By Sarena-Rae Santos, Natural Health Blogger
Anxiety strikes us all in different ways. Some worry. Some overthink. Some organize. Some turn to destructive behavior. No matter how anxiety hits, finding support and healthy coping skills goes a long way and creates peace of mind for everyone involved.
As a child, I struggled with anxiety, even as an adult; as a result, I bit my nails to nubs. Unfortunately, my anxiety stemmed from family/parental trauma. Much of my anxiety dissipated as I grew older and placed vital boundaries with those individuals: I even stopped biting my nails.
Still, anxiety is inevitable. I use my ability to organize and detail my needs to avoid anxiety, but my husband has had a more difficult time. As someone who doesn’t struggle terribly with anxiety today, minus some social anxiety, it was hard to understand my husband’s sometimes crippling anxiety. One thing I do understand is not wanting to harm someone I love, and that’s what I have and will continue working towards.
When my husband and I first got together in 2015, he wasn’t open about his anxiety, but when we moved in together, his anxiety started to show. It wasn’t horrible, but honestly, in the beginning, he drank (a lot) to escape his anxiety. When he got sober, his anxiety was full-blown, and at first, it was a battle, but it has since gotten better.
I’d like to start by saying I have the consent of my husband to tell our story; he has read this, supports this public post, and understands this is in no way an attack on his mental health. We hope our story can help others better cope with an unavoidable emotion – anxiety.
When supporting a loved one with anxiety, it’s important to differentiate between someone having a bad day and just being mean. It’s also crucial to allow normal healthy emotions, including expressing frustration in nonabusive ways, from both sides. Try to understand there are different ways to calm yourself down, and coping skills may look different than your loved ones’ ways, and that is okay.
#1 Differentiating Between a Bad Day & Being Mean
We all have bad days, but having a bad day isn’t grounds for being mean to others, especially to a loved one. When my husband is having a bad day, he is usually quieter. He prefers to stay to himself, and eventually, he comes to.
Sometimes, during his stay-to-himself moments, he would become frustrated with other small things, like dropping something on the floor or other minor inconveniences. This would lead to him becoming further frustrated with his bad day, huffing at things and yelling at inanimate objects.
If I ask him what’s wrong, he usually doesn’t like expressing his feelings at the moment and usually states he’s fine. I used to push him because I always knew when something wasn’t right, but that would just frustrate him, sometimes leading to the pettiest arguments. I never understood why until I realized he was not me. My husband isn’t the expressive, voice-your-feelings type of person that I am, and that’s okay.
As someone with social anxiety and a need to please those I love, I often took it personally. After countless petty arguments over his lack of expressing emotions, I soon learned that there is a difference between my husband having a generally bad day and me (or us) being the problem. Eventually, I learned to give him time, and eventually, we started discussing how to express emotions in a healthier way.
#2 Expressing Emotions in a Healthy Way
Healthily expressing emotions is still something I am trying to help my husband with. Unfortunately, in today’s society, men have been taught to hide emotions and never cry. Although my husband is quite emotional, he struggles to find the correct words to express his feelings. He often stumbles his words or uses the wrong word, which comes off in ways it’s not meant to.
Since my husband’s brain isn’t like mine, it’s always hard for me to remember that he means no harm. So sometimes, when he’s trying to say something in an attempt to express his frustration, his thoughts aren’t as organized as mine, and the wrong word(s) come out. Many times, I have just taken offense instead of allowing him to correct what he was trying to say (it’s something I am actively working on). Additionally, I am trying to work with my husband to remind him that he doesn’t have to respond to things immediately.
Part of my husband’s anxiety stems from thinking everything needs to be done now, and it does not. He also doesn’t have to be the only person to do it. My husband and I got together when I was physically disabled (read part of my story here), and as years passed and we got married, I eventually depended on a wheelchair (I do not anymore). He had become so accustomed to being the sole provider, working two jobs, cooking, cleaning, walking the dog, and everything else, that today, he still struggles to remember there are two of us completely capable of sharing tasks. He is stuck in fight or flight mode.
When I sit down and discuss things with him; I always start by saying, “This is not an attack on you,” before expressing concern, frustration, or difficult emotions. Couples must remember that marriage is not always rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes we disagree, but that does not mean it is an argument or fight. Two people can have different opinions and still deeply respect and love one another (this goes for any type of relationship).
