By Dr Jodi Richardson

Partnering someone with anxiety can be extraordinarily hard. Not only is it painful to watch someone you love struggle with their mental health, it’s natural to feel frustrated, annoyed and bewildered at times, at the way anxiety can get in the way of rational thinking, mood, fun, spontaneity, socialising, happiness and more.

It’s helpful to understand that anxiety is the brain and body’s response in anticipation of a threat, whether that threat is real, imagined or perceived. When your partner is anxious, their brain is working overtime to keep them safe, even though the detected ‘threat’ might be that someone has taken too long to reply to their text message, their inbox is overflowing or they forgot to put the bins out.

Even when a threatening scenario is imagined, the brain and body respond in the same way, preparing the body for fight or flight. The body becomes fuelled with adrenaline, hearts race, stomachs can feel sick and thoughts become laser focussed on the ‘problem’ at hand.

Rational thinking and problem solving is temporarily unavailable which is why your partner’s anxious thinking can seem unreasonable.

The following tips will help you to support the anxious person in your life.

Dr Jodi Richardson a mum-of-two, author and an educator who specialises in helping parents and teachers support anxious kids.

Learn what helps to settle anxiety

Learning what helps those of us who are anxious is such a practical way to help. Taking deep breaths in and out helps to show our brains we’re safe.

Some of us might need to get outside in the fresh air to walk and breathe, that helps settle our system too. Others might prefer a mindfulness strategy such as noticing ten things around the room.

Movement is the natural end to the fight or flight response so encouraging any type of exercise will also help. Ask your partner which strategies they find most helpful.

Empathy first helps so much

What we want when we’re anxious is for someone to say ‘I’m here for you’. Someone to tell us that they understand that it’s hard for us and that they get we’re having a tough time.

You don’t have to understand why we’re anxious, your empathy alone is priceless.

Dr Jodi acknowledges partnering someone with anxiety can be hard as it is painful to see them struggle with their mental health.

Calm down

Please never say that, or ‘Snap out of it’, or ‘Don’t worry’. We don’t want to act the way we do when we’re really anxious and a lot of the time we know we’re being irrational but we can’t help it. Really, we can’t. We can’t help it and we hate feeling that way. We’d love to just ‘calm down’ and we would, in an instant, if we could, but it doesn’t work. It takes time for our brain and body to ride the wave and for our strategies to kick in.

Jodi first experienced feelings of anxiety at age four. Now a mother of two, she knows firsthand the ups and down of parenting with anxiety.

In her new book, Anxious Mums (available November 17, 2020), Jodi shares her lived experience and extensive research to help other mums manage their own anxiety and move forward every day in the direction of purpose, fulfillment and as a loving, compassionate parent.

Anxious Mums is a companion book to the bestselling Anxious Kids which Jodi co-authored with Michael Grose.