Supporting a Loved One With Social Anxiety Disorder

Dating Someone With Social Anxiety

Supporting a Loved One With Social Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety itself refers to intense, excessive, and persistent feelings of worry and fear about everyday situations. People with a social anxiety disorder may struggle with daily social interactions.

Symptoms of social anxiety include excessive fear of situations in which you may be judged, embarrassed, humiliated, or in which you may offend someone. many other mental illnesses, this condition can make it difficult for people to maintain relationships.

As a Pompano substance abuse treatment center that offers mental health support, we wanted to share some tips on dating someone with social anxiety to help you and your loved one have a healthy relationship.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Dating With Social Anxiety

Experiencing anxiety around people can feel limiting and debilitating. You may feel everyone is judging or as if you’re always uncomfortable in your own skin. Dating someone who feels this way around people can also be difficult, especially if you don’t have any experience with anxiety.

You may not have a clue about how they’re feeling or understand why they feel that way at all. Sometimes, in an attempt to make the other person feel better, we say things , “You’re overthinking,” or “Stop worrying,” which can seem dismissive and make the matter worse.

Below are a few tips on dating someone with anxiety that can guide you on how to be there for your partner.

Do Your Research

Understanding social anxiety allows you to be there for your partner. What are the symptoms of social anxiety? What triggers it? The more you learn about the condition itself, the more considerate you’ll be to the person’s reactions to social situations. Knowing the general cause of anxiety attacks also prepares you to help your partner when they feel overwhelmed.

Do Empathize

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, which means when your partner is experiencing anxiety in social situations, you should try to put yourself in their shoes.

Has there ever been a time in your life when you were terrified? That’s how they feel about social situations.

What helped you feel better that may help your partner? Keeping an open mind instead of becoming frustrated or impatient is a great way to be there for your loved one and help them feel better in situations that make them uncomfortable.

Don’t Forget Your Partner Knows Their Anxiety Best

While research is helpful, you can’t gather all of the information you need from outside sources. Many people make the mistake of using lines “I read online” or “the Internet says” to try and help their partners, but this can actually backfire.

There are different types of anxiety disorders, and within those diagnoses, each person’s experience is also unique. Your partner may have particular triggers that you’ll only learn over time and through observation. Another saying you should avoid is, “I know how you feel.

” Unless you have social anxiety, you don’t know how they feel. Even if you know someone else with this disorder, you still don’t know exactly how your partner feels. Saying so can come across as dismissive rather than supportive.

They know themselves best, so try to be understanding of things that trigger them that may otherwise seem random or inconsequential to you.

Do Learn Your Partner’s Triggers

The symptoms of social anxiety aren’t always obvious. For example, while your loved one may not feel anxious before a major event, something as simple as inviting them out to eat with some friends can spark anxiety.

Your partner may follow up several times about the time, date, location, who will be there, and other questions you may not think are relevant, but they do. They might even get nervous at the last minute and cancel. As you learn what triggers them, you’ll be better prepared to help them in situations that make them uncomfortable.

When these uncomfortable moments present themselves, check in with them and encourage them. Remind them you’re there with them, or you’re just a phone call away if they need you.

Don’t Think Anxious Behavior Is Directed Towards You

In times of anxiety, your partner may seem distracted or as if they’re ignoring you, which may make you feel uneasy. You may wonder if they’re ignoring you or if they’re upset at you. Riding on this train of thought without taking a step back to analyze the situation can cause problems.

Instead, think about the situation and why your partner would be acting that way. Maybe they received some distressing news at work, or perhaps they’re worried about an upcoming event. The best way to help a person with social anxiety is to be honest with them.

If you’re concerned and want to know if they’re okay, just ask them what’s on their mind, which prevents any overthinking or misunderstandings on your part.

Do Watch Your Language

There is a lot of stigma surrounding mental illnesses social anxiety, and much of it stems from language. Harsh language, in this case, refers to saying things that are dismissive of your partner’s condition and feelings.

Some examples of things you shouldn’t say to people with anxiety include, “calm down,” “it’s not a big deal,” “why are you so anxious?” and “stop worrying.” Even if you have the best intentions, these statements can come across as dismissive.

Instead, when you don’t understand how they feel, ask them to explain if they can, and ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them.

Don’t Sacrifice Your Needs

It’s common for people who are dealing with someone who has a mental illness anxiety to sacrifice their needs and desires to help them. But doing this can create unhealthy, codependent behavior.

For example, canceling plans to soothe your partner’s stress is one thing, but it’s another to stop going to your daily workout classes because you’re worried they’ll need you.

A healthy relationship requires balance, and it’s important to keep yourself balanced to be there for your partner. Codependence often begets controlling behavior that can enable the person’s anxiety.

