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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.

 

Filtering by Tag: phobias

Anxiety Tools: An Expert's Advice

Jill Stoddard

reposted from Healthline.com

originally written by Healthline Editorial Team featuring an interview with CSAM Director Dr. Jill Stoddard

Anxiety disorders affect over 18 percent of U.S. adults each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This includes generalized anxiety disorderobsessive compulsive disorderpost-traumatic stress disorder, and more.

Anxiety can work its way into many aspects of a person’s life, which is why it’s so important to find the resources, support, and advice you need — whether it comes from people’s stories, helpful phone apps, or expert advice.

Dr. Jill Stoddard is the founding director of The Center for Stress & Anxiety Management, an outpatient clinic in San Diego specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for anxiety and related issues. She’s also an associate professor of psychology at Alliant International University, and the co-author of “The Big Book of ACT Metaphors.”

We caught up with her to learn about some of the ways she recommends for managing anxiety disorders.

Dr. Jill Stoddard’s advice for anxiety

1. Use your senses

Anxiety narrows your focus onto perceived threats (i.e., whatever you’re feeling afraid of or worried about in the moment) which can impact your focus and memory. Practice mindfully broadening your view by using your senses — what do you see, hear, smell, etc. — to improve attention and experience.

2. Have gratitude

Practice gratitude as another way to broaden your focus. There are the things that you worry about, and there are also the things you’re grateful for.

3. Be accepting

Difficulty with uncertainty and a lack of perceived control amplify anxiety. To “fix” this, we often attempt to get more certainty and more control — for example, by doing internet searches about health symptoms. This actually increases anxiety in the long run.

The antidote is acceptance of uncertainty and control. You can read a book or watch a sporting event without knowing the ending. In fact, it’s the anticipation that makes it exciting! So try bringing this attitude of openness to not knowing, and letting go of control. See what happens.

4. Face your fears

Avoidance is anything you do, or don’t do, to feel less anxious and prevent a feared outcome from occurring. For example, avoiding a social situation, using drugs or alcohol, or procrastination are all examples of avoidance.

When you avoid what you’re afraid of, you get short-term relief. However, this relief never lasts, and before you know it, that anxiety has returned, often with feelings of sadness or shame for having avoided it. And often, the exact avoidance strategies you’re using to feel better and prevent a feared outcome (e.g. reading off your notes during a speech or avoiding eye contact) actually create the outcome you’re trying to avoid (namely, appearing anxious or incompetent).

Consider taking small steps to start facing your fears. What’s one thing you might do that takes you out of your comfort zone? You will build mastery and confidence, and your anxiety might even diminish in the process.

5. Define your values

Do some soul searching about what really matters to you. Who do you want to be? What do you want to stand for? What qualities do you wish to embody as you engage in work or school, or interact with people you care about? If friendship matters, how can you create space in your life for that? When you do so, what qualities do you wish to embody as you spend time with friends? Do you wish to be authentic? Compassionate? Assertive?

These are all values, and making choices in line with values — rather than in the service of avoidance — may or may not impact your anxiety, but will definitely add richness, vitality, and meaning to your life.

Healthline’s tips

To help you keep your anxiety in check, Healthline also recommends trying out the following products in your day to day:

Finding the Right Therapist for You

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Therapy can be incredibly helpful and healing in the midst of struggle, but it’s not “one size fits all” and sometimes it can be challenging to find the right fit. If you have tried therapy before and been frustrated by a lack of progress, it’s possible you haven’t found the right therapist for you. Having some knowledge about therapy and the different options available can help when you are seeking out help.

What do therapists do?

A therapist’s role is to provide you with empathy, help you learn healthy coping methods and give you tools to manage your emotions constructively. They are there to help you connect with your personal values and get in touch with your own internal strength, while offering you compassionate support and understanding along the way. They are like “training wheels” to help you learn to engage in life in a new way.

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What don’t therapists do?

They are not there to pass judgement, minimize your feelings, or offer you advice. No advice means that they are not there to make decisions for you, such as whether or not to stay in a relationship or a job; they can, however, assign you homework to help you make progress and teach you coping mechanisms.

