“Why do you always make such a big deal out of evvvverything, Caitlin?”
That’s the exact question my boyfriend asked me a few years ago while we were getting ready to go his friend’s housewarming party.
And I remember feeling sooooo overwhelmed as I thought about how to answer him. Because, at the time, I struggled with a looooota anxiety – particularly social anxiety. And this party checked ALL the boxes of things that scared the shit out me, like…
…meeting lots of new people.
…knowing that my boyfriend – the extrovert he was – would soon disappear into the crowd.
…knowing that I’d then be left to talk to allll his friends (who I was totally convinced were judging me and going to talk about how I was succcch an awkward loser as soon as I left).
I was already sooooo exhausted from a crazy week at work, the last thing I wanted to do was go prove how awesome of a girlfriend I was to allll my bf’s friends. But I felt like I HAD to. Because if I didn’t do a good job…they’d tell my boyfriend I’m lame, and he would lose interest in me.
Then I’d be alone. And it would be all my fault.
As I stood in our bathroom crying off alll the makeup I had just put on for this silly housewarming party…I told my boyfriend ALL of this. Every single worry and fear.
His response? “Where did you come up with all that, you crazy girl? It’s just a party. Calm down.”
If You’ve Heard This Anxiety “Advice”…You Aren’t Alone
But calming down was not an option…
And if you’re one of the 40 million Americans who struggle with anxiety, you know what I’m saying is true. Just like you know that those kind of comments can make it waaaay harder for you to actually calm down.
And yet…I’ve been given that kind of advice COUNTLESS times over the last decade – and I’m not the only one.
In fact, those kinds of comments almost ENDED the marriage of one of my recent clients. She’s a new mom named Angelica and ever since her daughter was born, she’s been worrying like crazy: Is she learning how to crawl soon enough? Am I talking to her enough? What if she doesn’t get into the elite pre-school we want? How would we handle that?
And evvvvery time Angelica brought up any one of these worries to her husband, he’d say: “Stop being so emotional – it’s not helping!” or “Stop freaking out. Just relax.”
After having her worries shut down over and over again, Angelica’s anxiety got even worse. And now she also felt ashamed to share these feelings with her husband…so she stopped. The sharing, that is. Instead, she’d go and hide in her walk-in closet every night…to cry and freak out. Alone.
What To Do If It Feels Like No One Is Helping You Cope with Anxiety
Here’s the thang: I KNOW that my boyfriend and Angelica’s husband weren’t trying to be jerks.
Just like I know your loved ones or partners aren’t trying to be mean or unsupportive when they see you struggling and say things like, “Stop worrying so much” or “You’re being too sensitive” or “You’re overreacting.”
They just see us hurting without any “logical” cause…so they try to snap us out it with the reminders that help them feel better when they’re stressed.
But honestly…these comments suck when it comes to slayin’ anxiety! Instead of calming us down, they make us feel ashamed of our feelings. Stupid for “freaking out” over something “so small.” And, ultimately, even mooooore anxious.
That’s why, for the good of everyone involved, NOW is the time for you to speak up about the kind of support you really need – especially since it’s right after Valentine’s Day.
You see, not long ago, I talked to Angelica about the exact same three techniques I’m sharing with you today…and after she taught them to her hubby, their marriage (and lives!) got a whooooole lot sweeter. In fact, Angelica and her hubby even came to realize something pretty mind-blowing:
Anxiety doesn’t need to make you feel alone or ashamed or unloveable. It can actually be an opening to even GREATER love, connection, intimacy and trust.
BUT anxiety can only take you there if you know what path to take. Which is where my very timely tips come in. 😉
So if you’re ready to tackle your anxiety AND take your relationship (whether it’s between you and your partner, your mama or your bestie) to the next level…here are three things you can ask loved ones to say and do that will actually help you cope with anxiety.
Request #1: Ask loved ones to validate your emotions, not your thoughts.
I get it. When loved ones see you getting suuuuper stressed about meeting the in-laws or giving a big presentation at work, it’s natural for them to wanna calm you down by saying things like, “Don’t worry!” or “It’s not a big deal!”
But here’s exactly why those comments make evvvvverything worse:
- Those reassurances make you think your feelings are “wrong”…even though that’s really how you feel. So you start thinking, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way. I hate that I’m feeling this way, and now my partner knows, and he/she doesn’t think I should be feeling this way, so I’m embarrassed…”
- You not only feel more anxious, but you also start feeling ashamed. Cue downward spiral!
So what SHOULD loved ones do instead?
Validate your emotion without validating your thought.
And by that, I mean reassure you that you’re NOT crazy for feeling suuuuper overwhelmed even if it’s not true that meeting your in-law’s is going to be a disaster or that you’re gonna tank your work presentation.
For example, you might ask loved ones to replace their go-to reassurance of, “It isn’t a big deal!” with something like, “I really understand that you’re feeling anxious, and I’m sorry you’re feeling this way. How can I help you feel a little less anxious?”
Notice that this reassurance doesn’t mention the “thought” that’s actually triggering your anxiety: the worry that you’re gonna be a horrible daughter-in-law or presenter.
Because here’s a suuuuper important point about anxiety-triggering thoughts: 99% of the time, they are commmmpletely false. They’re just a result of your brain re-living the past rather than being in the present! But the EMOTIONS created by that thought are 100% real.
And before your loved one can even start pointing out how kickass of a person you really are and how well things are actually probably gonna go…you need to feel safe and loved.