Remember to talk to the other person not how you wish to be talked to but how they best respond. I prefer to be told exactly how someone feels; I do not take it as an attack on me and understand that I am a work in progress. Contrarily, some people, like my husband, struggle to hear constructive criticism and take it as a personal attack.
These thoughts, concerns, and feelings should be expressed without vulgarity or slandering the other person. Since I value his feelings, I ensure I talk to him how he best responds, ensuring his emotions are understood and accounted for. Many live by the motto “happy wife, happy life,” but I always say “happy spouse, happy house” because we both matter equally.
#3 Different Ways to Calm Down
Remember how I said we don’t have to respond immediately? Well, sometimes we do, and sometimes we get frustrated quickly. I grew up in an unpleasant environment with a lot of parental trauma to heal. Every day I strive to ensure I am not doing what I watched my mother do, which included physical and emotional abuse. To keep those traumas at bay, I often walk away from situations until I cool down, which initially was hard for my husband.
Although my husband is not a fan of talking when upset, he often feels obligated to fix problems immediately when I am upset. At times, when I’ve needed to calm down and walk away from a discussion, he would follow me, trying to fix the problem immediately. One day, after one of our petty arguments, I asked him about this. Come to find out, my storming off made him think I was walking away from us (it was a part of his anxiety and fear of not knowing the future).
I used that day as a learning curve to express why I did that. I expressed part of my childhood trauma and how cruel my mother was to my father. I expressed how my father experienced domestic and emotional abuse; my biggest fear was becoming like my mother. I walk away to ensure those traumas I am still healing from do not come out. I expressed how hard it is to unlearn my entire childhood.
That day, he learned something he never knew. I was working on a silent battle he didn’t know I had fought. Moving forward, he respected my walking away. He understood he was not the problem, but my past was. He no longer took it as me walking away from us but as me preserving us.
To this day, I will go to the bedroom to cool off, and after about 20-30 minutes, my husband will “go to the bathroom” to peek at me and see where I am. Usually, from what I am doing or my physical stance, he can tell if it’s safe to approach me without further triggering me. If he’s not sure, he asks, and I will honestly respond.
Contrarily, my husband isn’t a storm-off kind of guy. He’s more of a sit on the couch, in my presence, and we just do our own things. So he may be on his phone watching videos to get his mind off stuff while I am reading or scrolling my newsfeed. What works for me does not work for him, and vice versa. We both understand this and work on it daily. This method is how we have set boundaries, which are acceptable to do, even in marriage, and why we never go to sleep mad at each other.
#4 Different Coping Skills
Although walking away from a difficult situation isn’t a coping skill, I use that time to give my husband and me time to utilize our coping mechanisms. For me, that looks like reading, writing, listening to music, or simply cooling down as I write down and gather my thoughts on how to better express how I felt in the initial moment. For my husband, that looks like watching videos and sitting in silence.
In the past (and even once in a while today), I have taken those moments as him not caring enough about us to discuss big feelings, but that simply isn’t true. My husband is a very dedicated man who strongly loves me (and I, him). He is just not used to expressing what is on his mind. Again, I am very expressive and like to please others, and that silence can be difficult, but I know that’s what my husband needs. I try to use that time to organize my thoughts better when he is ready to talk.
Like me, my husband has previous trauma. He had previous relationships where they were not as understanding and compassionate as I am. Sometimes, those hardships from his past surface, and fear and anxiety strike. In my opinion, as his wife, it is my job to understand those feelings and emotions as much as it is his responsibility to discuss them and bring them to my attention, as long as it remains respectful.
#5 Showing Your Support
Showing support looks different for everyone because everyone needs different support. A few years back, after some discussion, my husband felt inclined to try anti-anxiety medication. Although I wasn’t a fan of the idea, as I was already on my natural health journey, I supported his decision.
The side effects were far worse than his anxiety, and he expressed not feeling like himself, more like a zombie, and stopped taking them. I was grateful, but he was bummed and felt defeated. I used that as an opportunity to show my support and suggest a natural alternative.
My husband was open to the idea, and I am so grateful. Today he uses Anxiety Relief daily. He keeps one at home and one at work for higher-stress days. He has found it helps him cope better with everyday stressors, and it’s one tincture he never goes without. He also understands herbal/body support is just one piece of the puzzle and is getting ready to focus on whole, functional foods to help manage his overall mental health.