about forgetting where she left her school hat. She has worried about forgetting to take her library book to school. She has become anxious because we forgot a step in her bedtime ritual. For some people, these worries may seem insignificant, but to a child with an anxiety disorder, these are major worries.

At times, my daughter has not been able to tell us what she is worried about, only that she has an immense feeling of worry and fear. At one point last year, she was in tears at school and when she was asked by her teacher why she was crying, she replied “I don’t know.”

Yes, she can be a sensitive child, but she is sensitive because of her anxiety. Her anxiety causes her to overthink situations, experiences and conversations. Please do not dismiss a child simply because you think they are being a overly sensitive.

It is important not to dismiss a child’s anxious feelings as this will only make the situation worse. Their feelings need to be acknowledged. Let them know their anxiety is real and with your help, they can get through it.

Acknowledge they may need help from time to time and this is perfectly OK. We all need a helping hand. It isn’t a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. Being understood and not judged can make all the difference to a child.

2. Parents need to be heard and listened to.

I have lost count of the number of times we have been told “But she can’t have anxiety, I’ve never seen that in her.”

Parents who express concern over their child — whether it be to teachers, medical professionals or friends — need to be heard and listened to. Many children, my daughter included, are able to hold it together all day, only to crumble the minute they step inside their home, their safe haven.

Teachers and educators may never see this side of the child but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen. Yes, students are in your care for six hours and five days a week, but you do not see the child when they are at their most vulnerable. You don’t see them when they are shaking and in tears because they didn’t understand their friends. You don’t see them when they have no energy left to hold it together. You don’t see the emotional and mental destruction anxiety can cause.

Speaking from experience, anxiety can be a debilitating experience. Anxiety can make it incredibly difficult to cope with day-to-day functioning. Anxiety can impact an individual’s quality of life. If not watched and managed, anxiety can manifest into larger mental health problems.

3. Anxiety requires understanding.

Everyone feels anxious from time to time and when we feel anxious, we may be able to reason with our thoughts to assist us in coping with stressful situations. This is not always the case for a child with anxiety issues. Their anxious feelings are not easily controlled and they may not be able to reason with their thoughts.

Telling a child who has anxiety to stop worrying is not going to help. The only thing the statement “stop worrying” will do is make the situation worse.

A child with anxiety is most likely going to have a huge, massive ball of turmoil going on inside them. Even the simple act of breathing can pose a challenge to them. Any individual with an anxiety disorder doesn’t want to be in this situation. They don’t want to be feeling the way they are and in all honesty, they probably wish they could just snap their fingers and calm down.

But it isn’t that simple. Telling a child to calm down or stop worrying may make them feel shame, anger and frustration. This can then add extra anxiety as they try to deal with those emotions on top of the anxiety.

Please understand an anxious child needs you to be patient. They may need your help to get them to calm down. They may need to escape from the stressful situation to come back to a calm state.

4. Anxiety doesn’t look like one thing.

Everyone is different and it can often be a combination of factors that contribute to developing an anxiety disorder. At times, the symptoms of anxiety are not obvious. Anxiety may be a sudden onset in some and a gradual process in others.

Every individual with anxiety has different triggers. Anxiety can present at different levels of intensity. Some individuals may be able to cope with high levels of anxiety, others may not. One child may have completely different coping mechanisms to another.

Anxiety generally presents differently in girls and boys. Anxious reactions of boys tend to be more behaviorally driven. Girls on the other hand, tend to internalize their reactions to anxiety. Both reactions require different strategies to manage anxiety.

5. It is helpful to build a relationship with a child with anxiety.

If you get to know an anxious child, it may mean the difference between being able to pick up on their triggers or not being able to. Building a rapport with your students means they are going to trust you enough to come to you for help. You will then be able to pick up on their signs throughout the day and perhaps assist in preventing them from getting to the edge of the anxiety precipice. This will make a huge difference to a child.

