Almost everyone I know has an anxiety disorder or at least has had a panic attack at least once in his or her life. With this in mind, I am astounded that people exist who have never had a panic attack or even understand what it’s like to have anxiety. One of these people may be your spouse.
Anxiety is like another language. Those of us who have anxiety understand it completely, but those who don’t have anxiety are oblivious to what we feel. If you have a spouse with anxiety, and somehow you’ve managed to live on this planet thus far without any panicky experiences, you need to show your spouse you understand somehow.
Based on my own experience with a man who has no anxious bone in his body, here are some ways to help your spouse overcome their own anxiety. For the sake of saving word count, I’m using the “she” pronoun. This is based on my own experience anyway, and I am in fact a woman.
1. Tell her (and show her) you care
Anxiety is a very isolating disorder. When you have a panic attack, you feel alone. You feel like no one understands you.
If you don’t struggle with anxiety, you definitely do not understand why your spouse is acting the way she is or thinking what she’s thinking. Anxiety is irrational sometimes, but to your spouse, those anxious thoughts are as real as ever. Instead of trying to fix her, show her you care.
In the medical drama New Amsterdam, Max Goodwin, the Medical Director of the hospital, always asks his team and his patients, “How can I help?” Be like Max Goodwin to your spouse. When she feels alone, take a hold of her hand and ask her, “How can I help?”
She may know the answer, but sometimes she won’t. Sometimes she just needs you to sit there with her and listen to her talk. Sometimes she feels uncomfortable and may need to leave a situation. Always show her that you are on her side, even when her anxiety confuses you.
2. If you need more information, ask questions
I had a friend in high school who was afraid of pennies. Seriously? At first, I thought she was just seeking attention, but when I asked her about it, her answer made sense.
It turns out that she believed pennies were dirty and was afraid of the germs on the penny, not the penny itself. Why she was only afraid of pennies and not other coins, I don’t know, but instead of judging her, I accepted her and met her where she was.
Fears like going to parties, taking public transportation, and even going to work can make absolutely no sense to others. On the other hand, those who have social anxiety, PTSD, or work anxiety are totally gripped with fear at the thought of any of these activities. If you’re wondering why your spouse is anxious about a good thing, all you have to do is ask.
For me personally, I’m happy to answer questions about my anxiety. It doesn’t embarrass me to explain my fears, unless you make me feel like an idiot for having them. Truthfully, I don’t open up to you or listen to your advice unless I know you’re on my side.
3. Take her mind off of the problem
Since I have OCD, sometimes the best way to help me is to distract me from my anxiety. My panic attacks dissipate when I’m no longer thinking about whatever makes me anxious. If your spouse has OCD or an extreme phobia, help her take her mind off of the experience.
While you will need to help her deal with the root cause of her anxiety in the long run, if you’re out with your family or on vacation and her anxiety acts up, you need to distract her and help her as fast as you can.
4. Remember that your spouse is not a project who needs to be fixed
Anxiety is a mental disorder, but that does not mean that your spouse is a project. Your spouse is a person. Your spouse needs you to love her, care for her, and walk with her through this.
Now that you are one, this anxiety is yours, too. I’m still a newlywed, but I’ve heard that over time, you start to feel what your spouse is feeling and think what your spouse is thinking. I’m sorry if you feel your spouse’s anxiety, but instead of fixing her, show her you’re on her side.
You can show her you’re on her side by:
- listening to her without judgment
- praying for her on a daily basis
- pulling her out of a situation when she is uncomfortable
- standing up for her when others don’t understand
Pray for your spouse with anxiety
Ultimately, the only people who could heal your spouse with anxiety are her and God.
When you don’t understand, pray. When you want to be there for her but don’t know how, pray. When you’ve done everything you could to fix her and she’s still struggling, pray.
I believe God will give you the words. I believe God will give you the wisdom to help her. I believe God will ultimately heal your spouse from anxiety.
On behalf of all those who struggle with anxiety, thank you for taking the first step toward understanding your spouse and her deepest struggle.