Scenario 1: Your loved one is anxious again. You can tell because they’re acting nervous, a little jittery, talking about what others must be thinking of them, and cycling through worst-case scenarios. Your heart is aching for them, but you’re not sure how to help—you just want to wrap them up in a big hug and squeeze all the sads out. You try to talk and offer whatever support you can, but it doesn’t seem to be working. In the moment, no distraction seems like it’ll help, either.
Scenario 2: You’re anxious again. Nothing seems to be going right. You’re nervous about going out, but too stir-crazy to stay in. You’re worried what everyone must be thinking of you; even when you went out last time, it was impossible to be social. Your loved one is trying to help, but everything they’re saying is only reminding you of something else that makes you anxious.
At this point, no matter which scenario you’re a part of, you’re at a critical junction. Stress and anxiety are mounting on both sides, and there’s about ten seconds between your current situation and a full-blown argument. And it’s not just any argument, either; it’s the type where half the things said aren’t meant and the other half somehow only add to the mutual frustration. Needless to say, you’re in need of some serious stress-alleviating kung fu.
The first and most important step toward diffusion of the situation is to take a deep breath—or several. This applies in every potential argument-type situation, but it’s extra important here. That’s because your breathing directly affects your heartbeat and can therefore make an enormous dent in the stress and anxiety you’re experiencing. If your anxiety is the type that can cause heart palpitations, this can be particularly useful. A calm, measured breath can lead to a calm, measured heart and mind.
Next, don’t be in any rush to keep on talking. Continuing to talk isn’t inherently bad, but remember that the more you say, the more anxiety has a chance to play with your words. And this applies to both scenarios above, so be cautious, but optimistic.
Third (and in relation to the previous comment), if it’s the right context and the right kind of relationship, if you can’t talk about it right now, snuggle about it. I know, it sounds a little funny, but a lot of anxiety is feeling unanchored and unsafe. A good cuddle can help both of you feel more grounded and make everything seem a little calmer. As an added bonus, a hormone called oxytocin (or the “attachment hormone”) is released with prolonged physical contact with someone you care about. This can make you feel more secure with that person, which is an excellent anxiety deterrent.
Another help may be to simply call a time-out. This is like an extended version of taking a breath that can go a long way to keep the involved parties from saying anything they probably shouldn’t.
Finally, recognize your limitations. Remember that anxiety can make people say things they don’t really mean or believe, and be very forgiving because of that. Also know that research has shown that upwards of 75 percent of problems cannot be solved; we simply have to live into the answers we are sometimes seeking.
Arguing is the worst, and so is anxiety. Put ’em together, and a veritable storm’s brewing. However, with a little trial and error, a fair amount of patience, and the tools mentioned above, we can take steps to help make the best of a dicey situation.
Daniel Moster is an office/IT intern at Noetic Psychiatry, who also occasionally moonlights as a writer, mandolin player, and student of Family Life at Brigham Young University. In his free time, he enjoys collecting hobbies, eating sugary foods, and spending time with his beautiful wife and son.