Anxiety wasn't something I was familiar with before I had kids. Though I had weathered plenty of storms in my life, my ability to cope with stress (before kids) was rather impressive. However, after I had my boys, that all changed. My once rock solid emotional stability began to waver and, at times, it felt like the ground was crumbling beneath me. My partner became my rock during that time. Though I know he felt helpless at certain times, he stepped up for me anyway and in ways I didn't even know I needed. Dads can and should help their partner with anxiety, even when they're not exactly sure of how to do so, because every little effort, even those that seem insignificant, can make a huge difference for someone struggling with anxiety.
Since anxiety was foreign to me, I didn't even recognized the signs that I was struggling with it. There would be days when I would feel so overwhelmed by everything that I needed to do, that I wouldn't do anything at all. I would lock myself in a room and bury my head in a pillow and attempt to block out everything happening around me (kids, jobs, family, etc) so that I could try to focus on, well, anything. My anxiety caused me to isolate myself and become reclusive, like a vampire who was afraid to show her face during the day. I've always been a social person, so when my partner realized that I literally never left the house, not even for special events where I would get a break from motherhood to see my closest friends, he knew something was wrong.
I was always the eternally optimistic one in our relationship, and he had often leaned on me to brighten some of his worst days, so when he noticed that I was sinking, he offered me the life raft that I didn't even know I needed. Even though he didn't necessarily understand how to help me, he tried. Every single day he tried his best to make me feel better, and though I still struggle with anxiety, I finally feel like I can breathe again thanks to his help. So, if you're struggling with anxiety and your partner wants to help, but maybe doesn't know how to, show him the following ways he can lend a much-needed, much-deserved hand:
Help Out Around The House
Things like folding laundry and washing dishes and cooking supper might not seem like a big deal to someone who isn't responsible for doing them all the time, but for the person who is, they are a big deal. Getting these things done day in and day out, with little pause in between, is redundant and exhausting. Folding laundry isn't exactly rewarding, but it has to be done, so if your partner is suffering from anxiety, taking over some of her responsibilities to give her a break might work wonders on her morale.
Communication is key in any relationship, but it's especially important when someone is suffering from anxiety. My husband and I have a lot on our plates. We've got two kids, we both have full time jobs, and family member's who rely on us due to health problems, plus a mountain of bills that need to be paid. There's a lot going on, which doesn't exactly make me feel at ease.
So, something as simple as my husband communicating with me about when he's working or when his family will need him, makes a huge difference. Knowing days and times of events or appointments, even though they might not be big or important events, helps me to feel in control, which minimizes my anxiety. Just communicate with one another. It's that easy.
Don't Make Her Feel Guilty About Her Feelings...
On the days when I feel overwhelmed, I'm admittedly resent my family's needs. I hate feeling like that. It makes me feel like an awful person and like I don't deserve to be the mother of two, perfect little boys, but I really can't control it. If my partner were to make me feel guilty about the feelings I already feel guilt about, I'd lose my freaking mind.
...And Don't Judge Her For Her Feelings
Anxiety and depression aren't things that can be controlled all that easily. It takes time and patience, and sometimes some experimenting in order to find a regiment that works. Feeling judged during that time is only going to make things worse for the person suffering from something that they can't help feeling. If you've never had anxiety, but your partner does, just try to remember that she can't help it, and it's not her fault.
Give Her Space When She Needs It
Sometimes, I just need five minutes alone. Five minutes of not being needed or touched or called upon. Five minutes of personal space, for me, is the difference between handling my children and my responsibilities with grace, and having a complete meltdown.
If your partner has anxiety, give her space when she needs it and don't get mad at her for needing it. We all need a little space sometimes, especially when we're feeling overwhelmed.
Show Her Affection
My partner will come sit next to me and hold my hand or scratch my back or just hug me if he notices me being abnormally quiet, which is usually when I'm feeling the most anxious. Having him show his affection for me, whether it's physically or verbally, helps put me at ease. It makes me feel like there's at least one part of my life that is in order, in the moments when I feel like pretty much every aspect of it is spinning out of control.
Encouragement goes a long way for anyone, but especially for a person who has anxiety. I feel like I am not good enough or like I don't have the mental or emotional capacity to handle everything on my plate all the damn time. I've suffered from anxiety and anxiety attacks for a couple of years now, but feeling constantly overwhelmed is a feeling that I don't think I'll ever get used to. Something that does help though, is when my partner encourages me. It makes me feel like I'm in more control than I think I am, and in those fleeting moments of madness, it gives me the piece of mind that I need to get through them. It makes me feel like I am able to handle everything, and just feeling that way helps me to handle it better.
Let Her Vent If She Needs To
Sometimes, I just need to vent. I need to let all of my feelings out and whine and groan about all that's overwhelming me. Usually, when I get to this point, my feelings get unloaded onto my partner in one long, heated rant. It's not pretty, but he doesn't make me feel bad when I get to that point because afterwards, I almost always feel better.
If your partner is overwhelmed and needs to just let it all out, let her. Let her put her feelings on the table and let her say what she needs to say. It will make her feel more relief than you could imagine.
Try To Avoid Triggers
I'm not the person who needs her house to be in pristine order every single day. I don't care if my counters or floors or shining, and I'm really not that concerned with dusting every surface of the house on a regular basis. However, there are certain things that trigger my anxiety, and one of them is when our house is in complete shambles. I don't need all the laundry to be folded, but I do need it to not be laying all over the floor. I don't care if my kids' room is clean, but I do care if there's a thousand tiny cars all over the floor. If it looks like a bomb of toys and clothes just went off in our house, I panic, and if people show up at our house unexpectedly, I panic even more. Not just "get a little stressed out" panic, either. No, real, heavy breathing, cold sweating, pulse rising panic. It sounds stupid, but I do.
Just avoiding things that trigger anxiety makes such a monumental difference in the life of someone suffering from it.
Just Listen To Her
Sometimes, I just need to talk and I need my partner to just listen. It could be about anything, it doesn't have to be about stress, but just talking to someone who is actually paying attention and engaged in what I'm saying makes me feel good. It makes me feel important and like what I have to say matters. Part of having anxiety means feeling like no one is hearing what you have to say, or like your world is completely frozen while the rest of the world is spinning at light speed. It feels sort of like getting lost, and feeling like no one is coming to find you, but having someone in your life who just listens can make a person with anxiety feel at ease. For me, it makes me feel like, yes, my partner would come find me if I got lost, and as insignificant as that may sound, it makes a world of difference from the person who feels lost.