Veronica was looking forward to coming home, having a glass of wine, and watching the latest episode of her current binge. Work was particularly difficult today with two key employees on vacation, an extra crisis project, and a demanding client. She called home to let her husband and kids know that all she wanted to do was unwind and watch something mindless.
But as soon as she got in the front door, she could feel the tension in the air. Her husband had gotten home 20 minutes before and already, the kids were wound up, he was upset, and dinner was burned. His nervous energy generated unnecessary tension in the kids and even their dog. Instead of laughing off the burned meal, he blamed the kids for distracting him. This caused the kids to steer clear of their dad which made things that much worse.
It is normal to feel anxious. But her husband’s anxiety was constant. The slightest unexpected variance in a routine generated a survival-like response as if life and death depended on making the right choice. This anxious tension drove Veronica nuts. When they first met, she thought that her calm demeanor would mitigate his anxiousness, but it didn’t. Rather, his anxiety generated anxiety in her and now was sparking feelings of resentment.
Being anxious is one thing but living with a person who has it can be equally frustrating. So how can these episodes be handled? Here are nine ways to manage an anxious person.
- Keep fears at a distance. Veronica encouraged her husband to express his fears, but she didn’t absorb them. Instead, she imagined that each fear was water beading up on the oily feathers of a duck’ back. The water just rolls off without ever penetrating the skin. By keeping his fears at a distance, Veronica was able to maintain her perspective.
- Don’t add to the worry. Veronica remembered that her husband’s fear doesn’t need to spread so she didn’t feed it. In the past, when Veronica would give the nervousness weight or validity, it grew to a size much larger than anticipated. She also didn’t minimize his fears, rather she acknowledged them without validating them.
- Express boundaries. When her husband was speaking, Veronica would sometimes insert a boundary. For example, “This is not the time for this discussion,” or “Can we talk about this later this evening?” These types of boundaries give a chance for reflection before things get out of control.
- Step away. When the downward spiral of her husband’s anxious thinking takes over and becomes obsessive, Veronica would walk away. This frustrated her husband but that is his share of the responsibility. Stepping away was self-care for Veronica. She did communicate to his that she would walk away anytime his anxiousness became obsessive before she did it the first time.
- Don’t replay. No matter how hard Veronica tried to get distance from the projected anxiety, a bit still seemed to creep into her thinking. So, she established a rule for herself. She would allow for a few minutes of reflection but then come to a decision quickly and then stop replaying the conversation. No more than two times would a conversation be replayed.
- Use logic. Veronica applied logic to her husband’s anxiety instead of dismissing it. Was it well-founded? Does any of it have merit? If so, she would keep the parts that do and discard the rest. Usually, there is an ounce of truth in each anxious attack so acknowledging that and placing the rest aside will keep resentment at bay.
- Find calm. After an anxious engagement, Veronica would find some calm. One of her favorites was going outside and breathing in a natural environment. There is something about nature that helps to put things into perspective and reset heightened senses.
- Don’t reengage. One observation that Veronica made about her husband was that usually after the worry is expressed, her husband would feel better while she would feel worse. Veronica discovered that there is no need to rehash the moment if her husband was done. Instead, she let it be for fear that things might get more intense on the second go around.
- Understand anxiety. Some anxiety is a manifestation of a mental disorder, a learned behavior from a parent, a triggered trauma memory, an allergic reaction to food, an undiagnosed medical condition, an addiction, or unresolved depression/anger/guilt. The initial reasons for the restlessness may not be apparent and do require some expert opinion to properly diagnosis. Veronica encouraged her husband to seek treatment. Some anxiety can be easily resolved.
By following these suggestions, Veronica found hope for living with her anxious husband and managed to reduce the resentment that was already building. Properly addressing the issue takes some time but is worth the effort in the end.