If your wife struggles with anxiety, I know you feel helpless at times. It’s very difficult to understand. I know a thing or two about anxiety and let me tell you, it’s terrible. It’s as if your very core is broken. When the panic button is flipped, reason goes right out the window.
Imagine a pack of wolves are breathing down your neck and are ready to rip you to shreds at any moment. They’re nipping at your heels and their breath is hot on your back. Now, instead of running away from them, go balance your checking account or tuck your toddler into bed. Just ignore their fangs as you go grab some groceries.
This is what it feels like to a person with anxiety.
You can’t focus on everyday tasks because your mind is too busy trying to stay safe. Nobody can see those wolves but they feel real to the person with anxiety.
To make matters worse, anxiety writes a bad ending to every story. Nobody lives happily ever after, and everyone ends up surrounded by death and destruction. Anxiety and Fear are sisters and their mother is Doubt. This leaves you alone and afraid with no chance for help.
There is no silver lining and all hope is lost when anxiety grabs hold. Your wife is most likely planning her own funeral in her mind while she’s blow drying her hair. Her mind is battling between what she knows to be true, including God’s promises, and what she is feeling, which is terror. And then she hears, “Just snap out of it, you’re fine!”, it doesn’t help one bit.
Nobody wants to walk around feeling like their world is caving in. So add to it all, the shame and embarrassment that goes with anxiety. Most people expect an anxious person to just look at the facts and stop being irrational. It’s not that easy.
About a year ago our four-year-old decided that public restrooms are terrifying. She starts shaking and crying when we set her on the toilet. It’s not something we can avoid, so we spend about thirty minutes each time trying to get her to go. She hangs onto my leg and sobs as she tells me she is going to fall in. I know it is perfectly safe, but she doesn’t, and no amount of reassurance from me helps her at all. Even though we KNOW she will not get hurt, she feels the opposite. I pity her, because I see myself in the midst of her panic. I have feared many things that weren’t really there, but still couldn’t stop the cycle of terror.
It reminds me to be patient with her, because I know how it feels. But what if you don’t know how it feels to have anxiety? How will you be patient without being able to empathize? Maybe you are as cool as a cucumber and never stress about anything, so it’s especially hard to understand.
Instead of telling you what you should do, I would rather tell you a few things not to do. Trust me on this one.
1. Logic doesn’t work
I know you get frustrated because I have seen my husband that way. The thing is, your logic and reason aren’t going to snap her out of it. My guess is she’s pretty bright, and her fears don’t make sense to her either. For example, when you say this to her, “Honey, shortness of breath doesn’t mean your heart is going to stop. You’re fine, just calm down.” This is what she actually hears:
“Honey, kwa sababu tu wewe ni mfupi wa kupumua, haina maana moyo wako ni kwenda kuacha. Tu utulivu chini, wewe ni faini”
(Unless she speaks Swahili, of course.)
The point is, you can’t reason with her and expect she will feel better.
2. Ignoring her makes it worse
Maybe you think you’re feeding into the anxiety if you comfort her when she’s panicking. Shutting her out just makes her feel more fearful and isolated. If I walked away from my daughter and left her on the toilet alone, she would instantly FREAK OUT. Just my quiet presence helps her. Now that you know you don’t have to convince her of anything, you can just sit by her and show support by staying by her side. Realistically, you’ll have to eventually leave her physical proximity, but you can send a text or call her to check in so she knows you are with her while away. Knowing you’re thinking of her is comforting.
3. Getting angry is counterproductive
I know you might feel like yelling. I know you get tired dealing with the anxiety. But she’s tired of it too. It’s an awful way to live. She wants to feel normal and enjoy life with you. If you get mad at her, her anxiety might morph into depression. Use your energy in positive ways. If she won’t go get help with the anxiety, go talk to a counselor so that you have a plan of action.
Our culture sets us up for tremendous anxiety, but let’s make our marriages into havens. A safe place to recover from all the world throws at us.
Set a peaceful tone in your home and marriage by practicing empathy and kindness towards each other. It will spill over your relationship into the lives of your children and those who interact with you in your home. Anxiety is horrible, but take it down a notch and don’t get angry over it. Squelch it with compassion. Speak truth, but envelop it with love.
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