mental health

4 Ways to Cope If Other People’s Anxiety Makes You Unhappy

4 Ways to Cope If Other People's Anxiety Makes You Unhappy
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If you suffer from anxiety, there are many resources you can turn to, ranging from high-quality mental health advice to therapeutic interventions. There are also many tips for those who want to support loved ones with anxiety disorders.

But what about finding help for the flip side of anxiety — what if other people’s anxiety is making you unhappy? In that case, I’m sorry to point it out, there’s not much for you.

I had never considered this gap in the wellness landscape until a reader pointed it out to me. I had written an article for the Washington Post about work on anxiety, with a particular focus on perfectionism. The reader asked why I hadn’t considered the experiences of people who have to live with these anxious, perfectionist types: their constant questioning, their demands that things be done a certain way, and their apparent “superiority complex”. “.

It got me thinking: what do we understand about anxiety in relationships?

Much of what we know can be described in terms of the metaphor of contagion: if a person is anxious, the anxiety can spread to those nearby, ‘infecting’ them with apprehension and worry. . But this goes through several channels.

In parent-child relationships, this can happen through modeling – where children learn from what parents do rather than what they say. For example, anxious parents model anxiety on the first day of school when they firmly squeeze their child’s hand and walk him to the classroom doors, rather than placing an easy arm over the their child’s shoulder and drop him off at the school bus stop. .

Anxious parents also reinforce their children’s anxiety by over-accommodating or persistently removing sources of worry and emotional discomfort from their children’s lives in the moment, which inadvertently prevents them from learn coping strategies to reduce long-term anxiety.

Similar patterns emerge in adult romantic relationships that become dependent: one partner takes over decision-making for the other partner, who constantly expresses insecurity and incompetence while seeking reassurance and approval.

But the reader spoke of none of this. I believe she was talking about how the personal coping strategies of people with high anxiety can cause unhappiness to everyone who comes into contact with them. When a person struggles with anxiety, they almost always fall into the trap of doing one thing too intensely and too often: avoiding anxiety and all situations that might cause it. Maintaining this status quo makes their lives – and the lives of those around them – much, much harder.

Here’s how to understand what describes your loved one and some steps you can take to improve it:

Compassion should be directed towards yourself and your relationship partner, accepting what each is capable of at any given time, but working to improve yourself.

You might feel anger and frustration towards the anxious person in your life. You might feel guilty. You may be wondering if you can maintain this relationship. Either way, the truth is that each of you’s attempts to deal with anxiety get in the way, and acknowledging this reality with compassion is the necessary first step.

Avoiding anxiety often takes two forms: depending on others or exercising control. Addicted people appear needy, often ask for reassurance, do not rely on their own judgment and prefer the passive back seat to the driver’s seat. You can try to help them contain their feelings of overwhelm, but unfortunately, nothing you can do will satisfy those addictive needs or make them feel better for long.

At the other end are controlling, perfectionist types who try to achieve a sense of stability and certainty by clinging to life with a vice grip. Maybe they need to guard the house a certain way, maybe it’s everyone’s schedule or a set of rules to follow – and it’s their way or the highway. They become truly distressed when the world inevitably doesn’t quite conform to their plans – and they blame the world for it.

Create consistent boundaries

Once you have determined whether your relationship is one of dependency or control, the next step is to create boundaries and be consistent.

It is natural to be anxious about your loved one’s anxiety. It feels good to help them banish those difficult feelings. But this will expose you to more problems in the long run, because over-considering all their worries and trying to shield them from those feelings prevents them from finding better ways to cope.

Setting boundaries is the best way to help them do this. Without limits, your relationship will get worse and your life will slowly but inexorably become more constraining and frustrating because your own needs will not be met.

Set limits when calling models; describe the problems caused by the behaviors; and propose compromises. To create effective boundaries, you must believe that you can care for others while meeting your needs.

Scaffolding instead of housing

Setting boundaries may seem harsh to some, but what you’re doing is injecting more support and flexibility into the relationship. It’s not always their way, and it’s not always yours. That’s why scaffolding — offering support and resources when your partner makes changes — is the best approach.

High levels of anxiety can make this difficult because the impulse is to do whatever it takes to banish it as soon as possible. You and your relationship partner may worry that this is spiraling out of control.

Anxiety, however, does not grow stronger when we feel it and go through it – We become stronger. We develop resilience to discomfort. We learn to sit with our difficult feelings and learn skills to deal with them more effectively. We develop emotional skills just like we do physical fitness – with practice and little by little.

There is no magic formula when it comes to dealing with other people’s anxiety because we cannot control what other people are doing or how they are feeling. But by creating the conditions in which you can act with compassion, identify patterns, set boundaries, and nurture rather than adapt, you have the best chance of improving your relationship and better living with the inevitable anxieties that we and our loved ones have to face.

Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, PhD, is a New York-based psychology and neuroscience professor and health-tech entrepreneur. She is the author of “The future: Why Anxiety Is Good For You (Even If It Feels Bad).

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