A Mental Health Expert Explains How to Support Someone With Anxiety


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My boyfriend warned me not to fall in love with him because of his anxiety. "I get in these moods," he told me almost seven years ago, as we sat by a pool in Palm Springs, our first real trip together as a couple. "I'm on an upswing right now," he said. "But it's not always like this." He topped off my glass of champagne and smiled, a melancholy look in his eyes.

I've never suffered from anxiety, so I didn't quite understand what he meant back then. I also loved him, so I didn't listen to his warning. I'd become better acquainted with his anxiety in the years that followed. I didn't always handle it well. In fact, I've made all the classic mistakes. Half a decade would go by before I even felt like I recognized what his personal breed of anxiety looked like, and how it informed his behavior. My mental image of the condition involved visible panic attacks and other external displays of agitation; but as I'd learn, not everyone's anxiety looks the same.

"People who struggle with anxiety may show it in different ways," says Helen Odessky, PsyD, psychologist and author of Stop Anxiety From Stopping You. "Sometimes it is subtle because the person is embarrassed and may try to hide it." Anxiety can manifest itself in behavior as understated as your partner "asking you to drive, for example, when they have not previously had an issue with it, or only going to social events if you will accompany them," Odessky says. My boyfriend, a marathoner, stopped running and started spending more time in the second bedroom of our apartment alone. Sometimes it's more overt than this, of course. But sometimes it isn't.

You can't control another person's anxiety, no matter how badly you want to. But there are ways you can modify your behavior in order to be a good ally. I'm still learning how to be the best partner to my dude, so the following tips from mental health experts are helpful reminders for me, too. If you have a significant other, friend, or family member with anxiety, keep scrolling to learn psychologists' tips for what to do (and what not to do) to support them.