When you’re an anxious person, dating can be daunting, especially when it’s a new relationship. Within the first few months, there are several things that could cause your mind to race and your anxiety to spike.
How will we handle our first fight?
What if they leave when they see how bad my anxiety is?
How will I get used to a new person’s way of coping with emotion?
What if they leave the bathroom door open and my dog gets into the trash?
Having anxiety is hard enough — balancing it with being in a relationship can be even harder. For me personally, it’s been an amazing learning experience.
I’ve picked up tips along the way that help keep my anxiety at bay.
1. Be clear about plans.
With my anxiety, change can be difficult to manage. Particularly sudden changes in plans. For me, the solution has been to create a Google calendar. It may seem weird, but hear me out. I’ve found my anxiety is triggered or spikes when my boyfriend has a change in plans. Creating a calendar helps. My anxiety can’t be triggered if I already know the plans for the weekend.
2. Be patient and understanding.
Getting frustrated or angry with someone who is experiencing anxiety doesn’t help. It can even lead to shame, which is not a positive result. If your partner is going through an anxiety attack, or even just a small episode, be understanding. Be with them in that moment and make them feel safe and heard.
One day my boyfriend and I were hanging out. I went to walk my dog and saw his allergies were kicking in and he had a gigantic bloody spot he wouldn’t stop itching. The entire walk all I saw was the spot, and by the time I got back to my place, I was in tears. My boyfriend asked what was wrong and I started sobbing because one little thought morphed into several ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts). Instead of being confused or telling me to “think happy thoughts,” he held me and said, “everything is OK, you’re OK” over and over again until I was OK. With his immense patience and understanding, he brought my mind back into reality where everything was fine. I was able to deal with my thoughts and move on.
3. Replace “I’m sorry” with “thank you.”
I learned this recently while reading and doing research on mental health and wellness topics. I stumbled upon a Huffington Post article where the author replaced apologizing — in situations where she had done nothing wrong — with an attitude of gratitude.
With my boyfriend (and honestly other people I’m close to in my life) I find myself apologizing when I’m anxious or think I’m not good enough. When I need to vent or just talk, he makes time to call me and ask what’s wrong but I have a strong urge to immediately say, “I’m sorry for wasting your time,” or “I’m sorry you had to do that.” So instead of saying things like that, I try to express gratitude. Like, “thank you for making time for me.” This can give your partner love and appreciation, and can make you more confident in your own voice and what you’re feeling.
4. Take time for self-care.
My boyfriend has taught me that taking time to recharge is really important for a relationship and also for yourself.
Self-care is necessary for me to help me manage my anxiety. It helps bring myself back to reality from all the fear-based, negative thoughts that swarm my brain on a daily basis. Because of society’s expectations (which I feel are unrealistic) I’ve always thought to have a good relationship, you had to be together all the time, every minute. But that’s not true. Because of my anxiety it took some adjusting, but when my boyfriend takes a few days to have his own time and space, it actually has nothing to do with me. That’s crucial to remember. I can’t make it personal. This is where being clear and communicating plans and feelings is also important. Thankfully my partner is good at communicating, so I don’t feel like he’s not wanting to hang out.
5. Don’t stop learning from each other.
This may sound cliche, but it’s so true. When I get out of a therapy session, there are three people I call or text. My dad, my close friend, and my boyfriend. This is because I want to keep these specific people updated on my constant bouts with anxiety and share with them the things I’ve learned that week or any realizations. I need a partner who is actively interested in knowing more about my anxiety and how to effectively make things better.
I was out to dinner with my boyfriend and he asked what I talked about in therapy that night (you do not have to talk about it if you aren’t comfortable) and I said, “Are you sure you want to know?” to which he replied, “Yeah because the more I know about it, the more I can understand what you go through.” Right there. That’s the kind of person I want in my life.
Anxiety should not be the reason I can’t be in a happy, healthy relationship — I am enough and deserve happiness.
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Thinkstock image by Yobro10