Your question: Why does my boyfriend have anxiety?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Anxiety is a complex and quite common phenomenon. We all experience anxiety to a greater or lesser extent for different reasons. Anxiety is not strictly speaking bad when it is present in small doses and allows us to act in a positive way. For example, it is anxiety that allows you to escape from a dangerous situation or to prepare for a difficult test.

However, when anxiety is too recurrent and intense, we already have a problem. Anxiety disorders are common, worldwide more than 300 million people (1) have some kind of anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders can cause problems in a person’s daily life and affect their quality of life. However, anxiety does not have to determine a person’s life. With the right professional and family support, people with anxiety can lead normal lives.

If you are reading this you are wondering why your boyfriend or partner has anxiety. It’s a nice sign of concern, as you want to better understand that important person in your life and give him or her the right support. It is important for loved ones of people with anxiety to educate themselves on the topic in order to provide functional support.

Wanting to help a loved one with anxiety is important, but it can be a complicated task. Very often people with anxiety or depression repress their problems and avoid telling others about them because they believe they are a nuisance or a burden. Therefore, you need to be patient in the process of helping your partner get better.

Before you can consider strategies to help your boyfriend, and yourself, cope with the problems caused by anxiety, you need to know the source of his anxiety.

What does it feel like to have anxiety?

Psychology (2) has studied anxiety as a complex phenomenon, which has specific characteristics that affect people in different areas. Some characteristics of anxiety are:

Cognitive symptoms: fear of losing control; fear of death; fear of “going crazy”; fear of negative evaluation by others; frightening thoughts.

Physiological symptoms: increased heart rate, palpitations; shortness of breath, rapid breathing; chest pain or pressure; choking sensation; dizziness.

Affective symptoms: nervous, tense, wound up; frightened; sadness; irritability.

Why does your boyfriend or partner have anxiety?

Anxiety is not always rational, so when one person reports that they are anxious about something in particular, to others it may sound absurd or exaggerated to feel anxious about it. Each person feels anxiety about different things, related to anxious thoughts that evoke intense worry. Some of the most common causes of anxiety, which may be affecting your partner, are:

Financial problems

Debt and salary worries are one of the most common causes of anxiety among adults. Sometimes people hide the money problems they are facing from their partners so as not to worry them, or because they believe they can solve it on their own.

Work and academic stress

Studying and working are stressful activities. Work and studies can cause intense anxiety in people because of the responsibilities and demands involved. Your boyfriend or partner may be dealing with a lot of pressure at work or school that he avoids telling you about because he thinks he will overburden you with his problems.

Interpersonal Relationships

Human relationships are complicated. It is possible that your boyfriend is feeling problems in the relationship that you are overlooking. Also, your boyfriend’s anxiety may be related to family or friendship conflicts.

Identity and self-esteem issues

Anxiety is also related to our self-image. Therefore, your boyfriend’s anxiety may be caused by worries and anxieties he has about himself, his job performance, his physique or personality, or his life in general.

How can you help your partner fight anxiety?

The support of loved ones is essential to cope with depression and anxiety and decrease their symptoms. Research (3) revealed that psychosocial support is key to the improvement of patients with anxiety, as well as to prevent symptoms from worsening in the future. Therefore, loved ones of a person with anxiety should be informed about what it means to have anxiety and know strategies to help cope with related complications.

Breathing exercises

When a person experiences an anxiety attack their entire body goes out of control. Therefore, breathing exercises that help relieve the feeling of anxiety are useful. You can help your partner practice breathing exercises when he has anxiety by serving as a model for him to imitate.

Ask him first if he wants physical contact. If so, hold his hands. Close your eyes and inhale slowly for 4 seconds, then exhale slowly for 4 seconds. Keep a slow rhythm. Notice that your partner is doing the same. Practicing this exercise for 5 to 10 minutes a day is quite helpful in combating anxiety, and will teach your partner to do it when he or she is on his or her own.

Confronting thoughts

People with anxiety may have extremely negative, abrupt thoughts that are often unrelated to reality. Your partner may be calm and out of nowhere, feel anxious because he had a thought about his performance at work or the debts he has to pay.

You can help him by asking him what was going through his mind at the time he started to feel anxious. Never judge or minimize the cause of his anxiety; instead, help him find an alternative, more positive way of thinking. For example, if his thought is “I am a failure at my job,” an alternative, positive thought would be “I am doing my best at my job and I am working hard to correct my failures.”

Practice patience and empathy

It can be frustrating to be in a relationship with someone with anxiety, because they tend to hide from you how they feel and avoid topics of conversation related to their anxiety. Therefore, you need to be patient and understanding, giving them space to express themselves in your time and manner about what is bothering them, making it clear that you will be there to listen and support them when they are ready.

Recommend seeking professional help

Although emotionally supporting loved ones is very important to help them combat anxiety, it is not the only strategy and decision to be made. It is necessary for him to attend psychological consultation for his own good, to work through the feeling of anxiety that generates discomfort in his life. By helping him to get an appointment with a psychologist (you can even accompany him on the day of the consultation as a show of support), you are allowing him to take control of his life and learn to regulate his own anxious symptoms.

In my experience…

Wanting to understand and help a loved one who is going through a difficult time is a noble gesture. People with anxiety can have partners and happy lives if they have the necessary support, both professional and family, and if, on their own, they apply the right strategies to reduce their anxious symptoms.

Remember that you can love your partner very much, but you can’t rescue them or fix all their problems. You are a support for that person, but at the end of the day, the one who has anxiety is the one who should be concerned about his own well-being, making changes in his life that allow him to feel better about himself.

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