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At The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management, our psychologists have years of experience. Unlike many other providers, our clinicians truly specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety and related problems. Our mission is to apply only the most effective short-term psychological treatments supported by extensive scientific research. We are located in Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad, and Mission Valley.

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Read our award-winning blogs for useful information and tips about anxiety, stress, and related disorders.

 

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Mental Health Awareness Month: Fitness #4Mind4Body

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Every year, Mental Health America designates a particular theme for the month to highlight an important aspect of mental health. This year’s theme is Fitness #4Mind4Body, and it focuses on acknowledging the connection between mental and physical wellbeing. #4Mind4Body explores the role of nutrition, exercise, the gut-brain connection, sleep, and stress in our overall wellbeing and examines the ways each of these areas impact our functioning. Below is a summary of the topics covered in the Mental Health Toolkit from Mental Health America.

Diet and Nutrition

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Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is an integral part of health. Diets high in processed, fried, and sugary foods can increase the risk not only for developing physical health problems like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer, but are also linked to mental health problems, including increased risk for depression symptoms. A healthy diet consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, nuts, and olive oil. Maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet is linked with a lower risk for depression and even an improvement in depression symptoms.

Exercise

Regular exercise not only helps control weight, increase strength, and reduce the risk of health problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers, but it also helps boost endorphins and serotonin, among other important proteins and neurotransmitters that impact mental health. Endorphins serve to mitigate pain in the face of stress and increase pleasure in the body. Serotonin affects appetite, sleep, and mood, and is the target of SSRIs, a class of antidepressant commonly used to treat anxiety and depression. Just thirty minutes of exercise per day can help improve mood and mental health.

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The Gut-Brain Connection

The gut, also known as the “second brain,” communicates directly with the brain via the vagus nerve and via hormones and neurotransmitters. The communication goes both ways, so anxiety, stress, and depression can impact the gut and result in gastrointestinal symptoms, but changes in the gut microbiome can impact the brain and mood, exacerbating or even resulting in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Eating a nutritious diet that includes prebiotics and probiotics is an important part of maintaining a healthy gut and a healthy mind. 

Sleep

Quality of sleep impacts the immune system, metabolism, appetite, the ability to learn and make new memories, and mood. Good sleep for adults means getting between 7-9 hours of mostly uninterrupted sleep per night. Problems with getting good quality sleep can increase the risk of developing mental health symptoms, and symptoms of anxiety and depression can negatively impact sleep, creating a negative cycle. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) can help clients reestablish healthy sleep patterns through addressing negative thoughts and worries as well as behavioral patterns that are impacting sleep habits.

Stress

Stress is a normal part of life, and the body is equipped with a fight or flight response designed to help mobilize internal resources to manage stressors. After the stress has passed, the body can return to its regular equilibrium state. However, when stress becomes chronic, it can cause inflammation, impaired immune system functioning, muscle aches, gastrointestinal problems, sexual dysfunction, changes in appetite, and increased risk for heart disease. Too much stress can also impact mental health.

Mental health involves a complex interplay between numerous factors, including but certainly not limited to the areas listed above. Furthermore, though maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise routine, good sleep habits, and utilizing stress management techniques can help prevent or improve existing mental health symptoms, if you are struggling with mental health issues, it can be difficult to attend to these areas.

If you are struggling with anxiety, stress management, depression, chronic illness, or insomnia, seeking professional assistance can be helpful. Evidence based therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can help to address problematic thoughts and behaviors that are contributing to emotional distress. Therapy offers a warm, supportive, safe environment to explore painful issues. A therapist can also provide support in helping the client to develop good self-care habits, like those mentioned above.