6. Odd behaviors often come about as a result of stress.

As a result of her anxiety, my daughter has developed some self-calming rituals. She will start chewing on things – clothes, pencils, books, anything really. She will start to rock on her chair. She will start to fidget with pencils, clothes, toys. These are all her little cues that her anxiety is starting to become too much for her.

Telling a child to stop chewing on their shirt or to stop bouncing on their chair is not going to help. The child has developed those self-calming rituals for a reason. Let them use them.

If the self-calming ritual is distracting for the rest of the students in your class, sit down with the child and their parents and discuss what other self-calming rituals can be employed instead.

7. It is helpful to develop strategies.

Once you become aware of a child’s anxiety issues, perhaps you could meet with the child and their parents and draft a plan of strategies the child can use when they feel their anxiety levels rising.

You could pre-plan and come up with your own strategies to help students in your class. Have a list of jokes to distract your students. Even a funny thought is sometimes enough of a distraction for children.

I have been using breathing exercises with my children at work when they need a brain break and we’re at the point now that the children are able to recognize when they need time out. They will walk away from the situation, take some deep breaths and walk back in a lot calmer.

There are a number of wonderful books available to assist children who deal with anxiety and worry. We love the books “I have a Worry” and “The Angry Octopus.”

Keep in mind older children may not want to be singled out in front of the peers. Perhaps you and the student come up with a secret signal so they can discretely communicate with you when they need a brain break.

8. Remaining calm is key.

Have you ever noticed a calm teacher somehow magically ends up with a classroom of calm students?

An anxious child craves quiet and calm. If you speak with an anxious child in a quiet and calm voice, they are more than likely going to respond to you and listen to what you are saying. It is much easier to come back down to a calm state when the person who you are talking to is also calm.

My daughter responds so much better when we remain calm. She is obviously still very much in an anxious state, but she is able to come down much easier.

9. It’s important to remember anxiety can be difficult.

Please remember anxiety can be difficult not only for the child, but also for their family members.

Anxiety can make it incredibly difficult to focus and pay attention in the classroom. Imagine being worried about leaving the oven on at home and then having to go to work and put all your efforts into doing your job for the day. All the while thinking, Did I turn the oven off? running through your mind. That is what anxiety is like.

Anxiety may cause a straight A student to fidget and want to move around. They’re not doing this deliberately. I remind myself regularly that certain behaviors are not done on purpose. As yourself why your normally well-behaved and well-mannered student is misbehaving. There may be more to it.

10. Anxiety is a part of the child, not the whole child.

Lastly, the anxiety is part of the child, but it is not the whole child. I read somewhere at times anxiety is part of a child like freckles are a part of another child.

Anxiety should never be looked at as a flaw. A child with anxiety may already have enough self-confidence issues and pointing out anxiety as a flaw is not going to help their self-esteem.

Focus on the positive aspects of the child. My daughter is smart, she is kind and caring. It is important for me to acknowledge what makes her the loving intelligent girl she is.

My daughter’s anxiety does not define her, it is simply part of her being.

Follow this journey on Raising My Little Superheroes.

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Photo via contributor.

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Dropping Off My Daughter at College Was More Than Just 'Empty Nester' Anxiety

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As the day dawned Friday morning it finally dawned on me how little time I had left with my daughter Gracen before the fall semester began at John Brown University.

I sucked in a shallow breath. Dread settled deep within.

The funny thing is, I’d been aware of this encroaching date all along. I just refused to think about it. I gave it an intellectual nod when the thought of her back-to-school date came up and quickly pushed it out of my mind.

But thoughts like those have a way of festering beneath the surface of one’s psyche. I’d noticed the signs—typical stress reactions for me. Nights spent reading that stretched into the wee hours of the morning or even until daybreak, the soreness at the tip of my tongue from rubbing it on the inside of my lower front teeth, the itchy feeling beneath my skin, a desire to write followed by frustration swelling when I was unable to put anything down on paper as my mind flit from one concern to the next.

Creeping anxiety.

But it wasn’t until this morning that I counted the remaining days. Today, Saturday and Sunday. Move-in day—Monday afternoon. Then I will turn my back once again and hold my breath waiting and hoping.

