5 Things to Remember When You Love Someone with Anxiety
- Maria Cheshire Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2016 26 Aug
From a young age, I’ve felt a special connection to the scripture that reads, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear… Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27). These verses felt written for me, like God had peeked inside of my brain and said, “Hold up! Lots of unnecessary worrying happening over here!” and then scripted them out.
Over time, this unnecessary worrying grew and evolved into “generalized anxiety disorder,” which means that anxiety impacts all areas of my life. When building new relationships (friendship or romantic), I often feel the need to explain myself, to try to help a non-anxious person understand how anxiety works and why I may react to a situation the way I do. If I could simplify my anxiety for loved ones and pass out a manual of essential things to know, this is what I would say:
1. Anxiety and depression are two sides of the same coin. If you plan on doing your own research on anxiety, go on and add a few chapters about depression. While I personally struggle with anxiety on a more regular basis, I also exhibit signs of depression and am more prone to mood swings than my non-anxious friends. Clinically, anxiety and depression are linked together closely. Zoloft, a medicine used to treat depression, is also prescribed to treat anxiety. Anxiety/Depression. Heads/Tails.
2. Our worry may come across as paranoia or neediness. It’s called “catastrophizing,” and we’re really good at it. If I text you, you don’t need to text me back immediately. I’m fine doing my own thing. But after a few hours, I might start to think, “What if there’s a reason he’s not texting…” like you got lost and your phone died so now you can’t use your GPS. If another hour shuffles by, suddenly you’re lying dead in a ditch and I’m pacing the room and trying to decide whether I should call your mother or sister first and which funeral home they will choose. Crazy, right? Just do us a favor and remember to check in. We don’t have to get into a full-blown conversation, we just want to know you’re still alive. “Just got home, need food” will suffice. Trust me, you don’t look good in a muddy ditch.
3. I'd appreciate a head’s up. Particularly for people with social anxiety or anxiety + introversion, advance notice is much appreciated. If you want to have people over to the apartment after work it’s fine, just give me a quick call or text so I know to expect guests when I walk through the door. If I’m daydreaming about sprawling over the empty couch and flipping through Netflix channels alone, you having friends over is not going to be a welcome surprise. I’ll spend the whole night trying to re-shape my evening and feeling anxious about how much socializing is required in order to be polite and whether or not I should confront you about the situation after they leave. I don’t want it to bother me, but it does. So if you can just send me a head’s up next time, I’ll be fine.
4. Sometimes it’s better not to talk about it. Talking and venting can be helpful, and kudos for asking what’s wrong. But if I say something generic like, “I just don’t know,” and then walk away… leave it. Trust me. I’m trying to save you. If you keep digging, I will be forced to break open the dam that’s holding back everything zipping around my mind and sorry, I don’t have any life jackets to give you. You might think that I’m upset about something involving you. If I am, wait for me to approach you about it. For now, have faith and let it be.
5. I want you to accept that part of me. Because it’s not going away. I wish it would, but it’s not. Lifestyle changes and coping strategies can reduce anxiety but ultimately, it’s something an anxious person will struggle with their whole life. What we crave is acceptance. It can be hard for us to accept anxiety within ourselves, or we may feel self-conscious when the dam finally explodes. At the end of the day, I don’t need you to fully understand my anxiety, but I need you to accept it as part of me. Love me in spite of it. Acceptance, reassurance, and love: those are the keys.
Maria Cheshire teaches and coaches in Bristow, Virginia. She enjoys running, yoga, food, art and is currently writing her first novel.
Publication date: August 26, 2016