Are you living with someone with depression and anxiety? Maybe your roommate, parent, or spouse?
If so, you may have experienced more closeness with them as you openly discuss and navigate these diagnoses together. But you might also have experienced exhaustion, frustration, and even resentment as you try to find that sweet spot where both of your needs can be met.
I’m not going to lie to you – living with someone with depression and anxiety can be really challenging. But it’s far from impossible! Here are the crucial ways you can ensure you both receive the support you need.
Help them locate appropriate resources.
We all know that most health issues don’t resolve themselves. While miraculous healings do occasionally occur, most people have to work with a doctor, counselor, or support group in order to recover.
The problem is that depression can drain a person of any energy or motivation they might have otherwise had to track down a doctor with 5-star reviews, a counselor who offers virtual visits, or an online support group. And anxiety can cripple someone with the fear of what a doctor might find to the point they don’t make an appointment at all.
This is where you can be a huge help! It’s best to come alongside them to assist in the search, since they’ll be more invested in a healthcare provider they find for themselves. But you can also take the reins to provide them with the contact info of a few different options should their anxiety otherwise inhibit them.
Want to take your support to the next level? Offer to join them at the appointment!
Accept that whether or not they utilize those resources is up to them.
This is the point where you can either become incredibly frustrated and even angry, or you can remind yourself that you can only control your own actions.
Many people with depression and anxiety have already seen several different doctors and counselors with no lasting success. They often convince themselves that they’ve already tried it, it doesn’t work, and it isn’t worth their further effort. And frankly, that’s their decision to make.
They may feel too depressed and lethargic to leave the house for an appointment. Or they might feel too anxious to actually go through with a virtual visit when the appointment time arrives. That’s also out of your hands.
You can be by their side to support them, but unless you can physically pick them up, throw them in your car, and force them through the door of a doctor’s office, whether or not they use those resources is ultimately their responsibility.
Remember that it’s not up to you to resolve their depression or anxiety, even if they tell you it is.
This brings me to my next point! Many people struggling with depression and anxiety feel the situation is beyond their control.
And because they feel helpless, they may tell you that it’s up to you as their friend, spouse, or child, to carry them through. But friend, that’s simply not true.
Think of it this way: Your friend is desperate to lose weight. You can provide them with a step-by-step workout plan. You can even show up at their bedside at 5:00 am screaming like a drill sergeant. But you can’t actually make them get up and work out.
You could meal prep a million meals for them, fill their fridge to the top. But short of standing guard over them 24/7, you can’t stop them from binge eating an entire pizza when you leave the house.
You can support them emotionally, you can hear them out when they want and need to talk about it, you can even provide some practical resources, like a psychologist’s name and phone number. But you’re not responsible for ensuring that they take the necessary actions to improve their situation.
Set healthy boundaries.
It took me a long time (over 30 years, to be exact!) to realize that boundaries are not selfish or unloving. They’re practical and wise.
Decide what you can give, then set the boundary there. Write it down if necessary. Then when each new situation arrives, you’ll already know where you stand.
For example, you might tell your loved one with anxiety that you’ll understand if their panic attacks keep them from attending family gatherings, but that you’ll still plan on attending yourself. Or maybe you’ll tell your loved one with depression that you’ll hear them out when they need to vent, but that you’ll be switching topics after 30 minutes or an hour.
If you don’t know your boundary ahead of time, you’ll find yourself giving more and more than you actually have to give in the moment. Need help setting boundaries? Get it here!
You may feel bad if/when your loved one doesn’t get exactly what they want. This is where offering options can make both of you feel better.
Let’s go back to the example of attending events without them when they don’t feel up to it. Say you want to log time with your best friend, but your roommate doesn’t want to be left alone with her anxiety.
You could say, “I need some social time away from the house. You’re more than welcome to join us or you could invite your own company over while I’m gone.”
While your roommate might not love either option, offering options can give her some sense of choice and control in a situation where she doesn’t feel she has any. And it can help to remind you that your roommate does have options and that it’s up to her to make those choices.
Remember that it takes a village.
Can I tell you a secret? You are not capable of being someone’s everything. You don’t have enough time or resources to be someone’s only friend, family member, and caretaker in the whole world.
Human beings were created to live in community. We were meant to spend time with family members and fall back on the support of a group of friends, not expecting one person to carry the entire load of our social support.
It’s very possible your loved ones’ needs are too great for them to carry with your assistance alone. If that’s the case, it’s probably time for them to enlist the help of a doctor, counselor, support group, and/or additional friends and family members. Many hands make light(er) work.
Remember that your needs are just as important as theirs.
When you’re living with someone with depression and anxiety, it’s easy to believe their needs are much higher priority than your own. After all, they’re dealing with so much right now! Is it really that important that you catch a few hours for yourself when they’re experiencing several panic attacks a day?!
Yes. Heck yes.
Your basic human needs, including sound physical, mental, and emotional health, are not related to theirs. That means that just because their needs have increased, doesn’t mean that your needs decrease or become less important.
The fact is that they might tell you differently. They might tell you to gain some perspective and empathy.
But the fact is they’re wrong. And frankly, you’ll run out of the personal resources you need to help them if you’re not taking care of your own needs in the meantime.
Make time for yourself.
Now that you understand the importance of meeting your own needs, make them a priority. Similar to boundaries, if you don’t plan and set regular time aside for yourself in advance, chances are good you’ll find yourself giving more than you actually have to give in the moment.
A spur-of-the-moment hike is easier to skip than a hike you’ve been planning for days. And not planning ahead of time to meet your friend for coffee? You’re leaving time on the table that’s up for grabs for anyone. By being a little more mindful of scheduling regular time to fill your cup, you can maintain more control over your time and energy, rather than allowing everyone else to decide what you have to give them.
Treat yourself like the caregiver you are.
Now granted, there are caregivers out there lifting their loved ones in and out of wheelchairs, monitoring IVs, and more. Those people are heroes, no doubt about it!
But the Oxford definition of caregiver is “a family member or paid helper who regularly looks after a child or a sick, elderly, or disabled person.” Depending on how much help you’re providing, that might make you a caregiver as well!
With that in mind, treat yourself like a caregiver. Make regular time for yourself to avoid burnout. Research caregiver resources. Connect with caregiver support groups either in-person or online.
You’re likely doing much more than you give yourself credit for. Be sure to recognize that and act accordingly.
It can feel very challenging living with someone with depression and anxiety. But by helping however you can, understanding their responsibilities, and setting healthy boundaries, you can help to avoid burnout and resentment.
And by enlisting the help of others and caring for yourself first, you can ensure your needs are met as well. You’ve got this, friend!
P.S. Are you living with someone with depression and anxiety? Be sure to download our free stress management workbook HERE!
Disclosure: While all opinions are our own, we are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and other affiliate advertising programs, designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites, at no additional cost to you.