It can be difficult for people with anxiety disorder to form close relationships. The deep-rooted fear of social interaction and the feeling of being judged could have important consequences in a budding relationship. Even then, if you have met someone with anxiety disorder who you would like to know better, here are a few tips to help you along.
Know what the condition entails
If you are reading this, you probably already suspect your date of being an unusually anxious person but if you are keen on getting to know him/her better, it would be practical to have a fair idea if he/she suffers from a disorder at all and if so, of what type. While anxiety disorder can be diagnosed only by trained mental health professional, it is usually easy to spot some of its symptoms – in someone else it would be expressed as feelings of panic, fear, uneasiness and an inability to be still or relaxed. Anxiety disorder is actually an umbrella term for a variety of mental disorders like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Phobias and so one. Anxiety among healthy people is a normal even useful reaction to a stressful situation but among some people anxiety can take an extreme and chronic form even when there is no reason to. One of the most common anxiety disorders to affect personal relationships is Social Anxiety Disorder or SAD in which people have an excessive and persistent fear of social and performance situations. They are unnaturally sensitive to social situations where they believe they are being judged or evaluated. This condition may be generalized as when a person SAD has fears related to most social and performance situations such as speaking to authority figures, going on dates, starting conversations, giving speeches or it may be expressed only in specific situations, like for instance if a person only feared public speaking or were only afraid of meeting a person of the opposite sex.
Keep it activity-based
For a person suffering from anxiety disorder, many of the actions in a conventional date would be enough to bring up a full-blown expression of the symptoms. Making eye contact, keeping a conversation going, and eating in front of someone else are all actions extremely problematic for someone with anxiety disorder. Instead you can plan a date which is activity based so that the focus veers away from exclusive social interaction to doing something enjoyable together. Shared interests like hiking, carpentry or dancing will keep both you and your date busy, give you something to talk about, and at the end of the evening bring you closer together. If dinner must be part of the date, consider going to an offbeat restaurant or other establishment that will keep you entertained such as a theme-based restaurant or make-your-own pizza. If you both are into sports, you could go watch a football game or drop in at the local driving range to hit a few balls. Other places of interest like a zoo, carnival, circus or amusement park can also be great dating ideas if you wish to go easy on the activity but keep it casual and non-threatening at the same time. You may be tempted to take the person’s mind off of worries or bad episodes by enticing them into crowded places or situations they don’t want to be in. While it may sound like a good idea to you, it’s probably not for them, so understand their dilemma and be patient.
Stick to boundaries
For a person suffering from anxiety disorder, a lot of the stress comes from conjuring up threatening situations and consequences. In order to allay this anxiety, decide on a distinct start and end time for the date. Most importantly don’t get perturbed if there are lulls in the conversation – they are to be only expected in a normal conversation. Keeping up a mindless chatter all the time on the other hand will throw your date into a panic with the thought that he/she is not doing his/her bit to contribute to the conversation. Rather be relaxed and if there are more than a few awkward pauses, ask your date about a topic like music or sports that you know he/she is interested in. As a matter of fact, before the date, you may even do some reading beforehand and have in mind interesting facts or current events. Having these topics on hand will fill up the awkward moments and lessen your partner’s anxiety.
Many mental health professionals believe that first date are not really an issue with people suffering from anxiety disorders – in fact such people are hardly likely to do on a date unless they were confident enough to know they would be calm and relaxed. It is only with each successive and possibly successful date, that such people are more prone to anxiety attacks since then they start worrying unduly about the budding relationship. If you are out with your date and he/she experiences full blown panic and needs to leave an establishment, don’t argue with the person—and never yell. Calmly take them home or to a place where they feel comfortable. It is no point telling the person to relax, because they truly can’t. Likewise don’t try and reason with them during an attack. Wait until they are calm and ask if they know what prompted the attack. Ask them when they are calm how or what they would like you to do for them when an episode comes on suddenly.
Be informed about medication
If you are looking at a relationship with someone suffering from an anxiety disorder, it may be a good idea to be aware of his/her medication. Anti-depressants, particularly the SSRIS, have been shown to be effective in treating anxiety disorder, while sometimes benzodiazepines may also be prescribed. Like with most medication, anti-depressants too have certain clear contraindications and side effects. And the more aware you are of these, the smoother your dating relationship will be. Some of the most common side effects associated with anti-depressants are nausea, headache, stomach upset, nervousness, weight gain, drowsiness and insomnia. So your date may seem more restless than usual or perhaps yawn more than a few times on a date but not because he/she is not interested in you. Sexual dysfunction is one of the more serious side effects of antidepressants and this is particularly pertinent if you are already in an intimate relationship or hoping to move towards it Being aware of the side effects of anti-depressants will help you to avoid taking your partner’s distractions personally and enable you to be more understanding of his/her situation. Therapy is often effective in treatment of anxiety disorders; whether you go with your partner to therapy or do it on your own, either resource will help you better understand anxiety disorders and how to handle tough situations in your relationship.
However If you are dating someone with Anxiety Disorder and they have not yet got help for their condition, wait until they are in a calm state and tell them how much you do care and encourage they get help. If they refuse, try to involve a close family member of the sufferer. If your efforts have been of no avail, understand that it is not something you can force them to do, so keep in mind that your relationship may end at some point in the future and that it will not be your fault.