Love is in the air! For holidays centered on romance, like Valentine’s Day, this can be a time to show your partner some extra love and affection. For others, it may be a challenging time for a number of different reasons, such as being single or away from loved ones. For those living with a mental illness, it may be an opportunity to discuss their mental health with their partner.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States. There are more than 40 million people 18 years and older, who are living with some form of anxiety. While this mental health disorder is prevalent across the country, it can still be difficult to explain anxiety to a new partner who has never experienced it.
If you’re wondering how to explain your anxiety to your partner, here are 7 ways you can start the conversation.
1. Write It Down
While it can be difficult to have a conversation about your mental illness with a loved one, writing down your thoughts can help you prepare.
"Sometimes talking about anxiety can also produce anxiety," said Clarissa Silva, a behavioral scientist. "In those cases, I would suggest writing a letter to your partner. If you can manage to discuss your symptoms and triggers, having a face-to-face discussion will help you both create a coping method together."
If you’re thinking about chatting with your new partner about your anxiety, grab a notebook and think about how you want to address the conversation and the important points you’d like to make. This could mean recording how certain situations make you feel or making a list of words that may trigger your anxiety.
2. Explain Your Symptoms
To those who don’t have anxiety, it might be difficult to understand the physical and emotional symptoms of the disorder. To help avoid misunderstandings, try and communicate a possible symptom of anxiety by showing your partner. By describing the scenarios that create physical symptoms of anxiety, and the conditions that create them, you can help bridge the knowledge gap for your partner.
3. Share What Helps
Everyone responds to their symptoms of anxiety differently. In instances when you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, your partner will want to know how they can help. However, helping someone with a mental illness can be difficult without guidance.
"Your partner will instinctively feel the need to help," says Silva. "Talk about what your partner should or should not do.”
Once you’ve had this talk, it will help your partner understand how to respond best in the future. For example, you could let them know you need space when you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety.
4. Tell Them Your Trigger Words
Without knowing it, someone who doesn’t have anxiety may dismiss your anxiety. When this happens, the words used and the dismissal itself can be triggering. Trigger words are different words or phrases that may cause negative physical or emotional reactions. These upsetting words or phrases may change from person to person.
"Familiarize your partner with all of your trigger words, statements and situations," says Silva. "Sometimes people don’t understand that statements like 'well, just don't think about it' or 'just relax' actually create anxiety.”
5. Make a List of Ways They Can Support You
You and your partner are a team! Work together to come up with ways you feel comfortable coping with and handling your anxiety. Teaming up can help you both be on the same page and feel good about managing your anxiety.
"Create a list of things they can do to help you cope as a strategy so they can feel they are taking part in supporting you," says Silva. "That could be reminders about self-care, avoidance of triggers or techniques that reduce anxiety."
6. Help Them Understand Anxiety-Provoked Emotions
Help your partner understand when your emotional responses are related to your anxiety and when they’re related to frustrations you have with your partner.
Let them know there’s a difference in these emotions. This is key in helping them understand that anxiety induced emotions are still valid and are part of your disorder.
7. Hammer Down Coping Mechanisms
Even after talking to your partner at length about your anxiety symptoms and having a open discussion about what you need, there may still be hiccups along the road.
Some partners may have trouble distinguishing that your anxiety-induced symptoms have nothing to do with them. By talking to your partner about coping mechanisms for both your anxiety and your relationship frustrations, you can create a game plan for either scenario.
There’s no denying it – anxiety can affect your love life. That’s why it’s important to be upfront with your partner and take the time to prepare them for possible scenarios. Talking about it allows them to support you when you need it, and helps them understand you and your disorder. Remember, your anxiety is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, and anxiety is also experienced by many, many other people!
Learn more about talking to your partner about anxiety here.