Making the Anxious Braver: A guide for those loving someone with anxiety or depression

By Kiana Minkie

As someone who’s experienced both anxiety and depression in my life, I’ve learned to navigate around bad days. When I’m not feeling well, I practice the skills I’ve learned to manage my anxiety. However, I’ve noticed that I seem to lose the ability to look after myself if I’m alone. For me, being in a relationship (romantic or otherwise) has meant developing skills to manage my mental health. I'm held accountable for crossing other people’s boundaries, and the consequences of my bad day might be that my loved one feels drained. It’s a terrible feeling knowing that the people I love feel hopeless in helping me, mostly because I'm not able to say what I need in that moment.

So, with that in mind, I came up with a guide for the people I live with and love to know, with certainty, what helps and what doesn’t. This guide is designed to equip others with the skills to handle the volatile emotions of their suffering loved one.

For those loving people with anxiety or depression (or both):

  • Learn to tell the difference between what is simply a bad day and what is part of your loved ones illness. Sometimes it really is just a bad day but when it’s not, you’re not just dealing with a person, you’re dealing with whatever that person is also dealing with. If it feels bigger than you, it’s usually overwhelming for me too.

  • Acknowledge the impact it has on your life. Talking about how it affects you with friends, family, or a therapist can help.

  • Knowing when to be patient and when to push can be challenging.

  • Keep your own healthy life.

Things for carers to keep in mind could be:

  • You can help people without being responsible for them. You can solve a problem for someone once with zero obligation to do it again.

  • Setting boundaries for anxious or depressed people isn’t shutting them out. No one wants to feel like a burden. I don’t want to feel like my depression robs you of your life, never mind just mine;

  • Avoid personal evaluations. Usually, I’m able to evaluate my own inner experience. When I can’t, it means I’m not in the right state of mind to learn something new about myself from anyone else. It just comes across as criticism.

  • Reminding people that it’s ok to feel what they’re feeling is not confirming or denying their inner narrative. Telling me it’s ok to feel shitty helps. Acting like it’s my ultimate and permanent view of life is not helpful. Think of it as though I have the flu. You wouldn't tell me to harder not to be ill and sometimes I have just as much control over my mental state.  Tea, rest, easing up on demanding commitments, and recuperation are helpful in both cases.

Helpful questions include: Where are you feeling tension in your body? What are the simple things you still enjoy on days like today? Can you remember a time where you thought differently about yourself/where you proved that particular thought wrong?

Helpful suggestions include (in social situations too):

Do you want to sit somewhere quieter? Shall we order a tea and see if you still feel like [activity, undecided thing] after that? Sometimes the most helpful suggestion can be: Do you want me to call that new health professional or come with you for the first day?

Allowing more time for proper notice before social events or to answer questions, narrowing the decisions down without making one entirely for the other person, checking in if physical touch is wanted in moments of distress before reaching out is also definitely appreciated.

Here's what my experience is:

The more I react to the outside world, the more I’m probably experiencing a state of extreme inner tension. My fear is not dependent on external circumstances, rather my reaction to external circumstances indicates my level of inner tension. What I'm aching for is a state of relaxation.

I know that you can see things coming before I do, especially when I’m stressed. It’s tempting to preempt my mistakes to buffer my disappointment but everytime you think for me, I lose the opportunity to think for myself (therefore becoming more dependent on others to solve my problems for me). Waiting, and encouraging a more relaxed state of mind, until I feel able to make my own decision is better than micromanaging the world around my fears. On shaky days, giving me the benefit of the doubt that I got this, before assuming I’ll crumble, can inspire me to rise to the task.

Of course, I often have to remind myself to follow these strategies. Perhaps what I love most is how often I am reminded that I am more than my bad days and that forgiveness is no small gift in relationships. I’ve achieved great things with the unconditional faith (that I’m stronger than I think I am) from those around me, when I couldn’t conjure it within myself. All of us, at some point, are affected by mental health. Having some skills that empower us instead of leave us feeling hopeless, prepares us to support others and know how to keep ourselves well.

WWBL Author