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What to do if my partner has an anxiety disorder

We all have little worries or fears every now and then, who doesn't know that? But what if the fear becomes so intense that a normal life is no longer possible? Anxiety disorders are not only a challenge for those affected, their partners also suffer from it. Maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself and your partner is then often very difficult. But there are ways in which you can support your partner and be there for them.

What is an anxiety disorder?

Fear is not primarily bad, on the contrary. Fear is even necessary for human survival. It supports people in performing and recognizing dangers by triggering stress. However, if the stress becomes too much, its effects are more likely to be negative. This so-called distress can manifest itself in excessive demands and fears. If the fear becomes so intense that it seems uncontrollable to the person concerned and a normal life is no longer possible, it is called an anxiety disorder.

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There are different types of anxiety disorders. In generalized anxiety disorder (GAS), concerns revolve around a wide variety of areas of life. Often times, these are relationships, work-related fears, or financial worries. Generalized anxiety disorder can be very difficult to spot. On the one hand, because there is no clear object of fear, on the other hand, because it is characterized by a wide variety of psychological and physical symptoms, which can also be signs of short-term overload. These include difficulty sleeping, permanent tension or physical tension. However, panic attacks are not a hallmark of generalized anxiety disorder. Panic is rather an independent disorder and also often an accompanying feature of the social phobia or specific phobias. Unlike generalized anxiety disorder, people with phobias are primarily afraid of certain situations or objects.

How does fear affect a relationship?

Anxiety disorders can affect your relationship in a variety of ways. Primarily, the suffering of the sick person increases. The fears can also affect belief in the partnership and trust in the partner. For a relationship, an anxiety disorder can also mean that the unencumbered partner has to take on more and more tasks. Supporting the burdened person is important, but also so that the healthy partner does not overwhelm himself. You should know your own limits and not expect too much from yourself.

How do I recognize an anxiety disorder in my partner?

If you notice certain changes in your partner, the most important thing is to act quickly. While not all anxiety disorders are equally identifiable, there are some signs that can indicate them.

A generalized anxiety disorder manifests itself primarily as a change in the person concerned. Even if someone has a very confident and strong personality, as an anxiety disorder progresses, someone becomes increasingly brooding and calm, tormented by worry and disproportionate fear in every situation. This can be shown by constant control calls to make sure everything is okay, even though there is no rational reason for such inquiries. This behavior is called reinsurance behavior. Generalized anxiety disorder often develops insidiously, so the changes are often difficult to identify. Many sufferers have already gone through a very long path of suffering before they are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and often complain of physical symptoms that do not necessarily only indicate an anxiety disorder.

Panic disorders or panic attacks are usually much easier to recognize for partners, as they are sometimes associated with very strong physical symptoms such as palpitations and shortness of breath.

A general characteristic of all anxiety disorders is social withdrawal, which you can also notice yourself in your partner. If your friend spends more and more time alone, neglects hobbies and social contacts, this is definitely a warning sign. If you suspect that your partner has an anxiety disorder, pay particular attention to the following symptoms:

  • Social withdrawal and avoidance behavior
  • Personality change
  • Complaints about physical stress symptoms such as lack of sleep, tension or pain
  • Panic attacks combined with physical symptoms such as palpitations or shortness of breath

How can I support my partner?

If you notice any of these symptoms in your partner, there are specific steps you can take. First of all, it is important to educate yourself and create awareness about the disease. This applies to you, but even more so to your partner. It can be very helpful to speak to your partner about your observations and offer your support. Unfortunately, it is often very difficult for those affected by psychological stress to seek help and to recognize the fear. Self-doubt, shame, helplessness or fear of rejection often stand in the way of realizing that you are suffering from a mental illness. However, this self-insight is absolutely necessary for help to be accepted. Try not to rush your partner, show understanding and give them space. Try not to speak for your partner and give them the opportunity to help themselves. Encouraging therapy is of course useful, but only as long as your partner does not feel patronized. So pay attention to her * his needs and reactions.

This is important for both of you, but also for the relationship. If the stress is very pronounced, it makes sense to seek professional help. You don't have to go to a psychologist for that. The easiest way is to go to the family doctor first. This * r will then make a diagnosis and explain how to proceed. Self-help groups or online therapy are also good options for counteracting anxiety disorders and, above all, for bridging the unfortunately often very long waiting times for a therapy place.

However, as a partner of a person affected by an anxiety disorder, it is also important to protect yourself and to strengthen your own resources and well-being. Exchange ideas with someone, talk about your feelings. It is also okay if you sometimes have negative feelings about your partner, maybe also about the partnership. It's hard to have a relationship, a fulfilling partnership with someone with an anxiety disorder. Doubts can also arise. Take enough time for yourself and for your own interests. Try not to put all the burden on your shoulders and you too can get professional help. You can only support other people if you feel good about yourself.