The symptoms of depression and anxiety can be easy to miss until you’re in the thick of things. With busy schedules and ongoing demands, important issues such as depression can go unrecognized until the day your sweetheart can’t get out of bed.
In the same way, an anxiety disorder can be all but ignored until the onset of a major panic attack that leads to an emergency room visit. If a battle with anxiety or depression is affecting your marriage, take heart. You are surely not alone! According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 18% of the U.S. population over age 18 is affected by an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in our country. Unfortunately, it is estimated that only about 33% of those affected receive treatment. Other statistics indicate that the lifetime risk for major depression is a sobering 17% and that mild, chronic depression affects approximately 3.3 million American adults.
With this information in mind, it’s important to be able to recognize some of the more common signs of both depression and anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, signs of depression include difficulty concentrating, fatigue, insomnia, excessive sleeping, irritability, restlessness, overeating, appetite loss, body aches and pains, loss of interest in pleasurable activities (including sex), persistent sadness or anxiousness, and suicidality. In contrast to mild, situational anxiety that can arise when a temporarily stressful event (such as a job interview) arises, an anxiety disorder is diagnosed after at least 6 months of symptoms.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is one of the more common anxiety disorders. The symptoms of GAD include edginess, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, restlessness, muscle tension, and physical symptoms such as diarrhea or gastrointestinal discomfort. When in doubt, always contact your medical provider for a thorough consultation. If left untreated, both depression and anxiety can worsen over time.
It is no secret that psychological issues such as anxiety and depression affect the way an individual thinks, feels, behaves, and functions on a day-to-day basis. Individuals struggling with anxiety and depression often feel incredibly exhausted, overwhelmed, and lacking in control over daily life issues. Those suffering from these disorders often find that every area of life is impacted. A person’s home life, work environment, romantic relationships, and social engagements, are all affected by psychological health. As well, general physical health is assuredly connected to psychological well-being. In fact, a person suffering from an anxiety disorder is three to five times more likely to visit the doctor than an individual who is not suffering from anxiety. By becoming aware of the telltale signs of depression and anxiety, you’ve taken the first step toward greater wellness for you and your family. Although it can be frightening at first to reach out to others for support, an abundance of resources (hospitals, support groups, psychotherapists, and community members) are but a phone call away!
When your husband or wife is struggling with anxiety or depression, it can feel as though a dark, heavyweight has been placed on your shoulders. It is easy to feel helpless and confused when your spouse is suffering from a psychological issue that is resistant to treatment or seems unfixable. There is no need to suffer alone or in silence. A few basic strategies can help spouses stay sane and connected when working through the difficulties of anxiety and depression:
- Communicate! Let your loved one know that you see how he or she is struggling. Whether you feel helpless or frustrated, gently and openly talk about the issues that arise. It can be tempting to avoid these issues and sweep them under the carpet, but doing this will only reduce communication and increase the underlying stress. Make a special, private time to talk—away from kids and work issues—to address possible causes of anxiety and depression. Communicating does not mean that you need to try to “fix” the issues; it’s most important that you simply open up, listen, and allow space for honest discussion.
- Reach Out! It’s easy to feel ashamed or embarrassed by feelings of depression or stress, yet these issues are extremely common. It’s often a great idea to reach out to a local support group, private psychotherapist, or minister for gentle guidance and support. There are many underlying causes of anxiety and depression that include such issues as a “need for perfection” or a “desire to be in control of life.” A mental health specialist can help sort through these root causes that are often hidden and deeply unconscious. As well, a trusted professional can often help you and your spouse become aware of patterns that trigger anxiety and depression. By becoming aware of such patterns, you can learn how to become proactive in creating positive, healthy behaviors. In general, asking for help from others can take immense pressure off the marriage. It is important to relieve the emotional pressure within the marriage and allow for supportive, objective input from skilled professionals. Some people feel ashamed or fear that they are weak if they ask for support, yet it actually takes great courage to reach out to others!
- Socialize! Depression and anxiety often leave a person wanting to stay in bed or at home on the couch. The most simple life tasks can feel daunting and exhausting when a person feels overwhelmed. When this occurs, it is common for individuals to feel that they are alone in their struggles. It becomes easy to believe that everyone else in the world is happy and smiling. This can create a cycle of isolation and immobilization that serves to worsen the struggle. Brief, uplifting outings—such as a trip to the store, an afternoon picnic in the park, or a walk through a local farmer’s market—can increase a sense of wellness and connection to others. Volunteering has been shown to have a positive effect on overall mental and physical health! Engaging in caring involvement with others has many tremendously positive benefits!
