Your question: How can I stop my husband’s anxiety from making me feel anxious?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Very often when we see a loved one going through a difficult time, it is inevitable that our empathy and daily dealings with that person make us feel an emotional discomfort associated with what that person is going through. This is the case with your husband, who experiences moments of anxiety and as you are close to him and share his daily life, you also feel anxiety as a consequence. It is common, and the way to deal with it can be complex, but it is solvable.

First, you must understand how anxiety works. Severe episodes of anxiety or stress dysregulated our body and emotions. External demands such as work, family, studies and money become too overwhelming for our coping strategies, and we succumb to anxiety as a consequence.

This is why we also experience physical symptoms when we are anxious, because our body goes into imbalance, along with emotional symptoms such as crying, anger, helplessness and fear. Your anxiety is not very different from your husband’s, because from his discomfort, you experience symptoms.

What can you do?

Therefore, the solution goes two ways. On one hand, you must focus on you and your anxiety symptoms to help him improve his situation. There are several strategies you can implement, one of them is to keep a diary in which you record what YOUR anxiety symptoms are, both physical (sweating, tachycardia, headache and stomach ache) and emotional (crying, fear, worry). Also in that diary you will write down what situation occurred before you felt the anxiety episode, and you will rate from 1 to 10 how intense the feeling of anxiety was at that moment, since we do not always experience the same intensity (1).

The situation could have been watching your husband deal with his anxiety or something in your daily life unrelated to your husband. Another effective technique is called guided imagery. In this exercise, in addition to inhaling and exhaling slowly, you will close your eyes, and visualize a scenario that generates calm and happiness, and distracts you from the negative thoughts that come with anxiety. It can be a beach, a mountainous landscape or even a pleasant memory. This technique can take time, so it is normal that at the beginning you may find it difficult to form this mental image. But it will be quite effective in directly confronting the anxiety episode the moment it appears (2).

Learning to relate to an anxious person

Relationships are complicated and I understand that it is painful to feel that a loved one is suffering and there is nothing we can do to help. It happens with physical illnesses, and it also happens with psychological problems. Fortunately there is a solution here. Already by asking for help you show me that you are on the right path to getting better and I admire that, as well as your concern for wanting your spouse to get better as a whole.

In my experience…

Although it is complicated to have a relationship with someone with recurrent episodes of anxiety, it is not impossible. Mutual dedication and commitment are key to the survival of the relationship, as well as respect. Both you do your part by being empathetic and understanding, understanding how anxiety works and that many of your husband’s actions will not be rational, and your husband does his part by trying to get better on his own and for your relationship.

As long as you are well and can control your own anxiety, you can help your husband to do it on his own by providing him with these tips that I am giving you. Doing the exercises as a couple will also be positive for you, as it will allow you to identify what aspects to change and improve in your relationship.

Apply the techniques at your own pace and I am confident that you and your husband will gradually improve. It was a pleasure to write to you.

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