Transcript of podcast episode:
It’s common for all of us to once in a while have days with anxiety or sadness, whether it’s work related or something at home. But sometimes it can be much worse. Almost impossible to not think about it. It slowly creeps in and one day a person wakes up and it’s incredibly difficult to get out of bed. It’s as if gravity somehow got stronger. There’s no motivation to do anything, even those things normally enjoyed.
And if it’s happening to your spouse, fiancé, partner, girlfriend/boyfriend, roommate or someone else close to you, it can hurt even more. You can feel helpless, frustrated, angry, sad and impatient. And maybe you start to get anxious and depressed about it as well. Leading to this loop of mental health strain.
(Note for this discussion, I’ll use the term “partner” and “she/her” for the purpose of the flow).
But let’s talk mainly about the situation where your partner is having the difficulty with her mental health. Here’s some things you can do to care for her to help her feel better. Many of these can also be helpful for you.
Empathy: This is the ability to have some understanding of what your partner is experiencing from within her frame of reference. The capacity to intellectually place yourself in her situation, resulting in your positive and supportive frame of mind. If you come from a place of empathy when interacting with your partner, it will benefit her and you as well. If she feels you having an understanding of what she’s going through, she’ll feel more supported and this will have a positive effect on recovering from her mental health strain.
Patience: Sadly, recovery from a serious mental health concern can take time. Usually longer than a few days or even weeks. The reality is there are going to be times you’re incredibly frustrated with your partner. You’ll feel: “Why won’t she just over this?” “Why can’t she just get out of bed and do what she’s gotta do?” “I don’t understand why no matter what I do I can’t help her.” Having patience with the progress of your partner, and the process of recovery that she’s going through, is crucial in her gaining and maintaining momentum.
Encouragement: Be your partner’s biggest fan. Even more than you already are. Help her develop a “tool box” of helpful coping skills and encourage her to use them. Do them with her. Anything that she’s done in the past, is currently doing, and others you and she discover that have a positive impact on her mental health will make a significant difference in this challenging journey. Activities such as listening to music, deep breathing, exercising, getting the negative emotions out through venting out loud and journaling, distractions such as watching a funny tv show (in moderation of course), some creative activity such as drawing, meditation and others can reduce the symptoms more and more. And these are also life skills that will benefit your partner long term. And of course getting into professional treatment is another support, such as speaking with therapist and maybe a psychiatrist. One final point here: Don’t try to fix your partner. It’s not a good idea to be too aggressive in supporting her. There is a difference between encouraging and pressuring. Find a healthy balance.
Listen: Realize that sometimes your partner will just want to vent. That’s a good thing. Any release of negative thoughts can provide relief. Be what’s called an “active listener” - spend almost all of your time listening, and when you do speak, reflect back some things your partner said so she feels she’s being heard. Also piggyback on some of her statements to further her self-reflection, and join with her in ideas she has that can be helpful. Allow your partner to feel what she needs to feel. It’s very important that she feels safe to let out her negative emotions in healthy ways.
Set achievable goals and realistic expectations: If your partner sets the bar too high and doesn’t achieve it, she’ll be disappointed and this could slow her progress. For example, let’s say she likes to write daily to do lists. She has 10 things on her list. But realistically she can only do 3. At the end of the day she did 4. She’s upset with herself because she didn’t do 10. But the reality is that she accomplished more than was realistic. She overachieved. If she had set the goal at 3, accomplishing 4 things would be a boost to her self-esteem and internal drive, leading to positive momentum.
Celebrate the small victories: Of course the ultimate goal is for your partner to not be anxious or depressed. But don’t just focus on this long term goal. Recognize the small accomplishments along the way that she sets through achievable goals and realistic expectations. Did your partner get outside today? Did she go to work? Did she spend time doing some creative activity? Did she exercise for 15 minutes? If the depression has been really bad, did she just get out of bed and come downstairs and spend time with the family? All of these may seem small, but they are significant. They’re milestones along the way to recovery. To feeling better. To moving on from this dark period of her life.
Go outside: With covid and wintertime in particular, there’s not much motivation to go outside. But getting out of the home, even if just for 15 minutes, can really help. The change of perspective with looking at the sky, trees and other nature can disrupt the pattern of negative thoughts. And it can also be an opportunity to go for a walk or get other exercise. You can also go on what I call “drives to nowhere.” With covid, it can feel like there’s not much point to drive anywhere. Don’t feel comfortable eating out or going to a movie? Limit trips to the food store? Stopping by your friends may make things uncomfortable for you both if you haven’t been quarantining. Just driving around and seeing different neighborhoods can put your mind in a different state. Doesn’t necessarily have to be positive, just different.
Take care of yourself: When our partner is going through a difficult time, it’s totally normal to drop everything to care for her. But when being challenged with something like mental health concerns, it’s sometimes not a one-time crisis to get through and move on. It’s not a sprint, it’s a longer race that takes time to finish. If we put off taking care of ourselves, we’ll not feel well, and ultimately not be able to be there for our partner like we otherwise can. Think of it like this: When you’re on a plane, before you take off, the flight attendant tells you an oxygen mask could release in the event of a certain type of emergency. What does the attendant say next if you’re traveling with a child? Put the child’s mask on? No. Put on your mask first. Even though this goes against a parent’s instincts in protecting a child, if you don’t, and something happens and you become unconscious before putting on your child’s mask, you won’t be able to care for your child.
That’s some key points that I wanted to share with you that could be help you to be there for your spouse, fiancé, partner, girlfriend/boyfriend, roommate or someone else close to you. Empower them to get through this difficult time in their lives through your caring support. They can do it. And you can too.