Dating someone with anxiety: 15 things you need to know
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to date someone with anxiety.
What to do.
What not to do.
(And most important of all) how to be there for your partner when their anxiety is out of control.
Let’s dive right in…
1) Read about anxiety to learn more
Before you have a conversation about anxiety with your partner, it can be helpful if you read up on some basic facts about anxiety to understand it better.
Here are some basic facts about anxiety that you may not about:
- Everyone has anxiety. That’s normal. However it can be a disorder or issue when it’s severe.
- Severe anxiety can prevent some people from functioning and living a normal life.
- For some people, anxiety can be physically painful. Physical symptoms are the result of the body’s flight or fight response. When the brain senses a threat, it will produce a cocktail of neurochemicals to provide physical resources to deal with the threat.
- Physical symptoms of anxiety can include a churning stomach, tightening around the throat or chest, nausea, heart palpitations, muscle troubles and headaches. It’s different for everyone but it can be very physically uncomfortable.
- About half of those diagnosed with anxiety disorders also suffer from depression.
- People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can experience fight-or-flight reactions and stress to issues that are not life threatening.
- Most people with an anxiety disorder wish they didn’t have it. They don’t want to be a burden on other people.
- Many people with an anxiety disorder live fulfilling lives, have great relationships and are happy. Many people have high functioning anxiety.
- Symptoms of anxiety can be worse at different times than others. Some people with anxiety can have extended periods where they don’t experience anxiety at all.
- There is generally no logic to anxiety. It can cause someone to worry about something where rationally there is no reason to worry about it. They know that, but they can’t help what they’re feeling physically and mentally.
- Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.
- Anxiety disorders can develop from a complex set of risk factors, such as genetics, life events and personality.
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
2) How to help someone with anxiety: Ask questions and do your best to understand what they’re going through
Anxiety can be different for everyone. Some people will experience uncomfortable reactions in the body like a churning stomach or an out of control heart rate. Others will have a racing mind.
While you can read information online on what it’s like to live with anxiety, you’re not going to get the full picture of what it’s really like for your partner.
It’s a deeply subjective and personal experience.
So if you’re going to understand what it’s like for them, you need to talk to them about it.
It’s better to have this discussion when you’re alone and in a comfortable space. After all, your partner needs to be comfortable to talk about something that troubles them.
Here are 3 good questions you can ask:
1) Is there anything you want me to know about your anxiety?
2) Is there anything I can do that will help when you’re experiencing anxiety?
3) Is there anything that you don’t want me to do?
As someone who has dealt with anxiety my whole life, I can tell you that it’s not easy to talk about anxiety.
So be patient and take your time while talking about this difficult topic with your partner.
Remember, you don’t have to learn everything there is to know about your partner’s anxiety in one conversation. It will take time.
Furthermore, if you’ve only just started dating, it’s obviously going to take time to develop the trust and understanding necessary to be totally honest with each other about these kinds of things.
3) Don’t underestimate the power of observation to understand your partner
It’s quite common for most people with anxiety to not want to talk about it.
If that’s the case, or even if they are open about it, you can still learn a lot about your partner by observing them in different situations.
Watch how they react to certain things. Notice when they feel uncomfortable or comfortable.
If you’re carefully observant, you’ll be able to understand what triggers their anxiety and what doesn’t.
This is a huge help for your partner as they might not be able to express everything about their anxiety.
The more you understand your partner and their anxiety, the more comfortable they will feel in the relationship.
This is what developing a fulfilling and long-lasting relationship is about.
4) Have patience
Patience is a really important quality when you’re dating someone with anxiety. Being antsy and always wanting to “be in the know” can make things worse.
Unfortunately, sometimes being patient is really the only option, especially if your partner is experiencing anxiety at that time. It takes time for anxiety to pass.
The key thing you need to understand about anxiety is that it can’t be “fixed”.
Sure, there are techniques and medication that can help manage anxiety, but nobody can be magically cured of their anxiety in an instant.
So rather than rushing to save the day when your partner is experiencing anxiety, it’s better to be patient and reassure them that everything is okay.
In fact, rushing to take action can actually make your partner’s anxiety worse. It will signal to them that there really is a big problem, which can worsen their anxiety.
The best thing you can do is to be calm, patient and let them know that you’re there with them.
5) Communicate clearly with your partner
Not being direct and honest with your partner can make things worse. It will cause them to question what’s going on and to second-guess themselves.
