11 Things to Remember if You Love Someone with Anxiety
November 15, 2018
We recently adopted a puppy named Winnie. She is an Anatolian Shepherd, although we thought we were adopting a Mastiff at the time.
Winnie is a rescue and she has been riddled with anxiety issues, although we didn’t recognize it as such at first. She was a royal pain in the arse, but it certainly wasn’t her intention to be so.
Dave and I adopted her at 8 months of age, after she had already developed some bad habits such as jumping, pawing, pulling on a leash and the one that really grated my nerves- barking. Until you uncover the underlying motivation, it’s difficult to address and change bad behavior.
As someone who has suffered chronic anxiety, you would think I would recognize it when faced with behaviors such as hers. Not so much! In fact, I wasn’t always sure it would work out with this sweet little pooch. Needless to say, I have had realizations as to what a pain in the arse I can be as well…..
To help others distinguish what may be behind a loved one’s behavior, I have compiled a list of things to remember, a ‘cheat sheet’ of sorts for those that love someone with anxiety issues.
Here’s a list of common traits for those that suffer with anxiety:
1. They can get overwhelmed easily
People with anxiety can feel stuck on ‘high alert’, where life events have caused the arousal system to keep being raised negatively day after day by thoughts about what has happened. When this happens its as if the ‘fight or flight’ response; they feel as if they are on high alert at all times.
2. They can struggle with concentration
An inability to concentrate is a frequent symptom of ongoing anxiety disorders. The reason for this is logical if you consider the role of the survival instinct.
If you’re struggling for survival, it’s hard to concentrate on much else.
3. They are well aware their anxiety is often irrational
Being aware of the irrationality does not stop the thoughts from racing. It does not stop the thinking of hundreds of different worst-case scenarios. If it was as easy as saying “okay, that’s irrational – no point worrying about it,” the majority of those living with anxiety would not have problems with it anymore.
One of the worst things about anxiety is how aware of the irrationality they can be. Pointing out that it’s irrational doesn’t help – they already know this. What they need is compassion, understanding, and support.
4. They appreciate you sticking by them
Anxiety is rough on everyone involved, which means you too. They understand that, they understand their irrationality; they understand you’ve not done some things you would’ve liked to because they couldn’t. They’re not oblivious to what it takes to support them.
If there’s one thing in common that you’ll find across the board for everyone with anxiety, it’s that they over think – they over think a lot. Part of this over thinking always comes back to the people that have supported them, always. Your support doesn’t go unmissed – no matter how subtle you may think it’s been.
5. They can find it hard to let it go
Part of anxiety is the constant over thinking, but to really understand this we need to understand where the over thinking stems from. When anyone is faced with a traumatic incident in their life, which most people with anxiety have had more than their fair share of, the memory (if not properly dealt with) can end up stored in part of the limbic system of the brain that the mind uses to determine if we are at ‘risk.’
The memory is stored in a completely different manner and region of the brain in comparison to an everyday memory that gets filed away. This causes the brain to react differently to the memory. The brain is actively seeking to make links between the traumatic memory and the present situation it’s in (partly the cause of the hyper-tense state.)
When the brain is caught in this cycle, letting go of things can be very difficult. When the brain is trained to remain in this cycle through prolonged anxiety, letting go of pretty much anything can be a tough task.
6. They can find change difficult (even if it’s expected)
Everyone has a comfort zone, anxiety or not. Pushing that comfort zone can be difficult for even the most well-adjusted person, so for people with anxiety it can be even more challenging. This is not to be confused with the sentiment that those with anxiety dislike change or pushing their comfort zones, because they will likely thrive once they’re actually in the process of doing so. They can just find it a lot more difficult to bring themselves to do so.
The one relief people with anxiety tend to get from their anxiety is when they’re allowed to be in their place of comfort with nothing major changing around them. When they’re faced with a big change and uprooting, it can take them a lot longer to settle back down and establish that zone again.
Just remember to have a little more patience and understanding for those with anxiety. They’re trying, they really are.
10. They aren’t (always) intentionally ignoring you
Part of managing anxiety is controlling the inner monologue that comes with it. Sometimes this can be a very attention-consuming act. The strangest things can set off obscure thought patterns for those with anxiety. If they suddenly drift out of the conversation, there’s a good chance they’re over thinking something that’s just been said or they’re trying to calm their thoughts down. Both take immense concentration.
They’re not ignoring you; or not intentionally at least. They’re just trying not to have a mental breakdown right there in front of you.
Their mind can be a war zone at times. They will drop out of conversations unexpectedly and they will feel bad for doing so if they realize it.
11. They aren’t always present
As mentioned in the above point, they’re not always present in a conversation, but it’s not just conversation that can trigger this reaction. Everyday events can cause everyone to get lost in contemplation at some point or another, but for those with anxiety almost everything can serve as a contemplative trigger. They will recede into the depths of their mind quite regularly and you’ll likely notice the vacancy on their face.
Gently nudge them back to reality regularly. They’ll greatly appreciate you doing so.
Cheat sheet over, done, finished. Keep these issues in mind and your relationship with an anxiety-proned loved-one may become a lot easier. If you take anything away from this article, just let it be that everyone – especially those struggling – deserves loving compassion, so spread it around.
Got anything you’d like to add to this article? Anything that was missed, misconstrued, or similar? Just drop a comment below.