Waiting for that phone call.

Hoping it doesn’t come.

You know, the one where a university official calls to tell me Gracen’s been hurt.

Or worse.

Oh yes, “worse” is always on my mind.

Then again maybe you don’t know.

Maybe after you dropped your child off at college your worries were vastly different from mine. Maybe you fret over poor judgment, too much freedom, a lack of academic commitment or maybe you are more concerned about the echoing silence that will greet you when you once again cross the threshold of your home.

All those things bother me too, especially the silence, but mostly because I fear it could be permanent—that our last hug might really be the last hug—ever. This thought lurks.

The other lurking thoughts are regrets. Regrets for missed opportunities. Really for forfeited opportunities. Those I consciously chose to skip for reasons related to anxiety and depression. I’m ashamed to admit it.

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And that’s really it, I think. Fear and shame constantly assail my heart and soul.

I should be handling this better. I should be healing instead of falling apart more and more as time goes by. I should be able to make decisions. I should be less afraid of people and social situations. What does it matter what anyone else thinks? I should quit escaping into fiction.

I should, I should, I should, I should not. And every undistracted minute is filled with “shoulds,” “should nots” and fear—because anxiety is just a synonym for fear.

She’s sleeping late. Is she breathing? Is she safe in the shower? Will she be safe when she returns to school?

Not safe from others. Not safe from impulsive decisions or risky behavior, but safe getting out of bed, getting in the shower, getting dressed in the morning. Safe doing all the simple tasks we routinely do without thought.

Fiction and sleep are the two activities that shut out the shoulds, should nots and fear.

But there are times when I can’t focus to read or write and sleep eludes me and that itchy, tingling feeling under my skin about drives me “insane.” I find myself frantic for some escape. Trapped inside this human shell while inwardly keen for release.

But there will be no escape for me. Just repeated hopping up to leave the security of my bedroom for some distraction only to find the available distractions (talk, TV and pets) annoying so I flee back to my bedroom. A shower maybe, but the pounding water doesn’t shut out my thoughts. A drive…

To the crosses at the roadside where my daughters Bethany and Katie were killed…

Only to feel frustration rise.

Oh to be able to rip off the top my head and let all the painful, toxic thoughts and emotions escape!

I don’t know how to do this, Lord! I don’t know what to do, let alone how to do it. I spin in circles like a Tasmanian devil and hear only silence from You. Unbearable silence. I’m defeated by the truth that there is no fixing this. There are no good answers. No paths without pain. No solutions whatsoever. I need You to speak, to step in, to do something—something I can see—something that won’t hurt. Something that reveals a purpose for this madness.

Something that carries me through Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Something that prepares me for the silence I’ll return home to and wake up to on Tuesday morning. Something other than the dread of that phone call coming or the remaining pieces of my life, shattering at my feet.

I just need…

Something.

If you or a loved one is affected by child loss, you can find grieving resources at The Grief Toolbox.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Fight, Flight and Freeze: My Experience With 3 Types of Anxiety Attacks

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Anxiety attacks come in all different shapes and sizes. No one person experiences an attack the same way. There are a wide variety of symptoms to keep an eye out for. In order to break down some of the confusion I’ve listed three different anxiety attacks I face, along with a general description of each experience.

The fight-flight-freeze (or alternatively, simply the fight-or-flight) reflex is activated when our minds sense danger. Our bodies physically prepare for it. However, when living with an anxiety disorder, this reflex gets triggered when no actual danger is present, making the body’s reactions unpleasant rather than helpful. This is the reflex behind most anxiety attacks. Our mind and body feel that we are in danger, even if we are perfectly safe. My anxiety attacks follow the fight-flight-freeze model differently, depending on the situation.