If you ever feel judged or like your therapist is minimizing your feelings, discuss this with them. This will allow you to discern whether you misunderstood their message or whether maybe they are not the best fit for you. It is important to talk with your therapist about the therapeutic process itself, especially if something feels off.

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Note: therapy can be helpful and it can be hard.

Therapy is challenging. It requires active work on the part of the client and it requires facing uncomfortable and painful emotions, and likely making difficult changes. As James Hollis (1998) notes, “no one enters the therapist’s office whose adaptive strategies are still working.” So sometimes, clients may feel worse before they feel better because change is inherently uncomfortable. This kind of “feeling worse” is a vital part of the growth process, not a further descent into the same struggle that brought you into the office.

If it feels like you have tried various therapies or therapists, and have not progressed despite your commitment to finding help and engaging in the therapeutic process, you may not have found the right therapist yet. Here are some things to look for when seeking therapy.

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  1. Connection with the therapist. Therapy requires that you let another person in on your innermost thoughts and feelings. This is not an easy thing to do, so it is important that you feel comfortable with the person you choose. Research shows that the therapeutic relationship itself is the most important aspect of therapy – accounting for about 30% of the variance in treatment outcome, which is more than any other factor including the technique the therapist uses. So make sure that the therapist you choose to see is someone you trust and whom you are willing to talk to. If it doesn’t feel like the right fit, it probably won’t be.
     
  2. The therapist’s areas of expertise. While the relationship is the most important piece of therapy, specialization and technique are still very important pieces of the puzzle. When looking for a therapist, make sure to search for someone who has experience working with individuals dealing with your particular concerns. Otherwise, you may end up wasting time and money working with someone who might not conduct a proper assessment, or who does not have experience working with your particular issue. Ask them about their experience working with others who have concerns similar to yours, including the techniques they use and the degree of progress and healing that they typically see in their clients.
     
  3. Evidence based treatments. There are lots of different treatment options out there; a good place to start is searching for a therapist with true training in modalities that are supported by solid research (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). Ask questions about their training and choice treatment modalities, what a typical session will look like, how your individual needs will be addressed, whether you will receive homework, what will be required of you in the process, how your progress will be evaluated, and what steps will your therapist take if they find that your progress has prematurely plateaued.

If you are struggling and considering reaching out for help, this knowledge can help you navigate choosing a therapist and can help you recognize sooner rather than later if it’s not the right fit. If you have tried therapy before and have been frustrated by a lack of progress, you are not alone. Remember, effective help is available when you know what to look for.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), 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: 

Hollis, J. (1998). The eden project: In search of the magical other. Toronto, ON: Inner City Books.

Let’s Talk About Anxiety

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Anxiety is a hot topic these days. It’s all over the news, and apparently it is on the rise. In the age of information and technology, we are constantly bombarded with doom and gloom news alerts, including reminders that on top of everything else, we are plagued with increasing anxiety. Eventually, these reminders can get exhausting and may even contribute to the anxiety that is apparently so prevalent in the first place.

Image source: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/poems-read-anxiety

Image source: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/poems-read-anxiety

Of course, there are benefits to all this conversation around anxiety: we have a better understanding of what anxiety is and as a result we may be able to understand and empathize with those who are struggling better. But it’s important to be careful that we don’t pathologize all anxiety, and that we don’t lose sight of the strength that exists in those who truly do have anxiety disorders.

Anxiety: Natural Response to Stress or Disorder?

The way we talk about anxiety today, it is easy to believe that all anxiety is inherently bad and forget that it’s our natural response to threat or danger. We actually need anxiety to survive; it prepares our body to respond appropriately in the face of danger. However, our physiological experience of anxiety developed back when the regular dangers humans faced included running from large, sharp toothed predators. So when we are experiencing the fight-or-flight response before a big exam or presentation, it may not feel particularly adaptive. But despite the discomfort that comes with anxiety, it is natural when it is experienced as the result of a particular situation or problem, when it is proportional to the stressor, and when it only lasts until the situation is resolved (ULifeline, 2016). Anxiety, though often painful, is an important and adaptive part of the human experience.

