As we spend time with our friends, our family and our loved ones, we learn, we grow and we look at life through the lenses of others. We come to understand different points of view and appreciate differing opinions and approaches to life. Spending time with someone, as a friend, family member or perhaps partner, with anxiety is in itself it’s own special exercise in understanding.
I am in the position of being able to see and experience anxiety first hand, from both sides of the coin. While it is a part of me, I am also close to others who share my struggles. Having both perspectives and insights have taught me a lot.
For those who have not experienced this debilitating state of mind, it will likely come as surprising. You may not be prepared for what your friend or significant other has to tell you about how they are feeling. My hope in writing this article is that it can help others understand or at least accept and support someone who is struggling, or managing their symptoms but wanting to open up to someone they are close to. As I said I have seen and felt it from the inside, and also the outside looking in.
What you will quickly discover is that someone with anxiety cannot just ‘get over it’ or ‘move on’, it is not an injury that can be healed like a broken bone. I am no doctor and certainly no psychologist but I started this blog to share my experiences, opinions and insights…. and my opinion is that those who have been touched by any sort of prolonged or on-going anxiety have a chemical imbalance which causes them to interpret things differently to others. It is not a cry for attention or a dramatic overreaction. It is an internal and external manifestation and reaction to an often faulty thought pattern. My personal cycle generally begins with an event, followed by a recurring negative thought pattern, which produces unwanted emotions, harmful rumination and unhealthy compulsive habits, which perpetuate the awful circle of resulting anxiety. I have spent many years working with a number of people to recognise this cycle, and while it sometimes still overwhelms me, I can more often than not catch it at the early stage of misguided thoughts and end it before it begins. I explain this as an insight for those perhaps wondering what is actually going on in the head of the one who has confided in them.
I know well that caring for someone with anxiety can be challenging, whether it as a friend, family member or romantic partner. You will have to be open and accepting, you will watch these people climb high mountains only to fall back into deep valleys. There will be times you don’t get it and times where you feel it’s just too much…and that’s ok. With these challenges I promise you, you will become a more compassionate, sensitive and empathetic individual.
If you are in a position where someone you care about has opened up to you, take the time to listen and understand. Really try to feel what they are feeling and appreciate that they trust you enough to share a very personal part of their life with you.
Over the years I have tried many approaches to helping others understand anxiety, sometimes my own and sometimes friends whose partners have brought up the subject about their own lives (this is very common by the way!). I have put together a list of insights I feel will help everyone empathise, some my own and some observations of others. Take your time to digest these and see if you relate to any, or can understand the difference in how you would view the situation.
- You probably never knew that when something good happens to someone with anxiety, in general, they are already anticipating the end, before it’s really begun. This makes a dating and professional life especially difficult at times
- You probably never knew that when somebody with anxiety sends you an email or message they compulsively check their devices for a reply until it arrives
- You probably never knew that it took them careful time analysing every word of the message before they sent it to you
- You’ve probably noticed that people with anxiety are very careful about what they say and they apologise a lot, the truth is those with anxiety are terrified of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time
- You’ve probably noticed that people with anxiety are always on time, which is great, except half the time they are anticipating the event or meeting being cancelled
- You will notice that they tap or fidget in times of stress but generally appear cool and calm
- You will notice that they finish their drinks quickly and perhaps drink a little too much
- You will see them celebrate a small victory, like going to a crowded event, as if they had won the lottery
- For those close to someone with anxiety you will quickly learn that they toss and turn in their sleep as it is at night that most of the analysing and over-thinking are done
The truth is that being close to someone with anxiety will be a path untravelled by some. You will not be able to fix most of what is happening as it is all in their head. The only thing you really have to do is listen.
I think the biggest thing you will notice about someone with anxiety is how much effort they put in, into your friendship or relationship. Underneath it all they are desperately trying to prove their worth to you, to get some reassurance that you won’t leave or dismiss them, they are at the same time, scrambling to prove to themselves that they deserve you in their lives.
When you open up, you will find yourself drawn to their flaws, to their passion and their unwavering commitment to their relationship to you, whatever that may be. While you won’t understand everything, you will accept it and love them for who they are. They will fall apart in front of you and they will hate themselves for it but you will achieve a deep sense of caring through these hard times. You will know that the source of all their concerns and worries comes down to being accepted, cared about, loved and supported. Through their battles, they will put all their effort into building you up and making you feel whole. Inline with their fear of being hurt they fear hurting others just as much, if not more.
I’ve learned and truly believe that those who have triumphed over internal struggles are the ones who will love you the deepest, care for you the most and be the best friends you’ve ever known. They will compliment you as anyone else would but you will know that it means that little bit more, that it’s a little more genuine. They won’t ask for much more than some reassurance and caring but they will give you their unreserved everything and be there for you always.
Those who live in the shadow of anxiety are not to be judged or dismissed, give them your acceptance and, whether you realise it or not, they will give you their all.
Tim is the Founder and Creative Director at Fuel Media Limited, and the passionate lifestyle writer here at To Whom It May Concern. He resides on the beautiful North Shore in Auckland, New Zealand.