Fight:

When my anxiety is triggered by a person, particularly a specific not-so-nice remark they make, I find that the “fight” reflex tends to take over. I do whatever I can to ease my anxiety at the time. I yell and scream and hurl insults just to get the other person to stop hurting me. Of course, this tends to lead to a nasty fall out. I always apologize for the things I said when my mind went out of control, but the damage is done. For me, these are the worst type of anxiety attacks.

Flight:

The most common type of anxiety attack I feel is when my “flight” reflex is triggered. If a certain situation is causing me anxiety, my brain becomes obsessed with getting out of the situation. All I can focus on is getting away. I may need to leave the room and often use the excuse of needing a bathroom break. Alternatively, this can make me avoid a situation entirely. Sometimes, the anxiety leading up to an event is so bad that I can’t go at all.

Freeze:

In my experience, the “freeze” anxiety attack is the most intense one. In the heat of a very anxious moment, my body shuts down. My mind screams at me to move, but my muscles don’t work. I may have a blank facial expression and stare down to avoid all eye contact. My face grows hot with embarrassment. Eventually, the “flight” instinct will take over after enough adrenaline has been pumped through my body, and I will flee the situation.

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Anxiety is a difficult disorder to live with. Oftentimes, in the midst of an attack, I will be unable to communicate what it is I need. To calm me down, it would be best to ask simple questions that can be answered non-verbally. And if you’ve ever helped me through one of these attacks, I appreciate you more than you’ll ever know.

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Thinkstock image via Jupiterimages

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5 Things My Anxiety Is (and What It Is Not)

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What my anxiety is not:

1. A convenient excuse to get out of something I don’t want to do: Now I probably won’t tell you I’m having panic attacks or that I’m too scared to do whatever it is. I will use another excuse, but people who know me will know the truth. If I didn’t have anxiety, I’d be so happy. But I do, and it’s limiting. There’s only so much anxiety one person can handle before they become way over-stimulated and stressed out and end up with panic attacks. Pushing the limits can be beneficial, but it needs to be on our terms, in a safe environment, with people who will be supportive. Knowing your limits is important — you wouldn’t push yourself to the point of breaking a bone or collapsing, why push to the point of panic?

2. Me being dramatic and looking for attention: I hide my panic attacks very well, so nobody has ever seen me have one. This means people may think that I’m making up having panic attacks, or looking for attention by claiming to have anxiety. They may think I’m looking for pity or I’m “acting out” by saying I have anxiety; people are often annoyed when others outwardly show constant “issues” including mental health problems like anxiety. The reality is, I do have severe anxiety, and I will try to hide it as best I can so that people don’t think I’m looking for attention or being annoying, but sometimes I can’t hide it.

3. The cause of all of my problems. I know anxiety has very many physical manifestations. It can cause so many issues. However, it is not the only cause for most people’s illness/disability. People, most often women, sometimes get denied the appropriate medical care they need because doctors will brush off symptoms of serious diseases as anxiety. In fact, I know people who have genetic conditions that cause severe pain and heart conditions who have been placed in a psych ward because it’s been labeled “anxiety.” Later on down the road, a doctor actually looked at them and realized that they’ve been having problems related to a severe physical condition all along; sometimes this causes irreversible damage.

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Imagine you broke your arm, and you know you broke it, but everybody around you thinks that when you say you’re in pain you’re just looking for attention or that your pain isn’t as bad as you say it is. You ask for an x-ray to try to justify yourself, but they tell you to stop being “such a girl” and to “suck it up” and just handle the pain because it’s “not that bad.” First, your arm doesn’t get treated so you now have permanent damage; second, you start to doubt yourself and consider whether or not these people are right — they’re medical professionals after all, they should know what’s wrong. And lastly, you get some medications shoved at you, or if you really push that you’re in pain you get sent to a psychiatric hospital. Congrats, by the way, because now you have a diagnosis of anxiety/depression on your chart, which means that any time you see a doctor from now on? They will assume that whatever you say is wrong is actually just a manifestation of a mental illness.