Image source: aconsciouslifenow.com

Image source: aconsciouslifenow.com

Though originally an adaptive response, anxiety does have the potential to be harmful when it manifests as “constant, chronic and unsubstantiated worry that causes significant distress, disturbs your social life and interferes with classes and work” (Active Minds, 2016). In other words, anxiety is no longer helpful when it begins to appear when there is no actual threat present. When a person experiences anxiety but has no threat to respond to, what happens? They begin avoiding situations that are actually safe. Their mind and body are telling them that safe situations are threatening, which can have a debilitating effect. When anxiety becomes disordered, it arises unexpectedly, is overwhelming, and, rather than catalyzing adaptive behavior in the face of a threat, often fosters avoidance of everyday situations (Here to Help, 2016).

Image source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/18/anxiety-photos-katie-crawford_n_7292548.html

Image source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/18/anxiety-photos-katie-crawford_n_7292548.html

So what is the takeaway? Anxiety is uncomfortable, but it helps us respond to threat, uncertainty, trouble, or feelings of unpreparedness (Active Minds, 2016). Anxiety becomes a problem (and possibly a disorder) when it comes seemingly out of nowhere and in the absence of a stressor proportional to the response, and it interferes with functioning in some way.

Recognizing Strengths as well as Struggles

There is no denying that feeling anxious is not pleasant. It can range from uncomfortable to unbearable. For those with anxiety disorders, anxiety is unpleasant on a whole new level; it can be completely overwhelming and paralyzing. It is hard to describe how out of control one can feel in the middle of a panic attack, or how draining it is to go through the day (week, month, or year) flooded with anxiety.

But in the midst of this struggle, it’s important to remember that anxiety doesn’t own you. It may be a part of you, and it may influence your life in various and profound ways. But anxiety does not determine who you are. A diagnosis does not define you. You are not a disorder. You are not weak, powerless, or alone.

Image source: http://quotesgram.com/from-brene-brown-quotes/

Image source: http://quotesgram.com/from-brene-brown-quotes/

Acknowledging the pain anxiety can bring is so important, but it can also be helpful to recognize that struggling with anxiety may also foster certain strengths. According to Dr. Tracy Foose (2013), trait anxiety is associated with being “highly conscientious, honest, detail oriented, performance driven, socially responsible, [and] self-controlled.” Furthermore, learning to cope with anxiety can push us towards an increased self-awareness and knowledge of ourselves. Because it is so uncomfortable, it can motivate us to grow and change parts of ourselves or our lives that may not be serving us. And once we learn that we can move through the discomfort of anxiety, we often feel stronger and more confident in ourselves knowing that we have the fortitude to move through something so profoundly difficult (Sutherland, 2011).

Finally, if you do feel like anxiety is controlling your life, you don’t have to stay stuck in this space. Not only can anxiety teach you to embrace vulnerability and reach out for support from loved ones, but therapy offers very effective treatment. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can teach valuable coping skills, and can help to change your relationship to anxiety. Nothing will ever take anxiety away completely, but we wouldn’t want that because without anxiety, we wouldn’t survive. But therapy can help us learn that even in the worst throws of anxiety, we will survive, and even thrive.

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:

Active Minds. (2016). NSOD: Difference between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder.  Retrieved from: http://www.activeminds.org/component/content/article/512-nsod-difference-between-normal-anxiety-and-an-anxiety-disorder

Foose, T. (2013, Feb. 19). Positive traits seen in anxiety disorders. SF Gate. Retrieved from: http://www.sfgate.com/health/article/Positive-traits-seen-in-anxiety-disorders-4291474.php

Here to Help. (2016). What’s the difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder?  Retrieved from: http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/ask-us/whats-the-difference-between-anxiety-and-an-anxiety-disorder

Sutherland, M. (2011). The Benefits of Anxiety. Retrieved from: https://willowtreecounselling.ca/articles/the-benefits-of-anxiety/

ULifeline. (2016). Anxiety vs. anxiety disorders. Retrieved from: http://www.ulifeline.org/articles/439-anxiety-vs-anxiety-disorders

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.

Hoarding

Jill Stoddard

by Jan E. Estrellado, Ph.D.