This year’s mental health awareness theme reminds us of the importance of recognizing the multiple avenues through which we can approach mental health, and the variety of tools we have at our disposal to improve overall wellbeing.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for anxiety, depression, stress, PTSD, insomnia, or chronic illness, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at info@csamsandiego.com

References

Mental Health America. (2018). 2018 Mental Health Month Toolkit. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/sites/default/files/Full_2018_MHM_Toolkit_FINAL.pdf

5 Myths About Anxiety

Jill Stoddard

By Trevor McDonald
edited by Annabelle Parr

People are talking about mental illnesses, like anxiety disorders, more often and more openly. Social media and access to digital content has helped facilitate the conversation. However, there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness, and while easy access to content can help reduce shame, stigma and misunderstandings about mental illness, it can also spread mistruths and foster outdated myths. This hurts those who suffer from mental illnesses as well as those trying to understand and support them. So let’s clarify some things about anxiety.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety disorders are the most common American mental illness, affecting 40 million adults – 18% of the population. Despite this substantial figure, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates that only 33 percent of those suffering will receive treatment.

Anxiety is a blanket term. We all know what it feels like to feel anxious. But when we talk about anxiety as a mental illness, we may be referring to any number of disorders, from generalized anxiety disorder to social anxiety disorder to panic disorder to a specific phobia. Though all of these things fall under “anxiety,” each manifestation looks and feels a bit different.

Fortunately, anxiety disorders can be treated. Having a supportive network that includes mental health professionals and ideally, understanding loved ones, is critical. The first step toward encouraging and facilitating treatment is dispelling myths and providing education for both those struggling with anxiety and the people around them. Here are five of the biggest myths about anxiety disorders:

1. “You don’t really have anxiety. Everyone gets anxious/nervous!” Of course, everyone feels anxious or stressed sometimes. But according to the DSM V, when someone has an anxiety disorder, they feel excessively anxious about a number of things more often than not, and it significantly impairs their ability to function in a major area of their life. We must understand that there is a big difference between feeling anxious about a particular event or challenge, and feeling the chronic anxiety that comes with an anxiety disorder. Furthermore, it’s important not to toss around statements such as “I’m so OCD” when all we mean is that we like our desk organized. Minimizing an anxiety disorder in these ways undermines the challenge that something like generalized anxiety disorder or OCD can pose to people who are struggling with them.

2.  “You can get over anxiety with yoga, taking a walk, or meditation.” While taking a holistic approach to wellness is smart, and such activities can help with the symptoms of anxiety, taking a yoga class won’t “cure” an anxiety disorder any more than it will spina bifida. Though it can be tempting to offer advice to try to help those struggling with anxiety, it’s important not to minimize their experience or assume that you have a solution to offer them. Only a mental health professional should be offering any kind of “prescription” or suggestion for treatment.

3. “Anxiety means a person is weak, or they must have had a really bad childhood.” The former is never true; the latter could be part of the foundation for an anxiety disorder, though this is certainly not always the case. Trauma can kick start an anxiety disorder, but it’s not the only source. A big reason people with mental illnesses don’t talk about their condition is because they don’t want to be seen as weak or feeble, even though they’re not. It takes tremendous strength to live with any disorder. Invisible disabilities can be especially trying because people can’t “see” the disorder a person is battling.

4. “Anxiety isn’t that big of a deal.” Everything is relative. Anxiety disorders exist on a spectrum. If you know someone with anxiety, you can’t gauge how severe their disorder is. But unless you are a therapist, psychiatrist, or doctor, it’s not your job to gauge the severity of someone else’s anxiety. What you need to know is that anxiety is a big deal to the person suffering from it, no matter where they fall on the spectrum. Further, unlike a broken leg, anxiety can’t be seen on the outside.  So someone may appear perfectly put together on the outside, but is suffering in silence on the inside.

5. “I won’t be able to relate to someone with anxiety.” This myth is usually based on a person’s fear that they won’t know what to say when someone is struggling with anxiety. It’s human nature to want to “fix” things, but anxiety can’t be fixed that easily, especially by a non-professional. Remember that it’s not your job to “fix” someone’s anxiety or make it go away. All they really need from you is empathy. And listening well is far more important than knowing what to say. So when talking to someone with anxiety, let them lead the conversation, don’t judge them, and don’t try to fix it. Let them know that you want to understand and that you hear that they are struggling.  You might also offer to help them connect with professional help.