Unashamed. Accepted. And being reassured that, yes, your feeling is REAL does exactly that.
Request #2: Ask loved ones to give you love and support…NOT a “solution.”
Once your loved one has validated that you’re feeling a certain way and that’s OK…you should ask them to do two things.
First, ask them to STOP trying to provide logical solutions to your worries or be superman and save you from your suuuuper anxious thoughts. Those approaches will only make you feel even crappier by reminding you that you’re not strong enough to handle this situation on your own.
Then, ask them to offer extra compassion and love instead through comments and gestures like…
…“I love you” or “You’re wonderful and strong.”
…“We don’t have to push too hard.” or “We’re gonna get through this together.”
…Reminding you of all the times you’ve persevered through similar situations.
…Reminding you that you are NOT alone – and that lots of people struggle this way or go through this moment in life.
If you’re working with a parent or someone who cared for you as a child, remind them of the soothing words and tone they used to use back then – and tell them that during your anxiety attacks, that’s the exact kinda love you really need.
And if you’re working with a partner, like Angelica was, ask them to think of how they were calmed down as a child, or how they calm down a child of their own:
- What loving words are said?
- What tone is used?
- What kind of touches?
I have a feeling you can guess what I’m gonna say next. 😉 That’s right – ask your partner to use that same approach with you when your brain keeps playing Panic at the Disco on repeat.
Why’s this step sooooo important? Well, any kinda compassion floods your brain with oxytocin…which calms us down and relaxes us on a biochemical level. So suddenly, your worries and fears and crazy emotional shit storm don’t seem so intense. Held in love, they begin to mellow.
And once your anxious feelings have subsided a bit…you and your loved one can move onto step 3!
Request #3: Ask loved ones to help you critically think about your anxiety-triggering thoughts.
Now it’s time to dive deeper and address the REAL reason you’re feeling these emotions in the first place. In the case of meeting the in-law’s, your conversation could go somethin’ like this:
Partner: “So, why are you so nervous about with meeting my parents? What are you worried might go wrong?”
You: “They might not like me. They might think I’m ugly and not good enough for you. That might ruin our relationship. You might not like me anymore…”
One important note: while your partner is listening to you describe your worries, they shouldn’t try to tell you that your thoughts are wrong or illogical (because, intellectually, you already know that on some level!).
Instead, they should just say things like, “Mhmm,” “Can you tell me more about that?” or “What else are you thinking?”
Once you talk about your biggest fears…you can start working on them together.
What do I mean? Well, together, you can start to put those negative thoughts to the test by asking yourself things like:
- Where did this negative thought come from?
- When has something like this happened in the past? Has anything changed since then that might contribute to a better outcome this time?
- Is there any evidence that this negative thought is true or could actually happen?
- Is there evidence that the opposite outcome might happen?
- Even if shit does hit the fan…is there evidence that you have the skills to deal with it?
Doing this kind of deep thinking together is suuuuuper powerful because it helps your partner understand your thoughts right now AND understand more about your past (since these thoughts are shaped by your past experiences). Deeper understanding = deeper love…and who doesn’t want that?!?
PLUS, when you can break down thoughts and develop some new, more uplifting thoughts together, you’re both building a shared mentality…and that’s powerful relationship building juju.
But here’s the MOST important thing to remember about this step:
You CAN’T work with your thoughts until the emotion itself has subsided.
And this is the number-one major issue I see in relationships…because a lotta times, loved ones wanna jump right to saying how your fear isn’t true or won’t happen before they accept that you ARE feeling a certain way in the first place.
And that just makes toooons of amazing, kickass people feel like their partner just “doesn’t get” their anxiety and will never be able to help.
As Angelica could tell you, though, that doesn’t have to be your reality. And not only will having the support of a loved one make coping with anxiety a whoooole lot easier…learning how to work with your thoughts (alone and as a couple) is KEY to overcoming anxiety for good.
Because once you work with your thoughts long enough…you can prevent false thoughts from coming up and triggering those scary emotions in the first place. Kinda think of it like mastering Whack-a-Mole!
And that EPIC skill is one of the core teachings in Freedom From Anxiety, my four-month program that has helped HUNDREDS of people heal their anxiety naturally.
In it, I teach you how to work with your thoughts, turn your breath into a self-soothing secret weapon and use tons of other natural tools to heal your anxiety for good. I also give you all the knowledge and techniques you need to use anxiety to build even deeper, more meaningful relationships…instead of letting your anxiety push away the people you love. To learn more about my mind, body and soul approach to healing anxiety or to sign up for the course today, click here!
The Most Important Thing to Remember About Having a Loved One Help You Cope with Anxiety
The fact is, no one is perfect. That includes you and your loved ones. Hell, even after being together for over 5 years, my hubby and I still have moments where I get hyper flustered and moody…and he accidentally says something that only makes it worse.
BUT here’s the awesome thing about not being perfect: it means all of us have room to grow. For you, that may mean learning tools – like self-compassion and meditation – to help you kick anxiety’s ass for good. For your loved one or partner, that may mean learning how to see your anxiety as an opportunity to understand, connect with and support you even more. Just like you do for him or her in tons of other ways! After all: ain’t that what love is all about?
I know my partner always tells me how happy it makes him to be able to understand and love me so well…all because of the fears and worries we’ve talked through. And I can’t wait to hear how being able to really TALK about your anxiety with your loved ones changes your relationships for the better, too!
How will you get the loving support you need for your anxiety today? Tell me in the comments!