This is not what a person with anxiety needs.
You need to communicate clearly and be self-assured.
This also means that you shouldn’t play games. Don’t take 4 hours to respond to a message after you’ve seen it.
Be prompt, honest and reply when you see it.
In the end, it’s about removing unknowns.
The definition of anxiety is being scared of what’s going to happen in the future, so by being clear and confident about what is going to happen, you can help your partner to avoid second guessing the future and themselves.
6) Be calm
This one is pretty obvious. Obviously if you’re getting angry, antsy or impatient, it’s not going to help someone with anxiety.
Trust me when I say, a person with anxiety loves being around calm people.
So you should strive to keep your calm, especially during the moments your partner is experiencing anxiety.
It’s also important to remember that anxiety can cause your partner to be a little hostile or rude to you. They may not want to talk to you in certain moments. It’s important in these situations that you remain cool, calm and collected.
Now of course, if your partner is abusing you when they’re experiencing anxiety, this shouldn’t be tolerated and you need to talk to them about it.
But if they just want to keep their own space for a period of time, you should grant them that until their negative feelings have passed.
7) Don’t assume that everything negative in their life stems from anxiety
Because anxiety is a big issue in your partner’s life, it can be common to assume that everything negative stems from their mental condition.
But this simply isn’t the case.
The truth is, we’re all human and we all have different sorts of issues that we’re dealing with on a constant basis.
Assuming that everything stems from anxiety is simplistic and does nothing to help your partner deal with what they’re going through.
Remember, communication is key. Take time to understand what your partner is going through. Don’t assume.
8) Don’t try to explain to them why they shouldn’t be afraid of something
People with anxiety know that their fear isn’t rational. They know that what they’re worrying about probably won’t happen.
But making them feel like an irrational idiot isn’t going to help.
One thing you can do to help is to actually go through what the worst case scenario would be. This puts it out there and might even help them realize that it isn’t really that bad.
But the most important thing to remember is, don’t make fun of them for it. They know it sounds silly out loud, so don’t remind them of it.
9) Understand that your partner may be anxious about the relationship for different reasons
This isn’t the case for everyone who has anxiety, but it might be the case that your partner spends more time than most people worrying about things that could go wrong in the relationship.
This is actually termed “relationship anxiety“.
Here are some examples of what they could be worrying about:
- “What if my anxiety ruins the relationship?”
- “What if he/she cheats on me?”
- “What if he/she doesn’t text back?”
- “What if he/she likes someone else more?”
Now, don’t get me wrong:
Most people have these thoughts from time to time. It’s normal. But people with anxiety might have these thoughts or worries more often than usual.
This can result in more physical stress and physical symptoms of anxiety.
These worrisome thoughts may cause an anxious partner to find out whether their thoughts are true.
For example, if they believe that they’re always the one who initiates a meeting first, they might ghost you for a few days to see if that is in fact true.
They’re challenging their beliefs to see if they’re irrational or not. This increased stress can also result in angry or irritable moods, or avoidant or passive aggressive behavior.
10) Don’t take everything personally
Because anxiety is a negative emotion, it can be common for people with anxiety to occasionally take it out on other people.
Obviously if this turns into abuse, then you need to have a chat to them about it.
But if you find that they’re a bit moody at times and they’re having a go at you, don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s really about the anxiety that they’re feeling.
If you do take it personally, then it’s going to turn into an argument or a fight and that doesn’t do anything for anyone.
Keep in mind that their negative mood will only be temporary. They’ll be back to being their fun-loving and friendly best in no time.
So shrug it off with ease and learn to accept it. It really isn’t about you.
11) Don’t try to change your partner
When someone is experiencing bad anxiety, it can be tempting to want to “change” them so they don’t experience anxiety anymore.
While it’s a nice thought, it simply isn’t possible.
Unfortunately, anxiety cannot be cured. In fact, this goes for anyone with a mental health condition, there’s not much you can do to change them.
As much as it sucks to see someone else suffering, this is something that they have to learn to manage.
Furthermore, who says that you should want to change them? It’s more fulfilling to love them for who they are. This is how a genuine and long-lasting relationship can be built.
Anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. It might mean that they have more energy than most and they are quick to see future problems before other people.
Just as you wouldn’t want to change who you are, don’t ask them.
They know that their anxiety is tough to deal with, but trying to change it will only make it worse.
The best thing for them to do is to accept anxiety as part of who they are and then they can move on with their life.