We’ve come a long way in our understanding of anxiety disorders. Psychological research has given us a solid understanding of anxiety and how to treat it effectively. Of course, there is always more to learn, but now the bulk of our work lies in sharing our understanding with the community and eliminating the damaging and unnecessary stigma that still surrounds mental illness. Working to un-learn false claims and myths of the past is a big step in the right direction. Doing your part to educate yourself and others will make a big difference in the lives of everyone with an anxiety disorder.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

The Importance of Boundaries

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Do you ever feel like you can’t say no?  Do you believe that you are responsible for the emotions of others?  Do you take others’ opinions and needs into account before your own?  Do you find yourself unsure of what you want or need (Eddins, 2015)?  If so, you are certainly not alone.  However, your feelings, thoughts, and needs matter.  By setting some boundaries in your life, you can begin to treat your needs as important.

Boundaries and Anxiety

Image source: https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/boundaries-healthy-limits-or-barriers-to-relationships-

Image source: https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/boundaries-healthy-limits-or-barriers-to-relationships-

For people who struggle with anxiety, learning how to create healthy boundaries can be a helpful tool.  Though sometimes people cope with anxiety by creating unnecessary boundaries or avoiding situations that serve as triggers, other times anxiety is experienced as a result of unclear lines between self and other.  When you don’t protect your sense of self, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and take on responsibility for everything and everyone (Eddins, 2015).  This can lead to feelings of guilt and anxiety.  It is not hard for a vicious cycle to ensue, where a lack of boundaries leads to anxiety, and where anxiety leads to a feeling that you cannot set clear and effective limits.

What Are Boundaries

So what exactly are boundaries?  Boundaries help us to define who we are.  They orient us in our relationships, and signify to us and to others where “I end and you begin” (Eddins, 2015).  Boundaries can apply to any area of our lives, and can range from material boundaries to physical, mental, or emotional boundaries to sexual or spiritual boundaries (Lancer, 2015).  Boundaries are very personal, and there is not a right or wrong answer regarding to how to set ones that work for you.  They are based on your beliefs, values, opinions, and needs (“12 Signs,” 2015).

Boundaries as an Act of Love

A common misconception for people who struggle in this area is that setting boundaries is selfish.  However, self-care is not selfish.  Have you ever flown on an airplane, and heard the stewardess tell the passengers in case of an emergency to put their own oxygen mask on before helping others with theirs?  This “oxygen-mask” rule is a profound metaphor for the idea that we cannot take care of others if we have neglected to take care of ourselves first. 

Image source:  http://www.thedynamicturnaround.com/healthyboundaries.htm

Image source:  http://www.thedynamicturnaround.com/healthyboundaries.htm

Setting boundaries for ourselves and giving ourselves permission to articulate our needs is an act of self-love (Strgar, 2010).  And in the wise words of Brené Brown, “we can only love others as much as we love ourselves” (2010).  Furthermore, when we set clear limits in our lives, we are better able to be compassionate towards others.  Brown (2010) states that “the heart of compassion is really acceptance,” and when we lack boundaries, we are not accepting our own needs and we may have a difficult time accepting others if we feel they are taking advantage of us. 

So contrary to this idea that boundaries are selfish, they actually help us love ourselves and others better.

How Therapy Can Help

You are the only one who has the ability to set boundaries in your life.  However, therapy can be helpful in navigating this challenging task.  Therapy offers a place where you can explore your values, your feelings, and your relationships.  Your therapist can help support you in the process of determining where you need to establish stronger boundaries or areas in which you might benefit from more flexibility.

Therapy can also be a good place to experience a relationship with very clear boundaries.  Dr. Irvin D. Yalom (2002) describes “therapy as a dress rehearsal for life,” meaning that it is a safe place to encounter challenging aspects of life and relationships before you face them outside of the therapy room.  An important goal of therapy is to take what you have learned and apply it to the rest of your life, but it can be helpful to practice new skills in a safe space first.

Don’t Forget to Be Kind To Yourself

One final thing to note is that boundaries are learned (Lancer, 2015).  If you are not used to setting clear limits in your life, know that it is a skill that takes practice.  The best way to start learning this skill is to cultivate self-awareness and practice asserting yourself (Lancer, 2015).  Remember, it is important to give yourself grace and to seek support throughout this process.  If you feel like you could benefit from some professional support in developing boundaries in your life…

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

References:

12 Signs you lack healthy boundaries (and why you need them). (2015).  Harley Therapy Counselling Blog. Retrieved from http://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/healthy-boundaries.htm

Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.  Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.

