6 Tips for Helping Your Spouse with Social Anxiety

Social anxiety disorder is a mental illness that causes crippling anxiety, fear, and embarrassment and prevents people from fully enjoying life and being with other people. Having a partner or spouse who struggles with this condition makes a full social life difficult. You can do several things that will help your spouse cope with social anxiety. These steps will also help your partner get involved in more social opportunities and enjoy a greater quality of life and relationship with you.

Living with and loving a spouse with social anxiety can be frustrating and it may also be isolating. You probably feel torn between going out to spend time with friends and staying in with your spouse.

This kind of tension between you and the person you care about can also damage your relationship over time. Social anxiety disorder is a real mental illness, but there are things you can do to help your partner manage it and enjoy life spending more time with other people.

Social anxiety disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that is much more than being shy or a little uncomfortable in social situations.

It is a diagnosable and treatable mental illness that causes severe anxiety, fear, embarrassment, and self-consciousness when around other people or contemplating participating in social situations.

The symptoms of social anxiety are serious enough to cause significant impairment in your life:

  • Fear of being judged by others
  • Intense worry about being embarrassed
  • Strong fear of interacting with other people
  • Fear that other people will see your anxiety
  • Anxiety in advance of social events
  • Avoiding social situations, talking to people or doing things that could lead to embarrassment
  • Expecting negative consequences from social interactions
  • Spending time analyzing social situations after the fact

Anxiety also causes physical symptoms like sweating, shaking, blushing, dizziness, nausea, and muscle tension. Social anxiety is serious enough to interfere with work, school, and other activities. It can also be isolating and lonely. But this condition can be treated. If your spouse struggles with social anxiety, there are several things you can do to be supportive and to help them overcome this condition.

1. Help Your Spouse Get Appropriate Treatment for Social Anxiety.

One of the most important things you can do to help your spouse overcome social anxiety is to get them into treatment. Professional treatment for social anxiety disorder can help them learn coping mechanisms for better handling social situations; it will help them reframe social events in a more positive way. Treatment will also guide them to analyze their negative feelings and behaviors and make positive changes.

For social anxiety, treatment is largely focused on individual behavioral therapy. Your spouse may benefit from medications, including antidepressants. Support groups and group therapy are also useful in treating this condition and provide a way to practice socializing in a safe setting.

2. Talk About Your Partner’s Feelings.

With any mental illness, being able to open up about social anxiety and how it feels is important. Let your spouse talk about their feelings openly and honestly and be a patient, non-judgmental listener. Avoid trying to be rational or to fix their issues. Your spouse knows that their feelings are not rational. They don’t need you to reason with them or come up with a solution. You just need to listen and take their feelings seriously.

Saying things like, “Just get over it and pull yourself together,” “Nobody is looking at you, so stop worrying,” or “How can this party with our closest friends possibly scare you?” is not helpful. Instead, say things that are understanding and supportive: “I know you don’t like to feel this way and can’t control it,” “I’ll be here to support you,” or “Take your time.” These kinds of comments acknowledge your spouse’s feelings and the fact that you are there to help.

3. Push Your Spouse to Be More Social.

There is a fine line here that you shouldn’t cross, but avoiding all social situations is neither healthy nor productive for your spouse. You have to be the force that gets them to leave the comfort of home and take chances out in the world and with other people. If your partner is in treatment, they should be learning some coping mechanisms they can use before heading into a social situation. Try them together to be supportive.

When encouraging your loved one to step out of their comfort zone and be social, do so in a positive manner. Don’t badger or bully. Instead, you want to encourage and support: get excited about going out; talk about the aspect of the event your spouse will enjoy and should look forward to; discuss the strategies your partner has learned in therapy for getting more comfortable at social events and how these will help make it easier.

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4. Take Steps to Make Social Situations More Comfortable.

When you do convince your spouse to participate in a social event, take steps to make it more comfortable for them. This may mean hosting the event at your home, planning something with just one or two close friends, or practicing potential social interactions ahead of time. Another helpful strategy for making events easier to handle for someone with social anxiety is to plan distractions. An open-ended party causes a lot of fear, but one at which everyone will be watching a movie or playing board games is a little easier to take.

5. Help Your Spouse Challenge Negative Thinking.

Something your spouse will learn in therapy is how to recognize, analyze, and challenge negative, unproductive thoughts. You can support this to help them make more progress. For instance, in advance of a social situation, ask your partner to tell you what their thinking and feeling.

They might say they are afraid to go because they are worried other people will notice how anxious and fearful they are. Challenge that idea by pointing out that most people focus more on themselves than on others. Talk about the fact that the people you’re meeting up with are friends, and that even if they see the anxiety, they won’t think less of their friend.

6. Encourage and Join In on a Healthy, Anti-Anxiety Lifestyle.

Healthy lifestyle choices are anti-anxiety because they promote good physical and mental health. Help your spouse adopt healthier day-to-day practices and encourage them by leading with your own example. Some ways to be healthier and better able to tackle and conquer anxiety include:

  • Getting enough quality sleep every night
  • Eating a healthy, nutritious diet and limiting junk foods
  • Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs
  • Limiting caffeine intake
  • Learning and using stress-reduction strategies, like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga

Social anxiety doesn’t have to make you and your spouse miserable forever. This can be a crippling condition, but it can be managed and symptoms lessened. Above all, push for treatment so your spouse can learn from a trained professional how to overcome negative feelings and live a better, more enjoyable life.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.