She’s brooding, always expecting the worst… How can you help him, when you share your life with him, without letting yourself be contaminated? Answers from psychiatrist Christophe André.
“Still obsessed with the idea of death, I constantly meditate. I keep wondering if there is an afterlife, and if there is, can you give me change for twenty dollars? ?”
Not all anxious people are as funny as Woody Allen can be, but all impose on those around them this explosive mixture of metaphysical concerns and worries about everyday life. Living alongside them can be a source of misunderstandings, conflicts, wear and tear. But it can also turn out to be rich, and an opportunity to ask yourself some useful questions about yourself and the meaning of life…
Hear his quest
For the anxious person, there are two certainties: the world is full of potential dangers, and one can only survive it with maximum precautions. Anxiety therefore leads to constantly anticipating difficulties, to developing constant and excessive vigilance, in the unrealistic hope of approaching zero risk. From the outside, this quest seems illusory and costly, but how to explain it to the anxious? How not to be irritated by his reactions and to dialogue more effectively with him? Useless to deny the problems imagined by him, they are always “possible”.
Because anxiety is not a delirium, but an amplification or anticipation of real difficulties. It is better to discuss with him the cost of his anxiety and his attempts to avoid the worst: “On vacation abroad, you can be taken in by a taxi driver or an unscrupulous restaurateur. But wandering for hours looking for the safe address, won’t that spoil our holidays much more than being fooled from time to time? »
Patience and tolerance
Despite appearances (and despite what anxious people believe or want to believe), anxiety is not a neutral and rational vision, but rests on an important emotional and subjective base. If you want to make the anxious person think about their excesses, you will therefore have an interest in avoiding, if possible, hot discussions, during flashes of worry, and preferring to speak calmly, after the fact. Show patience and tolerance: it always takes time to change, and your efforts are long-term investments. It is also always useful to question your own motivations to help an anxious person to be less anxious: are they selfish, so as not to be imposed lifestyle habits that you do not want? Altruistic, so as not to let a loved one sink into worry? Both, so as not to see the anxious person withdraw and isolate themselves? In any case, the dialogue will only be useful if the anxious person feels respected: “I know you see things this way, but I perceive them differently”, and not judged: “You have a problem, listen- me. »
Very often, anxious people feel that their worries are well-founded, that non-anxious people are oblivious to the real problems of existence. No need to turn the dialogue into a ping-pong game of arguments and counter-arguments about the harshness of existence, and the difference between anxiety and lucidity.
Intelligence often needs experience to be convinced: it is necessary for the anxious to test new ways of doing things in vivo. For example in terms of hypercontrol: anxious people are literally allergic to uncertainty – in their eyes, it can only hide threats and risks – and to improvisation. Rather than urging the anxious person to “trust life”, we can suggest that they take the “risk” of giving up their habits and doing small tests: receiving friends without having prepared the meal for several days at advance, go on an adventure weekend without having booked… What happens then? Do problems arise? If so, are they disasters or incidents? Can we survive it?
Anxiety is also good
Finally, know how to recognize the benefits of anxiety. Because it can have advantages: attention to detail, perfectionism, anticipation of problems, all of this can be helpful (especially in the workplace: bosses like slightly anxious employees). It is legitimate to check that you do not rely too much on the anxious person to relieve you of stressful tasks: raising children, managing finances… there is a “good use of anxiety”.
This is the goal, moreover, of the treatments that are prescribed: it is not a question of suppressing it (which would be unrealistic) but of controlling it. Useful anxiety is one that draws our attention to problems, makes us act to avoid them, and then lets us enjoy life. And as such, anxiety is precious: it reminds us that life is not a long calm river, that adversity lurks and that it is urgent to enjoy the good times.