Guest Blog: How to Support a Loved One Experiencing Anxiety

This is Andy Walker, Kelli's husband. I know Kelli often writes and speaks of me on her podcast, and from what I've heard, I probably come off as more patient and understanding than I actually am, certainly more so than when Kelli first started her anxiety journey many years ago. I have learned a lot about anxiety and about how to support someone that's caught up in it, but I was not always as enlightened as Kelli graciously gives me credit for.

For years I identified as a rational, self-reliant, hard-nosed kind of fella. I suppose I still do. I always believed that overcoming doubt or fear or emotional challenges in general was simply a matter of willpower. You're nervous for a test and find yourself procrastinating; knuckle down and study your butt off. You over-indulged at Thanksgiving because you have three different celebrations and now you're ten pounds heavier than you've ever been; run two miles every morning and don't stop until you're where you want to be. Bottom line, if you put your mind to it, you can will yourself through anything. Right? Wrong. Oh so wrong. In riding shotgun with Kelli as she struggled deeply with anxiety and panic attacks, I quickly learned how little will power has to do with being anxious.

This fact was hammered home for me when Kelli was starting a new job at what would become the beginning of her most crippling anxiety. There were a lot of factors that led Kelli to feel she had to succeed at that new job. We had just bought a house and felt we needed the income. She had just finished nursing school and wanted to get to work. She had been a student for six years and wanted to be bringing in money of her own. Her fellow graduates were starting jobs. Her parents valued careers. Bottom line, she felt like she needed to find a job and make it work... or else. And I was certainly part of that. So when Kelli started having panic attacks and severe anxiety during her orientation week at the new job, she and I both put a tremendous amount of pressure on her to knuckle down and will power through it. "Just get through the orientation and you'll be okay. You just have to make this job work."

Well one morning, after a sleepless night, I had front row seats to Kelli reaching rock bottom. She was in the bathroom trying to get ready for another day at orientation. She was crying. She was terrified she was going to panic that day and have to leave early again. She was scared for what that meant. I was standing in the doorway telling her to willpower through it. Was I yelling? She couldn't take it anymore. She couldn't succeed and she couldn't fail. She flung everything off the bathroom sink. She sobbed and screamed. I saw in her eyes the look of a trapped animal. It was terrifying and liberating all at once. In that 30-60 seconds, I realized, and I think she did too, that anxiety is not something you can willpower through. My wife is the toughest, most stubborn person I know, but her tremendous strength was simply feeding her anxiety. Like quicksand, the harder she tried, the deeper she sank.

On the floor of our bathroom, in one of the darkest moments of our early 20s, we learned a critical lesson - you cannot willpower through anxiety. It's as important a lesson for someone struggling with anxiety as it is for the friends and loved ones that support them. Over the next couple years, we learned several other important lessons for loved ones to be aware of. Kelli and I recently recorded an episode for her podcast (Episode 16) where we talk about those lessons. Kelli, as always brings the brains, but I like to think I didn't make a total fool of myself. If you have a loved one struggling with anxiety or could use some more support from your family and friends, please take 30 minutes to listen in. Thanks, and as Kelli always says... be kind to yourself.