Do Practice Ways to Stay Calm

It’s easy to react and become stressed out when you’re dating someone with anxiety. You may feel overwhelmed when your partner becomes anxious, and this nervous energy may just bounce back between the two of you and cause problems in your relationship.

It’s important to take care of yourself as well and keep your stress in check.

Some great stress management tips include exercising daily (yoga is especially helpful) or taking walks daily, watch your favorite movie or journal, and you can even practice these things together with your partner.

Do Remember That Your Partner Is Not Their Anxiety

At the end of the day, the person you love is still there. But sometimes, they’re just buried under their anxiety and don’t know how to get out. It’s easy to forget the loving person underneath this condition.

But it’s important to remember that they are not their anxiety. Their anxiety is just an intense reaction that can overwhelm them or their partner and affect their behavior. They don’t do it on purpose, and it doesn’t mean they love you any less.

Try to practice patience and compassion with your partner.

Do Get Them Help if They’re Struggling

Many people with mental disorders make the mistake of not getting treatment. The misconceptions about mental illness often cause enough embarrassment and even shame to prevent people from seeking out support. If you see that your loved one is struggling, get them help.

An untreated mental illness may only worsen over time, making it difficult for the person to maintain their health, job, and relationships. Encourage them to seek out care our mental health treatment in Florida.

With professional help, your partner can learn valuable coping skills for anxiety.

Mental illness is often linked to substance abuse, and both categories can negatively impact a person’s health, family, and career. If you’re battling addiction or mental illness, Banyan Pompano can help. Call us now at 888-280-4763 to learn more about our mental health and drug treatment in Pompano Beach.


Spouse or Partner

Supporting a Loved One With Social Anxiety Disorder

Almost all couples have their share of challenges. However, when half of a couple has an anxiety disorder, both partners face a new set of challenges, and other challenges may be exacerbated.

An ADAA study found that generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, sufferers were significantly less ly to consider themselves in a “healthy and supportive” relationship with their partner or spouse than people without GAD; two times more ly to experience at least one relationship problem (i.e., getting into arguments on a regular basis, avoiding participation in social activities); and three times more ly to avoid being intimate with their partner. Although the study looked specifically at GAD, many of these findings would ly be true for other anxiety disorders, too.


Having an anxiety disorder is usually associated with a great deal of personal distress, but it can be equally difficult for significant others. Partners of those suffering with anxiety problems often take on more than the normal share of domestic, economic, parenting, and other responsibilities such as the following:

  • Family activities — Household routines are often disrupted, and special plans or allowances are often made for the anxiety sufferer. A partner often must take on family responsibilities such as bills, shopping, and driving children to activities. Partners may feel overwhelmed and burned out.
  • Finances and employment — For some, anxiety disorder symptoms make it difficult to get or keep a job, which can have serious financial repercussions. The spouse or partner may become the sole breadwinner at times — often a stressful role and one the partner may not wish to have.
  • Social life — People with anxiety disorders often avoid routine social activities. Unfortunately, the partner’s social life can suffer as well, making both feel isolated.
  • Emotional well-being — Spouses and partners may feel sad, depressed, or scared (for themselves or for their spouse), or angry, resentful, and bitter toward their loved one. They may also feel guilty for feeling this way.

These challenges can be daunting. It is important to note that with treatment, people with anxiety disorders can go on to lead productive lives that include successful careers, thriving social lives, and busy schedules. Appropriate treatment can often help alleviate many issues that contribute to the stress of the significant other.

Supporting Your Partner

You can facilitate improvement and recovery by providing support and encouragement. Here are some tips that might help:

  • Learn about the anxiety disorder.
  • Encourage treatment.
  • Show positive reinforcement of healthy behavior, rather than criticizing irrational fear, avoidance, or rituals.
  • Measure progress on the basis of individual improvement, not against some absolute standard.
  • Help set specific goals that are realistic and can be approached one step at a time.
  • Don’t assume you know what your partner needs. Ask how you can help. Listen carefully to the response.
  • Acknowledge that you don’t understand the experience of a panic attack or other form of irrational anxiety.
  • Understand that knowing when to be patient and when to push can be challenging. Achieving a proper balance often requires trial and error.

Recovery requires hard work on the part of the person with an anxiety disorder and patience on the part of the partner and family. It may seem a slow process, but the rewards are well worth it.

Your Role in Treatment

Although ultimate responsibility lies with the patient, you can play an active role in the treatment of your partner’s anxiety disorder.

Mental health professionals are increasingly recommending couple- and family-based treatment programs. In one approach, a mental health professional enlists the partner as a co-therapist.

With training, the partner can assist the patient with homework assigned by the therapist.

This might involve accompanying the patient into anxiety-producing situations and providing encouragement to stay in the situation by using anxiety-reduction techniques.

This might also include helping a partner adhere to a behavior contract developed with the therapist to control anxiety responses in situations when the therapist is not present.

