The Good Old Fear Cycle That Plays A Part In Dating With Anxiety
Intimate relationships magnify our personality, so if youre already struggling with anxiety, its going to show up even more when youre ready to get close with someone, says Karen McDowell, PhD, and clinical director of AR Psychological Services.
According to McDowell, anxiety is deeply rooted in our thinking patterns. When our mind processes things in terms of fear, we start automatically seeking out things that confirm these fears.
So, she says, if you fear that youre unlovable, that your date will not like you, or that you will do or say something awkward, your brain will go into overdrive trying to confirm its suspicions.
Fortunately, you can change those thinking patterns.
If you have anxiety and want to start dating, here are a few ways to start challenging the negative thought cycles that have held you back in the past.
Dont Ask Them To Just Snap Out Of It
You cant go on saying like, Calm down whenever they have anxiety. It shows that you believe what they are feeling is under their control, and they are just making it up. Your partner is aware already that what they are going through is not rational, but it is not something in their control. So, you telling them to have it under their control or saying anything that makes them look like a fool is not going to help.
Also, dont undermine their feelings by making fun of their fears and worries. They might appear petty to you, but to them, they do hold significant control. So, if you dont have anything to say, it is better for you to keep quiet.
Include Them In The Process
Another way you can support your partner when being in a relationship with someone who has anxiety is by including them.
Anxiety can make someone feel alienated and alone in their struggle, so sharing with them your vulnerabilities can help them realize that theyre not alone.
Moreover, doing so will help encourage them, but this can also help deepen your connection with your partner, allowing you to tackle your challenges together.
However, make sure that you adopt the proper approach and avoid making it only about your struggles.
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Take A Break Together
It can be overwhelming to have a routine scheduled up where you and your partner are constantly going through challenges of daily life. A fun hangout here and there every once in a while rekindles the spark in the relationship and helps you two to ease the tension and anxiety at hand. Spend time on something that will make you both happy and enjoy the moment together.
Write down what is challenging and try to narrow down what the important issues are and talk about them together in a calm manner.
Dont Assume That Everything Negative In Their Life Stems From Anxiety
Because anxiety is a big issue in your partners life, it can be common to assume that everything negative stems from their mental condition.
But this simply isnt the case.
The truth is, were all human and we all have different sorts of issues that were dealing with on a constant basis.
Assuming that everything stems from anxiety is simplistic and does nothing to help your partner deal with what theyre going through.
Remember, communication is key. Take time to understand what your partner is going through. Dont assume.
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Do Practice Maintaining Calm In Testing Situations
Anxiety disorders can produce a lot of different feelings, including anger or hostility that doesnt necessarily make sense in the context of a situation.
Throwing anger back at a person who is working their way through an anxiety attack only makes things worse.
So your challenge is to meet your partners anger or hostility with a calm demeanor.
This is not the natural reaction that most people have. Most people respond to anger with anger, especially if they feel attacked.
Well, your partner may say or do things that hurt you when their anxiety is heightened. Things that they dont really mean.
Anxiety is not an excuse for such rude or mean behavior, but it can be a reason for it. As hard is may be, trying to compartmentalize an attack by them on you during an episode of anxiety is one way to ease the emotional effect it has on you.
You have to tell yourself that this is their anxiety talking through them. It is not the calm, loving person you are dating that wants to hurt you.
This comes with a caveat: abuse is not something that should be glossed over or tolerated.
There is no reason to be anyones emotional punching bag. If you are not sure of the situation or relationship youve found yourself in, the best thing you can do is visit a counselor and get a neutral, third-party opinion.
That being said, no one is perfect. There are going to be some rough times to navigate. Thats just the way it is in a relationship with someone with a mental illness.
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Help Them Find Healthy Coping Skills
Aside from seeking treatment, there are coping skills a person can utilize to manage their anxiety.
Having a few coping methods can be extremely beneficial in moments of anxiety. You can work with the person youre dating to create a list of things they can do when their anxiety creeps up.
Some coping skills to include are:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Watching a movie
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Final Thoughts On Dating Someone With Anxiety
Sometimes there are going to be days that are really hard and no matter what your partner does or how much progress they have made, their anxiety will be overwhelming. But even then, there are things you can do to help. By just being there to support them when they need it, you can help ease some of the stress they experience.
While living with chronic anxiety is a difficult challenge, loving someone with anxiety can be painful as well. However, as a partner, you have stepped into the role of a support system. While you will not be able to take the anxiety away or fix every problem, you do have the power to make things dramatically better.
Meeting Your Own Needs
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How Do You Date Someone With Anxiety
Dating someone with anxiety is a lot like going out with a regular person you just have to bring a little more understanding than usual to the table. You also need to be very patient and empathetic to accommodate their excesses without being dismissive of their worries. Listen, ask questions, and love them truly.
