Let me state the obvious and say it’s been a rough year or so. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, reality has come the closest it’s ever been to a sci-fi novel. And it’s literally messed with our heads. Society as a whole experienced a significant uptick in relationship and mental health issues. 

And let me just speak for us all when I say thank goodness we seem to be on the downswing of it all. (Of course, we’re not entirely over the hill — many are still dealing with health concerns.

Despite this downswing, fear and anxiety are still lingering in the air. Many are experiencing what scientists call “post-pandemic anxiety syndrome.” It’s a condition marked by continual worry about re-entering life in the post-pandemic era. 

Signs1 of this syndrome tend to mimic other mental health issues like anxiety and post-traumatic stress syndrome. They include: 

  • Increased stress
  • Excessive worry
  • Difficulty returning to a full engagement with society
  • Avoiding work or social interactions
  • Constantly checking symptoms despite not being in a high-risk scenario
  • Perceived threats that aren’t necessarily there

Some of these symptoms are pretty normal after a global pandemic. Most of us experienced at least one of these at some time or another. But for those who cope in a healthy way, these signs should gradually taper off. 

However, symptoms that persist or get worse might indicate a bigger problem. 

So how do you help your spouse with post-pandemic anxiety? 

There are two important things you can do right now.

1. Exercise a great deal of empathy and understanding. 

You may not have the same anxiety your spouse does. You may even wonder what all the fuss is about. But it will help if you understand that’s not their reality. 

Consider this: We now know that our brain can train itself to think toward a certain way over time.2  

We’ve had over a year for our brains to adjust to new and sudden precautions, rules of social distancing, and risk management during extreme uncertainty. That’s stressful. 

And now, we’re experiencing an almost equally instantaneous shift back to pre-pandemic life. For many, that’s stress multiplied

Knowing this, put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Let him or her know you’re there, walking with them through this. Allow them to vent and share feelings, no matter how irrational it sounds to you. 

Anxiety isn’t something that can just be quickly “fixed.” It’s a process that takes time. So you’ll have to be patient

2. Encourage your spouse to seek out a professional counselor that works well with them. 

A counselor can provide useful coping tools and help your spouse monitor their progress. It may even be a good idea to attend counseling together because anxiety affects your marriage3,4. You may also need to learn new skills to support your spouse. Couples therapy is very effective for treating a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety5.

Your number one goal in marriage is to show unconditional love and support for your spouse, for better or worse. And that takes a great deal of understanding. You may not know the particular skills they need to cope and overcome the anxiety, and that’s okay. (That’s one reason a professional counselor is so important.) But the greatest presence they have is you. Let them know you’re on their side and you’re not going anywhere. Post-pandemic anxiety is real, and it’s scary for those going through it, but it’s no match for the support and understanding you can give your spouse. 

Sources:

1Nikčević, A. V., & Spada, M. M. (2020). The COVID-19 anxiety syndrome scale: Development and psychometric properties. Psychiatry Research, 292, 113322. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113322 

2Hunter, R. G., & McEwen, B. S. (2013). Stress and anxiety across the lifespan: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation. Epigenomics, 5(2), 177–194. https://doi.org/10.2217/epi.13.8

3Zaider, T. I., Heimberg, R. G., & Iida, M. (2010). Anxiety disorders and intimate relationships: a study of daily processes in couples. Journal of abnormal psychology, 119(1), 163–173. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018473 

4Darcy, K., Davila, J., & Beck, J. G. (2005). Is Social Anxiety Associated With Both Interpersonal Avoidance and Interpersonal Dependence? Cognitive Therapy and Research, 29(2), 171–186. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-005-3163-4

5Lebow, J. L., Chambers, A. L., Christensen, A., & Johnson, S. M. (2012). Research on the Treatment of Couple Distress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 38(1), 145-68. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.lib.utc.edu/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2011.00249.x 

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