4. Something that I can just turn off: There’s often not a quick fix when I’m feeling anxious. Medication and therapy can certainly help, but the attempts to try to keep us positive, or to not think about whatever is it that’s causing anxiety, and the well meaning, “Oh don’t worry about that!” are not helpful. Pushing the anxious thoughts away often makes them worse, and you can’t just say to stop worrying and assume that it’s going to work. It doesn’t work like that.

5. Logical: You can’t talk me out of being anxious, you often can’t talk me down from panic. You can’t reason with anxiety, reason and logic are not always the cure. The worst part of it is that we know that it’s not logical, we know we shouldn’t be worried about X or Y, we know we shouldn’t be having these intrusive thoughts, but we cannot help it.

6. A joke: My anxiety is not something I should be teased over, it is not funny. Anxiety affects my self-esteem already, but making fun of me for it? That is incredibly unsupportive and cruel. I already know that it’s silly (see “logical”), I’m already embarrassed that it’s not under my control, and making fun of me, or even just the fear itself, is really hurtful. I don’t need you to coddle me, I’m not asking for you to talk me through whatever it is, but I am saying no need to tease me about it.

What my anxiety is:

1. Illogical: What you’d think would be anxiety inducing is not actually what causes me anxiety, and the opposite, things that you’d think are silly are the things that make me anxious. Heights, public speaking, spiders, huge exams, going to the doctor — all things that some people are afraid of, but don’t bother me. Frogs, trying new foods, being home alone, staying away from home overnight (only overnight, not being away from home during the day), any type of social setting (even one that I’ve been in countless times before) are all things that cause me significant anxiety

2. Impactful: It affects the way that I eat, sleep, exercise, socialize, learn, literally everything I do is affected in some way by my anxiety. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that I literally will have anxiety about anxiety. No joke. For a while I was afraid to go to class because I had a panic attack in that class and I was scared it would happen again. I have anxiety now about the fact that certain situations may make me anxious, which prevents me from fully doing everything that I want to be able to do.

3. Frustrating: I honestly I hate it. I know some anxiety is OK, it’s healthy, but the constant worrying, intrusive thoughts and random panicking are not healthy for me, and it puts stress on my body. I have way too much cortisol in my body, which affects my weight, which subsequently affects my self-esteem.

4. A real condition: Medications are not happy pills, they do not change our personalities (usually); most of the time they’re things that take weeks, months to build up in our system for us to even notice effects. Side effects can be scary, and can affect self-esteem. Plus the stigma of medication for mental illness also can affect how we see ourselves. Therapy helps, exercise helps, eating right helps, but that isn’t always enough.

5. Scary: Ironic, anxiety is scary… but panic attacks are terrifying, and so are the intrusive thoughts. Panic attacks literally make you feel like you’re dying. I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking I was dying when I was in grade school. I never told anybody, but when I started having panic attacks again in college it was the same, I thought I was having a heart attack. The intrusive thoughts are also incredibly scary. I know that I shouldn’t be thinking these things, I know that I don’t believe what my brain is saying, but it’s in my head, and it makes me feel like I’m going to end up dissociating and doing things I don’t want to do, that I’m going to lost control over my mind and body. Now that is a terrifying feeling.

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10 Things You Should Know If Your Partner Has Anxiety

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This piece was written by Adelaide Maria, a Thought Catalog contributor.

I have seen a good number of articles on Thought Catalog about living with anxiety and what people should know about it, but I wanted to shed some light on romantic relationships where one partner has anxiety. The struggle of having anxiety and being in love is vastly underrated. Here are some pro-tips for those of you who love someone or are falling for someone who has anxiety:

1. If you’re going to go to battle, know what you’re fighting against.

Anxiety is a battle between your mind and your mind, literally. And sometimes the battle can get heinous, especially when it steps outside of your mind and into your body as a panic attack. Anxiety and panic attacks can get better with time, but it is a condition that your partner lives with. Loving someone with anxiety can be difficult. You need to look within yourself. 

