My husband recently told me he wishes that he knew what my anxiety felt like. He knows the stress of the night before a test, the fearful anticipation of a job interview, and the normal stressors of life — but he doesn’t know the anxiety that I know.
I’m guessing there are more of you spouses out there who want to help but don’t know what it feels like. Maybe it doesn’t even seem real because you just cannot comprehend it. And when you’re in the middle of panic, it’s kind of hard to describe what it feels like.
I’m going to do my best to explain.
The circles of thoughts in your head that go around and around and won’t go away. Knowing the future must be horrible, but feeling paralyzed by the fact that you really don’t know what it holds. The spiraling symptoms of heart racing, palms sweating, ears ringing. All from a trigger you didn’t know or expect.
You feel angry at yourself for not enjoying yesterday, yet being terrified of tomorrow.
You might hide away for days, or run from person to person seeking some sort of wisdom that makes you feel better.
You get angry that no one understands, and might even take it out on them.
You have a hard time getting going in the morning, yet you can’t fall asleep at night because your mind just. won’t. stop.
You do your best to appear OK, and feel neglected when everyone then assumes you’re OK. Because anxiety is, often, a silent struggle. It’s often used flippantly, as though it’s just a synonym for being worried.
But it’s real. And it sucks. It sucks so much, and speaking of, it sucks the life right out of you.
You feel completely fine one day, and smacked in the face with debilitating fear the next. You never quite know when the next big trigger could hit — it could be hours, days, or weeks.
It’s hearing the word test, and thinking of dying. It’s not being able to announce exciting news because you worry it will all go to pieces tomorrow. It’s feeling freaked out every time a family member drives somewhere because you envision car crashes in your head.
Anxiety has the ability to paralyze you. It’s wanting to get up and move, but being held down. It’s wanting to enjoy life, but thinking that if you do, everything [will] be ripped away from you.
Anxiety lies to you at every turn. It sucks the joy right out of you because you’re living as though the worst-case scenario for your life as already arrived.
Anxiety is real. And scary. And hard.
Having a spouse who takes you seriously is essential
For someone who doesn’t have anxiety, it’s easy to say that their anxious family member/friend is just being dramatic. That they just need to stop worrying, believe more, and get on with it.
While it’s true that being proactive is important, understanding that your spouse’s diagnosis is real is the first step in helping them. Because we know our worries are often irrational, we wish we could just stop, and we try our best.
So what can you do to help?
1. Find out what helps them.
What helps one person, might not exactly help another. And you might be surprised by how simple the answer is! My husband praying with me when I’m feeling anxious always takes my stress down a few levels (that’s always a good idea to start with!).
Even being asked this simple question will make your spouse feel loved: what can I do to help?
When you feel anxious, you tend to feel lonely in it. So simply being present and helpful is a great way to show that you love and care for them and that most of all, they’re not alone.
2. Listen, don’t fix.
Anxiety turns into a big circle of scary thoughts in one’s head. It’s hard as the person listening, not to try and just fix everything. Offering encouragement and hope is extremely helpful, but offering a quick “fix-it-all” usually is not.
Just hear your spouse out. Let them vent. Let them get all their irrational thoughts out in open air, because they might start to feel crazy after keeping them trapped in their head for so long. You aren’t expected to make everything right, you just need to love them.
3. Be kind.
Kindness is one of the most important aspects of marriage, period. But for with someone with anxiety, having a spouse who gets mad at them for it is very overwhelming. It simply adds to the stress rather than lowering it.
Thank them for something they did. Tell them they look nice. Take care of a couple things around the house so they don’t have to worry about it. Sometimes a simple act of kindness is the very best thing you can do for your anxious spouse.
Remain prayerful, and always stay on the same side
I know it’s hard for both the spouse with anxiety and the spouse without. It adds a whole extra layer of complexity to your relationship. But remaining on both sides, rather than letting it divide you, is essential. You have to see anxiety as the problem, not your spouse, and be with them in the midst of their struggle. Because I guarantee your spouse didn’t ask to have anxiety.
God has used my anxiety to stretch both my husband and me. It has caused frustration and disconnect, but it has also caused honesty and closeness. I guarantee it forces your spouse to be vulnerable, so treat them with care.
Give them grace. Pray for them. Be present. It will greatly benefit your marriage and deepen your love and trust for each other.