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Six Ways You Can Be There for a Spouse Who Has Anxiety

Mental health experts share their best advice.

Contributing Writer
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Photography by: Nina and Wes Photography

Anxiety is something we've all experienced now and then—the "fight or flight" response its part of our biological makeup. However, in recent decades, the number of people struggling with anxiety disorders has dramatically increased. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, as many as 40 million U.S. adults suffer from anxiety—and Friedemann Schaub, M.D., Ph.D., a molecular biologist and physician specializing in cardiology and the author of The Fear and Anxiety Solution, thinks that number is even higher, considering that many sufferers often feel powerless, overwhelmed, or embarrassed to seek professional help.

 

If your spouse is suffering from anxiety, you might feel helpless to help him or her, but you're not. However, understanding some important facts about anxiety is the first step in helping. Here are some expert-approved strategies for helping reduce your husband or wife's anxiety.

 

Related: Amazing Pieces of Advice from Real Couples

 

Acknowledge their anxiety.

Ariane Machin, Ph.D., psychologist and co-founder of the Conscious Coaching Collective, recommends being open about your partner's anxiety. "Sometimes, we might want to ignore the problem or minimize the effect anxiety can have on an individual, but that might isolate our partner or make them feel like something is wrong with them," she says. Instead of relegating their anxiety to a hush-hush topic, she recommends fostering open conversations about it.

 

Be compassionate.

"People, who suffer from anxiety often feel ashamed of their emotional challenges—they perceive themselves as weak, flawed, and less than others," says Dr. Machin. "As a result they tend to shut down, suppress their feelings, and hide their struggles even from their spouses." Spouses are in an ideal position to support their anxious partners—and the best way to do this is to be compassionate, even if and when they don't truly understand what their partner is going through. However, Dr. Machin reminds spouses not to take on the role of a counselor or the emotions of your anxiety-plagued spouse.

 

Change or adjust lifestyle habits that might contribute to anxiety.

As with any disorder, it's important for those surrounding the sufferer not to tempt him or her in anyway. For example, if your spouse struggled with weight issues or alcohol addiction, you probably would stop buying cookies, ice-cream, or liquor, points out Dr. Schaub. "Too much screen-time, lack of sleep and exercise, caffeine, alcohol, and unhealthy and irregular eating patterns have all shown to be contributing factors to anxiety," he says. "With your spouse, implement some healthier patterns, such as an earlier bedtime, no TV, phone, or tablet use after 9 PM, a more balanced fruit and vegetable rich diet, and more regular exercise, with the goal to enhance each of your well-being."

 

Encourage meditation.

Meditation offers a myriad of benefits for the mind, body and soul—and one of those is lowering anxiety and increasing a sense of calm. Whether you take a course, learn about meditation through a book or video, or download one of the daily meditation apps, Dr. Schaub recommends designating at least 10 minutes a day towards meditation. "It will not only help your spouse learn how to relax his or her anxious mind, but it will also make your relationship stronger," he adds.

 

Try to curb negative thoughts.

One of the most common triggers for anxiety are negative thoughts, which can include anything from everyday worries to more serious concerns for the future. Dr. Schaub recommends forming an agreement with your partner to avoid judging, worrying, and grumbling for the next month—and to be allowed to point out when he or she is about to enter into a negativity spiral. "Pledge to think and speak mainly positively by focusing on the possibilities and opportunities to learn and grow from any given situation," he says.

 

Show appreciation.

Even though we appreciate our partners, we might not say it verbally all that often. It's always nice to hear your partner tell you that he or she appreciates you. Dr. Schaub suggests doing it nightly. "Every night before you both go to sleep, tell each other what you have appreciated about that day, your partner, and yourself," he says. "Research has shown that gratitude and appreciation cause the release of serotonin and dopamine, which are linked to feelings of ease and happiness."