2. Sometimes there is nothing you can do, and you have to accept this.

Once a panic attack begins, there is nothing you can do to stop it. It has to run its course. With anxiety, there are ways to stop it, but again, sometimes your partner just has a bad day and can’t reach their methods and thought-stopping processes in time. I would encourage you to be supportive, patient and loving during these episodes. Often times, people with anxiety can recognize when their thoughts are going dark, but at the same time, they may not be able to pull themselves out of it before the point of no return. Do not become frustrated because you cannot help. You help us the most by just being there.

3. Learn everything you can about your partner’s condition.

I cannot emphasize this enough. You will have a difficult time communicating with your partner if you cannot understand what anxiety is or what it feels like. Look up people talking about it, for example. Read everything you can about the condition. And even so, some people end up in counseling themselves to try to understand how to help themselves deal with their partner’s anxiety. If you make the effort to understand, your partner will appreciate it more than you know.

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4. The worst thing you can do is shame us about our anxiety.

There isn’t a more horrible feeling in the world than someone telling us to “just get over it” or to “just relax.” These statements show a blatant misunderstanding of the nature of anxiety. Believe me, if it was that simple, we would have done it already. We know our anxiety makes everyone around us feel upset or frustrated about it, but if we could help it, we would. 

5. We might already feel like a burden.

This is not to say that you can never express frustration or anger about your partner’s anxiety, but there is a way to say it nicely and in as much of a loving way as possible. If you say it in a negative way, then you’ve triggered or increased the ever-present worries. Sometimes, in the moment, things slip out or aren’t meant to be said. But these are extremely damaging to us, like getting kicked when you’re down. If you want to speak about it, be as gentle as you can. And no, tough love doesn’t feel like love to us.

6. Having a backup plan will make your partner feel a little easier when out in public.

Anxiety and panic attacks wait for no one. These things can happen in public. Anxiety attacks when it wants and where it wants. What happens if you’re on a double date, for example, and your partner suddenly has an anxiety attack? Develop plans with your partner about what to do when these situations happen, like having a signal or key word to indicate that things are heading downhill, and an escape plan to get out of there just in case. This way, we don’t have to have anxiety about our anxiety, which can lead to said anxiety, if you followed me there.

7. Do not speak about your partner’s anxiety unless explicitly given permission to do so.

Mental illness is still very much stigmatized in our culture. We are seen as crazy nuts, or people who just let their mind run wild and don’t bother to control it. One of the more interesting judgments that have been passed upon me is that I have no reason to have anxiety, since I have a roof over my head and clothes to wear. I lack nothing, what is there to worry about?

Mental illness does not discriminate. The last thing I want is for your family and friends to pass judgment or alter their opinion of me because you told them about my anxiety, the exception being when it’s highly visible, such as a panic attack.

8. Sometimes you will be the trigger. Do not take this personally.

No, our anxiety will not magically skip over you just because we are dating you. If anything, being in a relationship adds to the anxiety. There are constant questions about how to reply to your text message asking what we are doing, what happens if we upset you, what does our future look like and so on. But do not blame yourself in these situations. Do not feel guilty about any anxiety or panic attacks that stem from you. Anxiety is something we have to live with and deal with, in all aspects of our life.

9. Managing anxiety takes time and practice. Patience is greatly appreciated.

While I cannot speak for everyone, I regularly attend therapy where I talk about my most recent anxious moments and learn about cognitive behavioral therapy, a set of techniques used to manage negative thought processes, the very foundation of anxiety itself. Therapy is difficult and challenging, because you have to repeatedly wrestle with your anxiety to learn how to win. We sometimes get a lot of homework from our counselors as well. It is hard to cope with failure because perfectionism is in our blood. Be supportive of your partner both when they progress and regress. All battles are easier when you can face them with a partner.

10. Never forget that we love you.

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 we love you, we care about you and we appreciate you more than you know. We appreciate you for standing by us when we are at our worst. Our supporters motivate us to keep growing and changing when things seem impossible. And having someone there who genuinely is interested in your well-being and happiness makes the whole “managing” thing easier. Thank you for everything that you do. We love you.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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Thinkstock photo via jacoblund

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