Eddins, R. (2015). Keeping Good Boundaries & Getting Your Needs Met. Psych Central. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/keeping-good-boundaries-getting-your-needs-met/

Lancer, D. (2015). What are personal boundaries? How do I get some?. Psych Central. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-are-personal-boundaries-how-do-i-get-some/

Stgar, W. (2010). The importance of boundaries. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wendy-strgar/working-boundaries_b_717339.html

Yalom, I. D. (2002).  The gift of therapy: An open letter to a new generation of therapists and their patients. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

THE POWER OF BREATHING

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Whether or not you struggle with an anxiety disorder, we have all found ourselves overwhelmed by stress or anxiety at some point.  We each have slightly different stressors that trigger our body’s natural stress response, but we all know what the response feels like: sweaty palms, racing heart, tense muscles.  This bodily reaction can feel overwhelming, as if it controls us.  It is easy to feel powerless to our biological response to stress, but we have more control than we think.

THE STRESS RESPONSE

Source URL: http://www.gestaltreality.com/2012/07/11/metabolic-diet-supplements-an-exploration/

Source URL: http://www.gestaltreality.com/2012/07/11/metabolic-diet-supplements-an-exploration/

Before we deem our biological reaction to stress bad, let’s talk about what happens and what purpose it serves.  When we get stressed out or anxious, our body begins preparing us to face threat.  Stress activates our sympathetic nervous system, triggering the fight-flight-or-freeze response.  This causes the sweaty palms, racing heart, panicky breathing and muscle tension (McGonigal, 2013).  We often look at the stress response as inherently bad, because it is not healthy to be in the fight-flight-or-freeze mode chronically (McGonigal, 2013).  However, it’s important to remember that when your heart starts racing or your palms get sweaty, your body is just trying to help prepare you.  Nevertheless, these sensations can feel overwhelming, and perpetuate our experience of anxiety.  So how can we calm ourselves down once this cycle is in motion?

DEEP BELLY BREATHING

Using our breath, we actually have the power to activate our parasympathetic nervous system.  The parasympathetic nervous system allows our body to “rest and digest” as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight response (Hunt, 2016).  While “take a deep breath” is common advice, how we actually take that breath is important.  This is how to use the breath to calm down:

Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

  1. Find a comfortable, relaxed seated position with your feet planted on the ground; alternatively, you can try breathing laying down.  Now begin to bring your focus to your breath.
  2. With each breath, your belly should rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale
  3. Your shoulders and chest should remain still.  If you notice your shoulders rise, or your chest move, drop the breath down to the belly.  Breathing into your chest is reminiscent of hyperventilating, which will only further activate your sympathetic nervous system (Hunt, 2016).
  4. Now focus on breathing into your belly for four counts.  Hold your breath for a second or two.  Now exhale for five counts and relax (Hunt, 2016).  Repeat this process, focusing on your inhalations and exhalations, and making your belly rise and fall.
  5. You may notice that your heart rate speeds up at first.  Don’t panic or give up.  Your body is not used to calming itself down, and is simply adjusting.  After a few cycles of inhaling and exhaling, you should notice your heart rate begin to relax. 
  6. If you begin to get distracted or thoughts pop into your mind, simply notice they are there and then come back to focus on the breath
Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

See if you can practice doing four or five deep belly breaths a day.  Then see if you can work your way up to thirty seconds at a time.  Then maybe a minute.  Eventually, you will be able to sit in this space with your breath for a long period of time.

Being able to tap into your breath to find a calm, centered space, no matter where you are, is an invaluable resource.  This diaphragmatic breathing essentially turns off your sympathetic nervous system and turns on your parasympathetic nervous system (Hunt, 2016). 

