When your partner has the flu, you can see and hear their symptoms. You instinctively jump to help. You might make them soup, run to the store for medicine, or take care of the kids while they catch up on some much needed rest. But what do you do when your partner is experiencing or suffering from anxiety? Unlike the flu, the signs and symptoms might not be as obvious. You might notice their anxiety but you aren’t sure how to approach them. Or, they might express to you openly and frequently how anxious they feel, you might even witness them experiencing a panic attack and feel helpless because you just aren’t sure “how” you can help.
Following are two strategies that you can do with your partner. The first is a pro-active strategy that brings awareness to stressors, while the second provides you with a way to help your partner when they might be experiencing heightened anxiety.
Data Dump and Sort-Couples that have implemented this strategy have reported decreased individual stress and anxiety as well as a strengthened connection. Have your partner write down everything that they feel worried, stressed or anxious about. Nothing is too big or small. (ex. none of my clothes fit, big meeting tomorrow, money, child struggling in school) Have your partner go through their list and circle the items they believe they have control over. They might not have complete control over an item, but maybe partial control, this is ok too. You can bring a different perspective and show support by exploring what your partner truly can control. Together, go back through the items circled, draw a line off of the circle and identify one small action step that can help with that item. You can ask your partner “what can/could you do about this?” If they get stuck or if their action seems unrealistic, you can brainstorm and help problem solve together. Doing this regularly helps clear the mind from all that’s racing through it (data dump), bring attention to what we do have control over, focusing our attention on these items while helping to minimize those that we don’t (sort).
Visualization-When you partner is experiencing panic or heightened anxiety, try visualization. Leading your partner through this activity can be calming and familiar which can aid in their relaxation. You can also find many examples of visualization and guided imagery online. Your partner should close their eyes while you guide them. Does your partner like the beach, the forest or amusement parks? You can also “take them” somewhere they’ve never been. Take your time and be specific as you go through the scene(s). As you do this, pause and have them utilize their senses to engage in the visualization (see, hear, touch/feel, taste, smell)…”you just stepped into the forest, what do you hear? What do you feel under your feet as you take a step?” Have them respond out loud. If they are in a safe state of being, you can also utilize the 5 senses strategy by walking with your partner into another room or outside.
While every person experiences anxiety differently and the support needed will be unique to the individual, there are ways that you can help and support your partner. I always recommend that you ask your partner how you can best support them. Some people clearly know what helps, others do not, but either way asking is a great to show your support and that you are in it together.
Written By: Emily Tonn, RMHCI