Love in Tough Times: How to Help Your Partner Deal with Anxiety

Advice from two guys with years of experience.

The bear I live with.

The bear I live with.

My friend Kate and I were discussing an important, under-explored perspective of anxiety: the partner's. 

Those of us with anxiety often have husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, roommates, or  best friends who have been forced to  learned right alongside us. It can be just as much of a struggle for them as it is for us.

Here are some of the smaller gestures that have worked for us from our caring, smart partners. This is really their list, not ours.

Break the Cycle

1. "I find that if I'm getting caught in my own thoughts and spiraling up, my husband has learned to come along and take the iPhone from me, or the spoon from my hand if I'm cooking, and squeeze my shoulder. The physical grounding brings me back to the moment."

2. "I get a gentle nudge to take care of myself. He may offer to take care of our kid so that I can exercise, sleep, take a bath, etc, reminding me that I need to focus on my health.

3. "Sometimes, sadly, I need more than a nudge. I feel bad about it, but I am so appreciative that there are times when my partner just tells me (lovingly) to go to bed. I need the sleep, and to get out of the loop, but it's hard for me to realize it in the moment. Ditto take a walk and get out of my head."

4. "I've noticed that a change in environment is huge for me. My husband will get us out of the house. I don't know if it's the barometric pressure or the body temperature change or what, but when I feel the woods breeze on my skin, I immediately start to feel better."

5. "My partner has helped figure out what I describe as 'two sentences' or 'mantra' on certain topics. When I get stuck, he reminds me what my two sentences are, and they help me get unstuck. My favorite lately is 'Close and delete.' I say it constantly, and it works.'"

 Thanks to the partners and friends everywhere for taking care of us and loving us. 

 Thanks to the partners and friends everywhere for taking care of us and loving us. 

6. "This one is really hard but it works so well for me. If someone can make me laugh about my catastrophizing, while still understanding it, I instantly feel better. 'Yes, the garbage outside looks fuller than usual for garbage day. Maybe it will start to pile up and take over our house! The street! The neighborhood!' Once I start laughing, I'm feeling better.'"

7. "The 20-second (minimum) hug, proven to release oxytocin."

8. "He picks me up and cracks my back."

9. This one came in from Facebook from Angela, and I really liked it because it brings up another angle entirely--parenting! "Along with hugs, this kid's book has some helpful tips (for all ages): A Boy and A Bear, by Lori Lite." I found a video version of the book here on Youtube. It's incredibly relaxing.

This post was originally published February 7, 2016, then updated on March 24, 2018.

What do you do to help your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse with anxiety? Share in the comments!