In the last couple of weeks I have spoken to a lot of people who are struggling with loved ones who have anxiety, whether they realise it or not.
It can be immensely difficult to cope when someone around you has anxiety. So here are some of the things that might help to think about if you’re in that situation:
1. Get some emotional support. Maybe from another family member or friend, who can appreciate how frustrating it is when your mother/ sister/ brother/ partner is being irrational or aggressive. Or if you don’t have anyone else you can talk with easily, maybe a counsellor could be useful.
When someone has anxiety, his or her behaviour might make you feel frustrated, or angry, or disappointed or rejected. It can be really upsetting when you think that you have agreed on a plan, only to find that they are backtracking. Or else that you are excited about something, only to hear that they have found some problem with it.
You need support, so that you can have these feelings without them impacting too badly on your relationship with this person. Being able to talk about how you feel more dispassionately might also mean that you are able to talk with them more calmly later (see point 3).
2. Thinking about this person’s anxiety as something external to them, which is driving their behaviour, can be really helpful as it may help you succeed in taking it less personally.
This can be really hard to do, and is why you definitely need some emotional support where you can vent if necessary.
But when that person is being unreasonable or aggressive, it is possibly because they are trying to defend themselves from the anxiety, without realising. It can make it easier not to lose your cool if you’re able to remember that. They just aren’t capable of being reasonable, however much you try to rationalise with them. Anxiety tends to just become more entrenched when you challenge it, so you’re better off letting go.
3. Try to talk to the person about how their behaviour is making you feel. Maybe don’t do this when you're in the height of feeling angry/ upset/ disappointed. But whilst you can’t challenge the anxiety, you can let them know the impact on you.
Sometimes this is much easier for the anxious person to hear. For example, if you are upset because they keep changing plans because of their anxiety and you were looking forward to seeing them, then rather than getting angry because you can’t understand why they just can’t commit, you might be able to explain that you were looking forward to seeing them, so you feel really disappointed when it looks as though you’re not going to.
4. Depending on how aware the person is about their anxiety, you might be able to ask them how the anxiety is right now and whether they think it might be affecting them right now. But be careful with this as it may sometimes sound as though you are telling them off, rather than being supportive.
It might be easier to say something like, “I’m wondering if you are feeling a bit stressed right now – is there anyway I could help/ do you need a hug/ would you like to talk about it?”
Living with someone who has anxiety can be very stressful and upsetting. As well as all these tips, it is good to get breaks, get outside or get active when you can, and look after your eating and sleeping. If you’re reading this, it’s possibly because you want to do what you can to stop the anxiety destroying your relationship with them. There is only so much you can do, as you cannot change how they are feeling, and so all you can really do is look after yourself whilst you're all going through this.
If you would like to find out more about anxiety and how it manifests itself, the charity MIND has a really helpful page designed to support friends and family of people with anxiety.