Anxiety, as with all mental illnesses, impacts the entire family. The stress of living with someone with anxiety or another mental illness can be confusing and exhausting. The following are ten tips to help you cope your spouse’s anxiety disorder.
Remember that the anxiety disorder is not your fault. It is not your spouse’s fault and it is not your children’s fault. Anxiety disorder tends to run in families and there is evidence of at least some degree of it being hereditary. Blaming your spouse, or yourself, is not helpful.
Learn about anxiety disorders. There are many myths about anxiety; such as if you eliminate all anxiety triggers, you will eliminate anxiety. Although understanding triggers is important and can help in the overall treatment of anxiety, it is impossible to eliminate all anxiety triggers and this does not work to treat the anxiety itself. Learning all you can about anxiety disorders can help you better understand your spouse’s condition and better provide support.
Accept your spouse must be willing to seek and receive treatment. You cannot be your spouse’s therapist or treat the anxiety disorder. Your spouse must want treatment and be willing to go to doctor’s visits, therapy sessions and follow the treatment plan. Your support must be part of the treatment, but you cannot be expected to sacrifice your life if your spouse is not willing to accept treatment.
Attend occasional therapy sessions. You probably shouldn’t be in every session, but showing an interest and wanting to be involved in treatment can show your support. In addition, attending therapy sessions once in a while can help you understand the treatment plan, what progress to expect, how you can be involved in treatment and can provide you with strategies during times of intense anxiety.
Take care of yourself. Coping with anxiety, or any other mental illness, is draining and can become all-consuming, if you allow it to. It is important for you to take care of your own needs and make time for your own life and dreams. Putting these aside will only end up causing resentment and frustration.
Be honest with yourself, your spouse and your family about how you feel. There may be times you feel embarrassed, afraid, cheated, angry, resentful or just plain tired. Trying to hide these feelings or keep your spouse’s anxiety hidden from the outside world is not helpful. Understanding how anxiety impacts your life and talking openly about it can help you cope with the strain of living with someone with mental illness.
Accept your spouse’s limitations. Your spouse may not be able to attend large social functions, but may be able to accompany you to small, more intimate parties. During the course of treatment, your spouse’s abilities may change. Accept your spouse’s limitations while working together to meet both spouses’ needs. Maybe you can attend the large corporate function by yourself and invite a few close co-workers to meet you and your spouse for dinner.
Become an advocate for your spouse during medical appointments. Sometimes, people with anxiety have a difficult time asking questions and speaking with medical professionals. Accompany your spouse to doctor’s appointments to make sure all questions are answered and your spouse is comfortable with the appointment. Seek a second opinion if you are not happy with the treatment and how it is progressing.
Create a support system. Although it is your spouse that has an anxiety disorder, you also need support. Find a local support group, talk to other spouses coping with mental illness on the internet, and find a friend or relative you can talk openly with. You need to have a way to vent frustrations or share accomplishments with. Your needs must be met as well.
Be patient. Anxiety disorder is treatable, but treatment is not a miracle or will not work overnight. Look for any progress, even small steps and celebrate each accomplishment.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.