Most of us know someone who has difficulty throwing things away or cannot seem to stop him or herself from buying things at bargain prices, even when he or she doesn’t need them.  Extreme versions of these behaviors (i.e. “clinical hoarding”) affect up to 5% of the U.S. population (Samuels et al., 2008). What might cause an individual to let these situations get out of hand?  And what can that person or a loved one do to help that person change?

What is Hoarding Behavior?

According to the International OCD Foundation (https://iocdf.org/), hoarding consists of three related issues: (1) collecting too many items; (2) difficulty getting rid of items; (3) problems with organization.  Hoarding behavior can result in significantly limited living or work space, strained relationships with others, and in extreme cases, unsanitary or hazardous living conditions.

A person with hoarding behavior may experience severe distress when attempting to get rid of items.  That person may feel he or she need these things or that he or she will eventually use them.  Even if the person’s belongings are of little material value or use, the person feels unable or unwilling to get rid of the items. 

Hoarding behavior negatively impacts relationships.  If one person in a household hoards, others living in the home may resent and/or blame that person for the status of their living conditions.  While it may seem like an “easy solution,” (i.e., “Just throw those things away!”) this is a much more complex process for the person who has difficulty letting go of material things. 

Why Do People Hoard?

A person’s beliefs about his or her posessions, as well as the meaning he or she attributes to them, are core parts of why a person hoards (Steketee et al., 2003).  A person may be extremely sentimental about his or her items and feel as if losing the item is “like losing a friend.”  The individual may feel exceptionally protective over his or her belongings and become very defensive or territorial when another person suggests he or she get rid of them.  

Source URL: http://www.dcputnamconsulting.com/hoarding-keepdonatedump/

Source URL: http://www.dcputnamconsulting.com/hoarding-keepdonatedump/

Wheaton et al. (2010) discuss the difficulty some individuals have with tolerating distressing emotions related to hoarding.  The actions a person takes or does not take in order to minimize upsetting feelings is called avoidance.  For example, a person who feels upset when trying to give or throw something away might avoid those feelings by saving the item.  By keeping the item, the person can also avoid feelings of loss that might result from not having the item.  An individual who hoards might also feel a “high” when acquiring new items, so he or she continues to obtain new items, even if the item is not needed.

Getting Help for Hoarding

Seeking mental health treatment for hoarding behavior might be particularly difficult.  By the time the individual shows up at his or her therapist’s door, it is possible he or she has been hoarding for years.  Treatment might not have been the person’s first choice, but was perhaps at the strong encouragement of a concerned family member or friend.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the treatment of choice to address hoarding behavior.  In a recent review of the scientific literature on hoarding treatment, Tolin and colleagues (2015) found that those who received CBT for hoarding had significant reductions in symptoms, especially with regards to a core feature of hoarding behavior, difficulty discarding.  A hoarding-specific version of CBT combines a number of different elements, including resolving the person’s ambivalence towards his or her hoarding behavior, and using exposure therapy to help the person directly confront his or her discomfort regarding discarding items (Tolin, Frost, Steketee, & Murdoff, 2015).

Another significant finding from the same study (Tolin et al., 2015) is that greater improvements with discarding symptoms were associated with greater number of therapy sessions conducted in the person’s home.  In-home sessions are more effective than office sessions because the therapist can be there with the client to help build new discarding and acquiring skills.

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 hoarding, 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:

International OCD Foundation.  https://hoarding.iocdf.org/

Samuels, J. F., Bienvenu, O. J., Grados, M. A., Cullen, B., Riddle, M. A., & Liang, K. Y. (2008). Prevalence and correlates of hoarding behavior in a community-based sample. Behaviour and Research Therapy, 46, 836 – 844.

Steketee, G., Frost, R. O., & Kyrios, M. (2003). Cognitive aspects of compulsive hoarding. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 27, 463–479.

Tolin, D. F., Frost, R. O., Steketee, G., & Muroff, J. (2015). Cognitive behavioral therapy for hoarding disorder: A meta‐analysis. Depression And Anxiety, 32(3), 158-166. doi:10.1002/da.22327

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.