For someone with OCD, a behavior contact might limit how often the patient may indulge in a ritual.

The partner helps discourage the patient from repeatedly performing the ritual and positively reinforces ritual-free periods of time.

Find a therapist in your area who treats anxiety disorders.

Helping Yourself

It is extremely important (and not selfish) for partners of those with an anxiety disorder to take care of themselves. These tips will help you cope:

  • Don’t give up your own life and interests. Engage in your outside interests and hobbies for a break from the stresses of your daily life. You’ll be energized, happier, healthier, and better prepared to face challenges. Don’t become consumed with your partner’s disorder. 
  • Maintain a support system. Having friends and family to confide in — as well as assist you emotionally, financially, and in other ways when your spouse or partner cannot — is vital.
  • Set boundaries. Decide where your limits lie and inform your partner. These might be emotional, financial, or physical. For instance, if your partner is not working and is not seeking treatment, participating in support groups, or doing anything to try to become well, you may need to discuss your expectations and how to improve the situation. Couples therapy can often help.
  • Seek professional help for yourself, if necessary. The recovery process can be stressful for partners of anxiety sufferers. Your well-being is just as important as your partner’s. If you need someone to talk to, or if you think you may be suffering from symptoms of anxiety or depression, contact your doctor or consider visiting a mental health professional.


Seven Ways to Help Someone with Anxiety

Supporting a Loved One With Social Anxiety Disorder

When I first moved into my (now) spouse’s house in 2001, she didn’t want to include my name in our answering machine greeting.

Because of our big age gap and same-sex relationship, she was justifiably anxious about how her parents would react to my having moved in; so she kept it from them for several months.

Though I felt a great deal of compassion for her and her situation, I was also frustrated that her anxiety was affecting me—and I didn’t acting as though we had something to be ashamed of.

Scenarios this are common when someone in your life is struggling with anxiety. Your loved one may feel so fearful that they avoid taking action, or act in ways that are inconsiderate or that increase your own anxiety.

This might look a boyfriend constantly putting off important tasks or discussions, a friend complaining about being lonely but refusing to date, or a boss always focusing on what could go wrong, making everyone miserable.

It’s difficult to witness anxiety in someone you know, and it’s even harder when their anxiety triggers yours.

But what can you do to help anxious people?

First you need to understand that anxiety is a human feature, not a flaw.

Most of us get anxious from time to time, because it’s a generally useful emotion that helps us to see potential threats, makes us concerned with social rejection, and keeps us on alert to being deceived.

While being anxiety-prone might seem a fault, it’s actually helpful to have some people in a population who are more cautious and who frequently think about what could go wrong.

However, sometimes people get into patterns of coping with anxiety that cause it to snowball.

They overthink (ruminating about the past or worrying about the future), avoid whatever triggers their anxiety, and use compensatory strategies— being extremely perfectionist to avoid feeling an imposter at work—that decrease their anxiety temporarily but increase it over the long-term. These coping strategies can also push people away—people you.

While it’s upsetting and frustrating to see these folks suffer, there are things you can do to help. Here are some of the strategies I recommend my book, The Anxiety Toolkit.

1. Understand differences in how anxiety manifests

Because of evolution, we’re wired to respond to fear by either fight, flight, or freeze. For different people, one of these responses will typically dominate.

For instance, my spouse tends to freeze and will bury her head in the sand rather than deal with things that make her feel stressed and panicky.

I tend more toward fighting, and will become irritable, excessively perfectionistic, or dogmatic if I feel stressed. 

When you understand that anxiety is designed to put us into a mode of threat sensitivity, it’s easier to understand someone who is feeling scared (or stressed) and acting out by being irritable or defensive, and to find compassion for them. By paying attention to how anxiety manifests in the person you care about, you can learn their patterns and be in a better position to help.

2. Match your support to their preferences and attachment style

It’s best to ask someone what type of support they prefer rather than guess! However, we know from research that people who have an avoidant attachment style (typically those who’ve experienced rejecting caregiving or relationships in the past) are ly to respond best to strong displays of concrete practical support. That could include helping the anxious person break tasks down into manageable steps, or talking through specific options for how to deal with a difficult situation, how to respond to an angry email, but still acknowledging their autonomy and independence while doing so.

Other people are more ly to prefer emotional support, especially those who are securely attached, or who have a “preoccupied” attachment style due to a fear of being abandoned or of their emotions being overwhelming to others. Folks this respond well to statements emphasizing that they’re part of a tight team—for example, their supporter saying, “This is tough but we love each other and we’ll get through it together.”

Of course these are generalizations, and you need to tailor your support by observing what works in your particular situation. But when you have a very close relationship with someone, you can offer support intimately understanding your loved one’s anxiety patterns. 

3. Find ways to make use of any insight they have into their anxiety

If your loved one has insight into their anxiety, you can help them spot when their anxiety-driven patterns are occurring.