- Exercise! When anxiety and depression begin to rise, many people feel too tired to exercise. Stress-relieving neurochemicals surge throughout the body when we exercise, so it is important to encourage a regular fitness regimen. Whether you take a walk with your spouse after work or encourage a run in the local park, exercise naturally helps relieve anxiety and depression. In that, exposure to sunlight also increases mood-elevating neurochemicals, the benefits of exercising outside are especially wonderful. Although your sweetie may want to become a couch potato, exercise in general—and especially in the great outdoors—is incredibly curative.
- Increase Self Care! Don’t forget that a partner’s mental health issues also affect you on a deep level. It is important to care for your spouse, yet it’s also vital that you engage in self-care activities of your own, such as outing with friends, exercise, and simple treats like quiet bubble baths. If you allow yourself to become worn-out and exhausted you will not have the necessary reserves to properly take care of anyone else. It is not selfish to put your own needs at the top of the list; in fact, it is essential that fundamental, positive self-care be a solid priority in your life. It does not do any good to be a rundown martyr. Strive to lead by example and become a model of healthy, vibrant self-care!
- Get Away! If at all possible, arrange a weekend get-away with your spouse. Having quiet time away from the pressures of home and work can offer enough quiet time to put fears, worries, and anxiety in perspective. The get-away need not be lavish or expensive to be healing. If possible, take journals with you—one for you and one for your sweetie—to allow for unfiltered writing and reflection. Use the time away to walk, talk about hopes and dreams, and let the pressures of life slip away. Although a micro-vacation is a temporary reprieve, such times can allow enough relief and rejuvenation to get back on track.
- Take Calming Time-Outs! Invite your spouse to engage in regular, peaceful time-outs with you. Practice yoga, listen to calming music, meditate, or enjoy a massage. Learning relaxation techniques is easy to do with readily available CDs and books that offer step-by-step instructions. A practice of learning to become still and quiet can become a life-long ally in the struggle against anxiety and depression. Inner calmness encourages a more tranquil acceptance of life’s ongoing challenges. Learning to step back from worries and fears can be empowering and freeing!
- Eat Healthfully! We often overlook the importance of a healthy diet, yet research consistently shows that diet affects psychological well-being. When struggling with anxiety and depression, it is all the more important to eat regular, well-balanced meals. Avoid the temptation to allow yourself or your sweetie to skip meals. Maintain a ready supply of healthy, energy-boosting snacks such as raw nuts, fresh fruits, and raw vegetables. Limit alcohol and caffeine, both of which are known to aggravate anxiety issues.
- Laugh! As simple as it might sound, laughter is truly one of the best medicines known to mankind. Studies have shown that humor goes a long way to contribute to psychological and physical wellness. With this in mind, seek as many opportunities as you can to fill your life with laughter! Whether you watch a romantic comedy with your spouse or have friends over for a night of charades, the healing power of laughter is incredible. We often take ourselves—and life—far too seriously. Let a sense of humor and laughter bring balance and lightness into your life!
- Sleep! The power of a good night’s sleep is too often ignored or marginalized. Anxiety and depression often affect sleep patterns, and the lack of solid, uninterrupted sleep can make matters worse. A lack of sleep can increase irritability and lead to poor emotional control, bad judgment, and a host of other difficulties. Too much sleep can also lead to problems that include weight gain and diabetes. To improve sleep, it’s important to have a regular bedtime, avoid late evening meals or snacks, reduce alcohol and caffeine, eliminate electronic (television and computer) stimulation late in the evening, and maintain a softly lit bedroom that is free of distractions. It is easier to have a positive attitude when you are rested and refreshed!
- Breathe! Never underestimate the power of slow, deep breaths! Especially when dealing with anxiety issues, it’s important to learn to breathe deeply, slowly, and mindfully. When anxiety or stress begins to build, learn to inhale and exhale slowly. Breathe into a count of 10, and breathe out to a count of 10. When focusing on counting the breath, the mind stops racing and anxiety can be reduced. Breathing exercises have been proven to reduce stress and increase wellness. The body’s production of harmful stress hormones is reduced when relaxing breathing techniques are utilized. If yoga appeals to you, it’s good to know that certain yoga practices also focus on mindful breathing. It’s good news to know that something as simple as changing the way you breathe can support a sense of overall peace and wellness in life.
Anxiety and depression are big issues that need not be faced alone. Life is complicated and often far too stressful. Remember to reach out for support. You, your marriage, and your family will be healthier and happier when you take small, significant steps to create a more balanced lifestyle. With increased awareness and support, you and your husband or wife can thrive!