How to Love an Anxious Person

We are all in a time of high stress, as violence increases in our country and even distant disasters often bring up fear. If these fears are not dealt with, they can lead to “acting out” behavior, such as drinking too much or creating relationship, work or money problems as a distraction. If a person you care about has a lot of anxiety, the guidelines here can help you help your loved one and relate with him or her better; and perhaps even help them resolve fear and anxiety. Anxiety comes from undermining oneself, and not trusting oneself to take care of whatever occurs in life.

An underlying state of anxiety can be caused by many things: childhood experiences, negative thinking, or perhaps a traumatic experience. This kind of history can create what we term “hypervigilance;” an exaggerated sense of constantly impending danger, and a corresponding alertness and tension. When you’re around someone else who’s anxious, even though you’re normally a calm person, it’s surprisingly easy to pick up the tension and become anxious yourself.

Also, If anxiety is a problem for you, and you have your own underlying constant tension, the problem is magnified in the presence of another anxious person. To handle your own anxiety, see “Handling Anxiety Effectively” http://www.tinatessina.com/anxiety.html and “Letting Go of Anxiety” http://www.tinatessina.com/letting_go.html. If you learn to calm yourself, you’ll be more effective at dealing with others who are anxious.

The key to countering anxiety is learning to let go, in the sense of trying not to control things. Another word for it is acceptance. In the long run, we gain more control by being relaxed and allowing things to develop. Rather than fight what’s going on, and try to deny bad things that happen; it’s better to face it, do what you can, and learn from it.

To relate better to a partner who struggles with anxiety, the following guidelines will help you keep the anxiety levels from getting out of hand.

DO understand how to comfort your partner. Many people put on a strong front, but they often are worried that they’re not good enough or loveable enough, so be ready to reassure.

DON’T let your partner’s anxiety make you anxious. Stay calm, and remember the anxiety is not your fault.

DO notice when she or he’s uptight. Many anxious people often can’t articulate their worries, so you can help by noticing she or he’s cranky or anxious, and (gently) encouraging him or her to talk about it.

DON’T allow him or her to take the anxiety out on you. If your partner is being critical, it’s probably more about him or her than you. You can be understanding, but don’t allow him or her to browbeat you. Confront it, and ask what’s really wrong.

DO encourage your partner to be active. Activity counters worry. Invite him or her to walk with you, play a sport or even go dancing. Your mate will feel better about him or herself.

DON’T activate your partner’s worry by telling him or her a stream of yours. Instead, write the problems down, and invite your partner to help solve them.

DO listen when she or he’s upset about work, aging, money, etc. When she or he complains about these things, it means she or he trusts you. Listen to him or her, let him or her know you understand, and then help come up with solutions.

DON’T let the worry draw you into an argument (about money, for example.) Your partner is probably not intending to criticize you, she or he’s probably just worried and wanting to share the only way she or he knows how. Just move the conversation to a more positive focus, like what the two of you can do about it.

Remember anxiety comes from history. At a time when things are calm, ask your partner about history, and how it connects with anxiety. In the moment, it helps if you can calm down and ask calmly why she or he’s so upset. If your partner’s the only one being angry, she or he’ll soon see that it’s out of line.

Ask how you can let him or her know you’re upset without getting him or her more upset than you are. Allow some time to come up with an answer, but don’t drop the subject permanently.

An anxious reaction is not that rational. It’s an emotional thing. People who overreact are scared, feel helpless, and are trying to get in control of what’s happening. It’s not rational thinking; it’s emotional reaction. No matter what you do, don’t get into a fight about anger. It’s better to choose your battles, even if you’re the only one choosing.


Author Bio: Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 35 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, Dr. Romance’s Guide to Dating in the Digital Age; The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty; Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences and her newest, The Real 13th Step.  She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.

Dr. Tessina has been CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for Love Forever. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, TV, video and podcasts.

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