What is relationship anxiety and how can I tackle it?
To you, these emotional and physical reactions you are having to an anxiety-inducing situation are normal. You’re likely to have an idea of what sets these feelings off and how best to manage them. You know which situations to avoid and when you might need a little more patience and TLC. Those who have grown up around you such as your parents and close friends might understand these things too. Then suddenly, a lovely man or woman who seems to tick all of your boxes invites you out for dinner with their friends. In his mind, this is a very sweet thing to do and shows he is serious about you.
Your mind, however, is flooded with the “buts” and “what ifs” – their friends might hate you, what will you even say to them, what will be on the menu, what if there’s nothing you like, what if you overdress, what if you under-dress, what if you don’t fit in. Before you know it, you have come to the conclusion that it was much easier being alone. Yes, this guy or gal might be lovely, but the anxiety that even the beginnings of a relationship are putting you through are all too much. To some, this might seem a drastic reaction. To you though, this is a normal and perfectly reasonable response. Whilst it is important to recognise that this relationship anxiety is OK and not to beat yourself up about it, it is also important to recognise that avoiding relationships all together is not your only option.
5 relationship anxiety symptoms
1. Trying to push them away
You aren’t sure whether they really do care as much as they say they do, so subconsciously you try to test them. You give them your absolute worst and wait to see if they’ll leave. Unfortunately, you’ll risk coming across like you are trying to get rid of them because you simply aren’t interested. If they do then walk away, it won’t be because they weren’t interested in you, but because you have pushed them away. At this point, you will tell yourself “I knew they’d leave” when in actual fact, you gave them no choice.
2. Getting angry
Sometimes they might say or do things that cause you anxiety. Often they will do this without knowing it and you are well aware of this but that doesn’t stop the niggling voice in your head and before you know it you’re anxiety is overwhelming. You’re not angry at them for doing whatever it is they did, you’re angry at yourself for your reaction to it. You are frustrated that you cannot seem to control your feelings. Even though you aren’t angry at them, all this anger spills out in one way or another and suddenly you find yourself saying something you didn’t mean.
3. Fear of opening up
What if you tell them that big crowds make you panic and that you can never meet his mum because you’ll probably get so anxious you’ll be sick on her shoes? What if you open up and they walk away? That’s the last thing you want and so you are terrified of being honest about how you feel. What if they don’t understand and think you’re being stupid? You’ve been through so much and learnt how to cope with the anxiety on your own. You might worry that getting close to someone will ruin all the hard work you’ve put in that got you to the point you’re at today.
4. Low self-esteem
Maybe you start to think you aren’t good enough. “Why on earth would this lovely person want to be with me when I am such hard work?” You might start getting anxious over the way you look – do you look good enough? Do his friends thinks you’re enough? What about his parents? Will he leave you for being so panicky all the time?
5. Becoming clingy
Suddenly someone is there for you whenever you need them. They let you talk and cry and talk some more and it’s great. You feel loved and supported and you’d forgotten how great that felt. However, you might find yourself becoming a little too reliant on this person. Every time you have a panic attack they are there to calm you down and it’s wonderful but suddenly you’re having a panic attack whilst he’s at work and you’ve called him 15 times and he’s not picking up and not only have you come to the conclusion he clearly doesn’t love you and the relationship was a bad idea but you’ve also realised you’ve forgotten how to cope alone.
All of these thoughts are very common for someone who struggles with relationship anxiety but that is OK! It doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of having a fully functioning, wonderful relationship. It just means you both need to learn how best to deal with the anxiety that comes along with it. We forget that those around us cannot see what’s going on in our heads and so we need to open up in order for them to understand. You might be able to feel the panic coming on for half an hour before you start sobbing, but to them, it will be completely out the blue – unless you learn to open up.
In a 2004 study by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, those with generalised anxiety disorder were:
Half as likely to report being in supportive, healthy relationships
Twice as likely to have major relationship problems
Three times as likely to have issues with intimacy
The good news, however, is that as the anxiety was treated, the relationship anxiety improved!
5 tips to help you through relationship anxiety
1. Let them know what your triggers are
Does being late make you anxious? New environments? New people? If they know what sets your anxiety off they know when you need extra support. This isn’t to say they will help you avoid these things – you can’t avoid meeting their friends and family forever. However, it does mean that they understand why you might turn down an invite or why you might want to meet them in a certain environment.
Chances are, you already have a few strategies for relationship anxiety. Often, it is hard to think logically and put these into practice in the moment and so sharing your strategies with your partner can be really helpful. If they know that going for a walk calms you down, when you are anxious and can’t think straight they can simply tell you to put your shoes on and walk with you until your head is clear. If you don’t tell them, they might unintentionally do something that makes things worse. You need to help them help you.
3. Show them you are trying your best
If you tend to shout and get angry when you are anxious, this will be taking it’s toll on your partner as well as you. Showing them that you are trying to overcome the anxious thoughts to better your relationship can be a good way of showing them how much the relationship means to you. Perhaps research techniques together and find strategies that work well for the both of you.
4. Let them be there for you
It can be very easy to want to tackle your issues on your own because you don’t want to open up or become dependent on somebody else. However, if your partner is willing to support you and learn how to help you, let them. If they didn’t want to help you they wouldn’t offer in the first place. Take the support. Let them in and don’t try to do this alone.
5. Be honest
Sometimes the most effective thing you can do is just be completely honest about how you feel. If they don’t know, they can’t do anything about it. Just let them know that them going away with work, for example, makes you anxious and that you will struggle. You might worry that being honest will push them away but actually, you are just giving them a helpful heads up. If they know you’ll be anxious they can reassure you throughout, make sure they call you when they can and will be more understanding if your mood seems a bit off.
In the words of HeySigmund.com relationships “can inflame our struggles or soothe them.” In order to soothe them, you need to let it be soothed.