Anyone can have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). A genetic predisposition and/or going through an emotional, physical or psychological trauma can both contribute to developing the disorder.
GAD can be difficult to live with for both the spouse who has it and the one who doesn’t. Sometimes even simple things like going out for dinner or watching a movie at home can seem like a difficult task.
However, there are many strategies those struggling with chronic anxiety can use to foster healthy relationships.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America finds that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. GAD affects 6.8 million adults in the U.S. and is twice as likely to affect women — though men and children also have GAD. Symptoms include:
Inability to relax
Constantly feeling on edge
Wrongly perceiving situations as threatening
Frequently thinking about the worst possible outcome of any situation
Irritable bowel syndrome, nausea or diarrhea
Excessive worry about family dying, natural disasters, punctuality or performance at work or school
Anxiety that frequently spills over into an overreaction
Anxiety is a natural human reaction to stressful or worrisome situations, but GAD is a form of anxiety that is similar to a panic disorder. It can be incredibly challenging to live with GAD, especially when you are trying to maintain healthy relationships with friends, your spouse and other loved ones. Based on my experience, here’s some advice I would offer.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
The good news is that anxiety is a highly treatable disorder, yet a mere 36.9 percent of people who struggle with it receive treatment.
Those dealing with GAD should not be afraid to ask for help either from their spouse or their doctor. Doctors will be able to prescribe medical treatments for anxiety that can help those experiencing it get their life back on track.
2. Plan short-term couples’ activities.
Studies show that being in love can reduce anxieties of daily life. Therefore, maintaining healthy relationships with loved ones, and especially a spouse, can be beneficial for reducing anxiety.
Married couples statistically experience less stress and greater happiness when spending quality time together.
This makes date night the perfect opportunity for couples to de-stress. Planning short-term activities such as dinner or going on a romantic walk with a partner can be soothing and distracting from the anxieties of the day.
Studies show that couples who have a regular date night one or more times a month have a boost in romantic love, communication and sexual satisfaction. These couples are also less likely to get divorced.
Physical touch is also important. Research has shown that the oxytocin hormone that is released in the body while hugging a spouse, cuddling together, kissing or being intimate has been shown to lower stress and increase trust.
3. Exercise to de-stress.
The Official Journal of the Association of Medicine and Psychiatry found that, “Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening,and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression.
Yes, exercising is good for maintaining both mental and physical health.
If an exerting exercise is not a desirable option, those dealing with stress can benefit from doing simple yoga.
Stretching, posing and holding have all been proven to relieve anxiety and depression.
4. Communicate with your spouse.
Communication is the key to happy and healthy relationships. Those struggling with GAD should be open with their spouse about how they are feeling and what they need.
The spouse who is not living with GAD must play their part as well. Communication is about talking, but it is also about learning to listen. Partners should listen without interruption and strive to have empathy and patience.
The spouse who’s supporting their partner with anxiety should strive to understand both GAD and their partner. Talking about the illness will help you understand how to comfort your partner and avoid behavior that may trigger an anxiety attack.
5. Set up regular tech-free time.
Those who are working on building healthy relationships do well to put their phones away when interacting with their partner. One Baylor University study found that of 308 adults, nearly 47 percent felt ignored by their partner in favor of a cell phone.
Not only does being glued to a cell phone result in lower relationship satisfaction, but studies show that those who spend too much time on social media tend to have worse mental health issues and an increase in depression. Constantly being alerted to new emails and social media posts can be extremely stressful for those with GAD.
Many find it beneficial to set regular “tech-free time” while at home. This consists of an hour or more where cell phones are on silent and televisions and laptops are turned off. This time contributes to lowered anxiety and a sense of peace and calm.
Anxiety is a real problem. It is not made up. Everyone has some level of anxiety in their lives and there is no shame or embarrassment in getting help for it. While there is no cure for anxiety, there are treatments available that can help people who experience it get their lives back on track.