I find it helpful when my spouse notices that I’m expressing my anxiety about work by being irritable with her or by being too fussy.

Because we know each other’s patterns so well and have a trusting relationship, we can point out each other’s habits. Not that this is always met with grace, but the message sinks in anyway.

If you’re going to do this, it’s a good idea to have their permission first. Keep in mind that people who have insight into their anxiety often still feel compelled to “give in” to their anxious thoughts.

For instance, a person with health anxiety might logically know that going to the doctor every week for multiple tests is unnecessary, but they can’t help themselves.

If your loved one lacks insight into their anxiety or has trouble managing compulsions, it’s probably best to encourage them to see a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of anxiety.

4. Help someone who is anxious to temper their thinking

You’ll be a more useful support person if you educate yourself about cognitive-behavioral models of anxiety, which you can do by reading or attending a therapy session with your loved one. But, in lieu of that, you might try using some techniques that can be helpful to people suffering from anxiety.

Typically, anxious people have a natural bias towards thinking about worst-case scenarios. To help them get some perspective on this, you can use a cognitive therapy technique where you ask them to consider three questions:

  • What’s the worst that could happen?
  • What’s the best that could happen?
  • What’s most realistic or ly?

So, if your loved one is anxious that they were supposed to hear from their parents hours ago but haven’t, you can suggest they consider the worst, best, and most ly explanations for the lack of contact.

Take care not to overly reassure your loved one that their fears won’t come to pass. It’s more useful to emphasize their coping ability.

For example, if they’re worried about having a panic attack on a plane, you could say, “That would be extremely unpleasant and scary, but you’d deal with it.

” And, if your loved one is feeling anxious that someone else is angry with them or disappointed in them, it’s often useful to remind them that you can only ever choose your own actions and not completely control other people’s responses. 

5. Offer support, but don’t take over

Avoidance is a core feature of anxiety, so sometimes we may feel pulled to “help out” by doing things for our avoidant loved ones and inadvertently feed their avoidance. For instance, if your anxious roommate finds making phone calls incredibly stressful and you end up doing this for them, they never push through their avoidance.

A good general principle to keep in mind is that support means helping someone to help themselves, not doing things for them, which includes virtually anything that stops short of actually doing it yourself.

For example, you might offer to attend a first therapy session with your loved one if they set up the appointment.

Or, if they’re not sure how to choose a therapist, you might brainstorm ways of doing that, but let them choose.

An exception might be when someone’s anxiety is accompanied by severe depression. If they can’t get themselves bed, they may be so shut down that they temporarily need people to do whatever is needed to help them stay alive.

Also, sometimes loved ones are so gripped by an anxiety disorder that they’re in pure survival mode and need more hands-on help to get things done.

In less extreme circumstances, however, it’s best to offer support without taking over or overdoing the reassurance.

6. If someone has a more serious anxiety problem, avoid stigmatizing them

What can we do for folks with more serious issues? People experiencing things panic disorder, depression mixed with anxiety, post-traumatic stress, or obsessional thinking (including thoughts related to eating disorders) may fear that they’re literally going crazy. Helping them may feel beyond your ability.

You can still be supportive in many ways. When someone is experiencing significant anxiety, it’s helpful to reassure them that your overall perception of them hasn’t changed.

They’re still the same person; they’re just suffering a temporary problem situation that has become control. They’re not broken and who they are hasn’t changed.

To the extent possible, you can help the person stay connected to positive aspects of their identity by participating in or encouraging their interests and hobbies.

Sometimes, individuals who have chronic anxiety problems aren’t interested in changing. For example, you might be friends with someone who has agoraphobia or an eating disorder, but their condition is long-term and stable.

In these cases, you can be accepting of that person so that they don’t feel isolated.

Being matter-of-fact about their limitations without excessively shaming them or insisting they should pursue becoming “normal” is often the best strategy.

7. Take care of yourself, too

Recognize that your goal is to help, not to cure the person or relieve them from their anxiety. Taking too much responsibility is actually a symptom of anxiety, so make sure you’re not falling into that trap yourself.

Keep in mind that your support doesn’t need to be directly focused on anxiety.

For example, exercise is extremely helpful for anxiety; so perhaps you could simply offer to go for a walk or attend a yoga class together. It’s also fine to put some limits on your support.

A 20-minute de-stressing conversation while taking a walk is far more ly to be useful (and less exhausting) than a two-hour marathon discussion.

Helping someone with anxiety isn’t always easy and you may feel you’re getting it wrong. But, if you remind yourself that you and your loved one are both doing your best, it can help you keep things in perspective.

It’s important to remain compassionate and, as the saying goes, to put on your own oxygen mask first.

That way, you’ll have a clearer head for figuring out what’s going on with your anxious loved one and how you can truly be of help.


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