Managing Your Reactions To The Anxiety
When your partner talks about his or her anxiety in the context of your relationship, its easy to take it personally and become upset. Its easy to interpret anxiety as selfishness, rejection or an attempt to create distance, but try not to.
If you start to feel frustrated with your partners anxiety you should take a step back and ask yourself why you are having this kind of reaction. This will help you understand yourself better and prevent you from giving a negative reaction to your partner. Bisma Anwar, LMHC
Imagine your partner says she has anxiety about you cheating. If you take it personally, you might think she has this anxiety because she judges you or thinks you are the kind of person who is likely to cheat.
The moment you make it about you, youll start to feel upset. You might react defensively and say something mean.
When you react with anger, your response is most likely coming from a place of fear and hurt feelings. Doing your best to not react out of anger is key, and apologizing after for anything hurtful youve said or done is crucial to reconciliation.
Then your partner will strike back. Flash forward to an hour later and youre fighting. The argument has snowballed. You might not even remember why you are fighting.
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What Are Anxiety Triggers And How Might They Affect Your Relationship
Some anxiety occurs at what seems like random times. But other people have triggers. Triggers are events or situations that may cause a surge in anxiety.
- Someone with social anxiety may have a hard time with public spaces or crowded parties.
- Someone with panic attacks may have anxiety when they feel strange physically.
- Someone with generalized anxiety may have more anxiety right after an unexpected occurrence.
Triggers are different both for different people and different forms of anxiety. Learning your partner’s triggers will help you know how/when to care for your partner and potentially how to avoid triggering the anxiety yourself.
Most partners that have struggled with anxiety for a while can tell you their triggers. Make sure you’re open to listening and avoid being judgmental, even if a trigger feels strange or irrational. Anxiety is irrational. It doesn’t make it any easier for them to control.
Establish Values And Needs
An individual should define their dating goals, values, and needs, so they have a clear understanding of what they want from their dating experience. They can make an honest assessment of their relationship patterns, strengths, and weaknesses.
A person may decide if they prefer casual dating or a long-term commitment. This may help them set healthy emotional and physical boundaries.
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Respect Their Need For Space
Needing time alone has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Thats because folks with anxiety tend to navigate relationships with a pretty heavy emphasis on self-care and introversion. When they ask for space, let them have it. No questions asked. Sometimes they just need 20 minutes or a full day alone to recharge. No matter the length of time it takes, once theyre feeling refreshed, rest assured that theyll be back around and feeling much better than before.
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Do: Mental Health Break Together
It is healthy for partners to do things together to cope with mental health decline. As a couple, take a mental health break together. For example, you can go on date nights, short trips, exercise together, or even just a movie night.
Rather than focusing and stressing about the anxiety issue at hand, do things as a couple that will make you both happy. Avoid events or circumstances that may cause you both to stress out. Focus on what can make you both happy.
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Learn About Their Condition
First and foremost, take some time to learn about your partners mental health condition, the way you would a physical disease or chronic health issue. Both depression and anxiety are legitimate health disorders, but it can be difficult to understand how they affect your partner if youre unfamiliar with how they work. Doing some research about these disorders, their symptoms, and their effects can make them less abstract and scary, as well as much easier to deal with in your relationship.
As you do research, be sure to talk with your partner about their personal experiences. Try not to assume that something will be true for them just because you read about it or because it is a common occurrence with others. Remember that your partner is the most knowledgeable resource when it comes to their own mental health.
Validate Them When Theyre Insecure
Insecurity may also play a role in your partners anxiety. This insecurity could stem from multiple sources, such as relationships and body image. You may not agree with their level of insecurity, but you can still validate them through listening, offering empathy for the emotions they are experiencing, reflecting back what they have shared, normalizing their feelings, seeing the situation through their perspective, offering physical touch to connect, and using open body language. Validation creates an environment of safety and trust which will help your partner feel more secure.
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Ask Them What They Need
Being in a relationship with someone who has anxiety requires a bit more communication on your end. According to licensed clinical psychologist and author of Understanding Bipolar Disorder, Aimee Daramus, Psy.D., when a partner’s anxiety is high, it’s important to be mindful of their needs and inquire what they may require at the moment if they are able to tell you so. “For example, if they want to be held or if touch feels too overstimulating at the moment, you can just ask them what they need,” she says.
However, if they’re unable to articulate what they need in the moment, Dr. Daramus suggests keeping things low key. “Try playing some soft music playing with pets or focusing on any calming, pleasant physical sensation that they need. Get a meditation app and offer to meditate with them for a few minutes, or do something artistic and creative together,” she says. “Games that take a lot of attention and concentration can be good, too, because they steal attention from the anxiety. Puzzles or simple video games like Tetris or solitaire can be good at distracting them.”