This backfires, says Priem, because people who are stressed don’t know what will help, which is one reason why they’re anxious. Asking them to help you help them only frays their nerves further. “The best partner will look for small or large ways to ease the burden, and do them,” Priem says. If your spouse is overwhelmed with pressures at work, find a way to take a nagging task off their plate. Make concrete suggestions, such as, “Why don’t I take the kids to the park after work and you can just relax in the quiet house?”
Helping to decrease stress levels by utilizing supportive listening techniques can be good for their overall health, says Priem. Chronic stress is associated with a range of health issues, from depression and anxiety to common colds, headaches and more serious conditions like heart disease. Not only that, these methods can prevent stress going forward, Priem says. “If you believe you’re in a relationship in which, when things happen, you can count on your partner to support you,” she points out, “you may experience less stress to begin with.”
In Tom’s handling of my meeting jitters, Priem says a more explicit support message could have been, "I know this meeting is really important to you (validation of feelings). You've done so well in the past (bring up specific examples here to make the message more explicit). What are your biggest concerns? (This shows interest and opens the door to discussing my feelings more).”
Had Tom done this, I would have calmed down—and I wouldn’t have had to obsessively worry that I was going to spill coffee on myself during my meeting. A win-win, in other words.