This is not to say that you will never feel stressed again, or that you will never experience the fight-flight-or-freeze response.  But using deep belly breathing can help you to calm your body down and lessen the biological reaction to a stressful situation.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

REFERENCES:

Hunt, M. G. (2016). Reclaim your life from IBS: A scientifically proven plan for relief without restrictive diets. Toronto, ON: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

McGonigal, K. (2013, June). Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend [Video File].  Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend?language=e

How To Listen When Someone You Love Is Struggling

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Life presents us each with challenges.  While it is often uncomfortable and painful to grapple with adversity, to experience this struggle and to feel pain is to be human.  At some point, we will all find ourselves in this place, as will those we love.  So how can we help each other?  How can we listen when someone we love is struggling, whether it is with a mental health condition or with a painful experience in his/her life?

 LET GO OF THE IMPULSE TO TRY TO FIX

Source URL: https://scott-williams.ca/2013/03/

Source URL: https://scott-williams.ca/2013/03/

It is painful to watch someone we care for struggle or hurt.  And it’s natural to want to take away her pain or try to fix the problem at hand.  However, despite our best intentions, trying to “fix” does not actually help.  It tends to make the person struggling feel as though she cannot share her pain, sadness, or anger.  Trying to “fix” sends this message: “I can’t handle seeing you in pain, so I have to make everything better.”  It also implies that it is not okay to feel sad or angry or anxious, and that these feelings should be avoided at all costs.

AVOID ADVICE

Just like our impulse to fix the pain, we also often believe that the best way to help is to offer advice.  But advice is usually not helpful for several reasons.

  1. If we offer good advice, our loved one will think that anytime he is struggling, he needs our instruction. 
  2. If we offer bad advice or our advice doesn’t work as we hoped, our loved one can place the blame on us instead of owning responsibility.
  3. Advice takes away the gift of helping our loved one to realize that she knows herself best, and ultimately she is capable of navigating difficult situations herself.  (Though, of course, she will always have our love and support).

LIMIT SHARING YOUR OWN SIMILAR EXPERIENCES

Source URL:  http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/the-biggest-communication-problem-not-listen-understand.html

Source URL:  http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/the-biggest-communication-problem-not-listen-understand.html

If you have had a similar experience or believe that you have felt the same way, you can share this with your loved one.  But don’t make it all about you.  Keep your story brief, and make sure the purpose of the story is to let him know that he is not alone.  Also, be sure to include that you understand that your experience, while maybe parallel in some ways, is yours, and you are not claiming to have experienced the exact same situation or feelings.  This allows him to feel comfort in not being alone, but also gives him space to communicate how his experience may be different.

If we shouldn’t try to fix the pain or offer advice, and we should limit how much we share of our own experience, what can we do to help?

REFLECT OR PARAPHRASE BACK TO YOUR LOVED ONE WHAT YOU HEAR HIM/HER EXPRESSING

This shows that we are listening, and gives us the opportunity to clarify that which we don’t understand fully.  While it may sound too simple to just reflect what our loved one is saying, it actually makes the person feel heard and understood.  It also offers her the opportunity to hear what she is expressing, and to clarify how she feels or what she wants.

USE NONVERBAL SIGNALS TO SHOW YOU ARE ENGAGED

Nodding and using eye contact and engaged body language shows that we are interested and open to what our loved one is sharing.  It gives him the space to express himself, and makes him feel heard.

SHOW EMPATHY

Empathy is: “I see that you are struggling and hurting right now, and I am so sorry.  I can’t fix it for you or take it away, but I will sit here with you and listen to your story.  As much as this hurts, it is okay to feel this way.”

Check out Brene Brown’s brilliant short on empathy.

Sometimes, all our loved ones need when they are in pain is to be heard; to be given a space with someone they trust to express how they are feeling.  Sometimes, however, they may need some extra support or professional help.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

REFERENCES:
Brown, B.  (2013, Dec 10).  Brené Brown on empathy. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

 

How Anxiety Affects Couples

Jill Stoddard

by Jan E. Estrellado, Ph.D.

Most of CSAM’s blogs focus on the experience of having a mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD.  This blog is a little different because it focuses on the impact of a mental health condition, anxiety, on couples.  What is it like to care for, live with, and support someone with anxiety?  What kind of strain might this cause in a relationship and what can couples do to sustain each other and their relationship?