Accepting who you are offers a sense of liberation. Fighting against who you are makes negative emotions like anxiety harder to deal with.
12) You don’t have to be a therapist for your partner
It can be tempting to act as a therapist for your partner. After all, they’re experiencing something that’s obviously uncomfortable for them, and you want to help.
But the truth is: You’re not an experienced therapist and you shouldn’t try to play that role. It can be emotionally draining and you can’t be sure that the advice you’re giving is the correct advice.
If you find that your partner is trying to use you in that way, then you might want to gently guide them to seeing a professional therapist.
A therapist can help them with coping strategies, which will help them and your relationship.
13) Change your perspective on anxiety to relieve stress
We tend to think that anxiety is a big, bad scary word. But by labeling anxiety in this way, we’re actually causing more stress and fear when we experience anxiety.
That’s not what your partner needs.
Rather than seeing anxiety as a huge problem and a source of stress, according to Psychology Today, it’s better to accept it and be curious about it.
As anyone living with anxiety knows, you can’t think anxiety away. The focus becomes about how much they hate anxiety which only makes it grow stronger.
A big mistake that many people make is that they think that the best way to deal with anxiety is find comfort and safety.
Obviously no one wants to be afraid or uncomfortable, but by labeling anxiety as this big bad force to run away from, it increases the fear of anxiety.
With your partner, you can help change the perception of anxiety.
Keep in mind that the best recipe for dealing with anxiety in the best way possible contains the following:
Acceptance – Accepting that the fear, anxiety and panic is there. Welcoming it.
Courage – Facing the fear without avoiding it.
Persistence – Continue facing and accepting it again and again.
Patience – Continue developing an acceptance attitude and facing anxiety. Eventually anxiety will become less and less over time.
Now don’t get me wrong: This is really hard to execute. But accepting anxiety and facing it will help out your partner in the long run.
And the way you can help is by re-framing anxiety as something that needs to be accepted and is a natural human experience, rather than a scary force that must be avoided.
Here’s what you can keep in mind to help your partner develop this attitude:
1) There’s no real danger when it comes to anxiety. There’s nothing dangerous about a panic attack or anxiety. It cannot kill you or cause you to lose control or go insane. No matter how scary it is in the moment, these things simply cannot happen.
(Also, remind your partner that you cannot pass out because of a panic attack. This is not possible because of the rise in blood pressure that also occurs. However, someone may hyperventilate which may lead to passing out. But if they learn to control their breathing, they’ll be able to avoid that.)
2) Fear makes anxiety worse. Adding fear to anxiety can make anxiety more intense and to last longer. Being afraid is natural, but keep in mind that there is no danger. Remember, the key to beating anxiety is to not fear it. It’s very hard and takes courage, and hard work, but it can be done!
3) Coping techniques. There are quite a few different coping techniques to deal with anxiety and panic attacks. This can include relaxation breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, positive self-talk and visualization/imagery.
I’m not saying you should teach these techniques to your partner, but you can mention it if the time calls for it. They also won’t magically cure anxiety, but it can reduce symptoms to make them easier to deal with. This can make acceptance and confronting anxiety easier.
4) Avoid avoiding. There is a big difference between coping and avoiding. Avoiding anxiety will make them fear it more in the long run.
5) The way they react to symptoms is important. If they’re grasping for air because they’re feeling short of breath, they don’t need to open a window to get more air into their lungs. Remind them that they’re lungs are working just fine. Shortness of breath is a common symptom and not negatively reacting to it will make them feel better more quickly.
14) Don’t look down on your partner
Yes, it’s important to show compassion and empathy. But you shouldn’t look down on your partner and pity them.
It doesn’t make them feel good and it doesn’t do much for you, either. If you’re dating a chubby girl, for example, make sure you show her respect.
Yes, they have anxiety, but it doesn’t make them any worse than you. We all have our issues and while some people have tougher challenges than others, nobody deserves to be looked down upon.
It’s better for your relationship to treat your partner as your equal. That’s what they’d want.
Understand that they’re trying their best to deal with their anxiety, and they don’t want to be treated differently in anyway. They want to be a normal human being, so treat them like one.
15) Most importantly, live your life
Yes, it sucks seeing your partner experience pain and suffering. It’s one of the most difficult things to watch.
But you have to keep living your life. They don’t want you to be the reason that you’re not living life to the full. It adds to the burden they’re already experiencing.
What they want is for you to live life and fulfill your potential.