Loving Someone with Anxiety

Partners or spouses of individuals with anxiety might experience feelings of helplessness.  When anxious loved ones feel intense fear (i.e., scared of having a panic attack or becoming severely preoccupied with worried thoughts) or avoid certain situations (i.e., not wanting to drive on the freeway or refusing to leave the home), partners may not feel there is much they can do to help reassure or calm them down.  When a partner does attempt to help ease his or her loved one’s suffering, those attempts (i.e., reassuring, problem-solving) may be rejected by the anxious individual.  This can be extremely hurtful and can lead to other intense feelings described below.  In addition, partners may try to help by offering to drive for the anxious partner, agreeing to skip a social event, or allowing the anxious partner to engage in compulsions so that he or she gets relief.  While these efforts are meant to be helpful, the avoidance partners are enabling actually contributes to and maintains the anxiety-related problems.   

The emotions that partners of anxious individuals can experience range and vary greatly.  They may feel anger and frustration that the anxiety inhibits their lives, and because their partner’s anxiety is outside of their control.  It is difficult to accept that a loved one may continue to feel anxious, regardless of the actions of the partner.  If a partner’s anger remains unresolved over a long period of time, this can turn into resentment, minimization, or blame.  Partners may feel overlooked or overshadowed by their loved one’s anxiety, perhaps feeling like their needs can’t be met when calming their partner down feels the most urgent.

Being the Anxious Partner in the Relationship

The partner who experiences extreme worry can easily feel guilt, shame, and embarrassment at their lack of ability to manage anxious feelings.  They may also feel misunderstood and alone.  These negative feelings, if not addressed or acknowledged effectively, might actually contribute to further anxiety.  If an anxious person feels his or her partner is getting frustrated, that person might shut down, withdraw from the relationship, or engage in unhelpful coping behaviors, such as smoking cigarettes or shopping excessively. When worry and stress take up a lot of space in a relationship, the anxious individual often feels responsible for his or her partner’s feelings of frustration, hurt, or helplessness.  These feelings of guilt or embarrassment compound the individual’s pre-existing feelings of worry, increasing the suffering of that person. 

It may be difficult for the anxious partner to know what he or she needs.  Perhaps he or she is too ashamed to ask for support when so much help has already been requested of the partner.  When a person experiences intense fear in the moment, it can be challenging to know what is helpful and perhaps even more challenging to communicate those needs effectively.  Intense fear, by nature, prevents a person from thinking logically or rationally and it can be tough to know how to reign one’s self in during those moments.

Sustaining the Relationship

What can a partner of an anxious individual do to help make the relationship work?  One crucial element is for the partner to make sure that he or she is able to maintain his or her own health and wellness.  A partner can feel guilty for taking care of himself or herself, especially knowing that his or her loved one may be suffering.  However, if both partners are suffering, especially over a long period of time, the relationship is no longer sustainable.  A partner might need to seek this support outside of the relationship.  Examples of support outside the relationship include trusted friends, family members, health providers, faith leaders, co-workers, and therapists.

In addition, a person may want to communicate his or her needs to the anxious partner, even if it is difficult.  If only one person’s needs are being met or paid attention to consistently, the relationship feels one-sided—another predictor of an unsustainable situation.  Asking for one’s needs to be met can also include discussing feelings and reactions to the partner’s anxiety.   While communicating feelings in an authentic, yet caring way, can be challenging, both partners might experience some relief and a greater connection, and the likelihood of resentment decreases.

An anxious individual may not want to wait until he or she experiences intense fear to know what help the partner can provide.  Rather, identify wants and needs during more calm or grounded moments.  When an anxious person knows what works, it is easier to engage his or her partner in a collaborative manner.  Having a “game plan” can ease some of the intensity of fear in the moment. 

Finally, as we say in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, anxiety can have a place in the relationship, but it shouldn’t be “driving the bus.”  When anxiety appears to be controlling the direction of the relationship despite the couple’s best efforts, it’s time for one or both individuals in the relationship to seek outside support.

CSAM is here to help

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.