How To Overcome Your Relationship Anxiety

Here’s what ruins relationships more than anything else. It’s not what you look like, it’s not that you texted him back too quickly or used too many emojis… it’s stressing over the relationship.

Relationships are fraught with anxiety in this day and age, and it’s no surprise why. In these days where “ghosting” has become an acceptable form of breaking up (maybe not acceptable, let’s go with widely practiced instead), with endless dating apps where a guy can find someone shiny and new with a few simple swipes, a time that’s defined as a “hookup culture” when fewer and fewer people are settling down.

While yes, it’s tough, it’s not impossible. It’s not the apps or the culture or the ghosting that’s messing people up; it’s their own self-generated fears and anxieties. That’s the real problem no one really addresses. We do it to ourselves.

I’ve been writing about relationships for nearly a decade now and over and over I see women driving themselves half insane with the obsessing and the analyzing. And I fully relate to all of it because I used to be the same way!

Dating is no longer fun and enjoyable, it’s miserable and makes you sick with fears and doubts. The sad thing is, you cheat yourself out of the most magical part of a relationship — the beginning, the courtship, that time when all you have is the potential. Potential is a beautiful thing, reality is less fun. Like when I get ideas for amazing articles, that’s fun! When I have to sit down and actually write them and make it coherent, less fun, but I digress…

Let’s talk about how stressing screws up your love life and how to keep your relationship anxieties under control.

How Stressing Screws You Up

You don’t need me to tell you that stress is bad for you. We’ve all heard the toll it takes on our physical appearance and emotional wellbeing. But that doesn’t stop most of us from stressing, the same way putting “Cigarettes cause lung cancer” on the front of a pack doesn’t stop people from smoking.

Stress puts us into a primitive state. It activates our fears, and we can’t see beyond them. Stress completely overwhelms our minds, and we can’t access to more evolved, rational parts of our brain. It’s like a piece of paper with a black dot on it. When we’re stressed, that little dot takes over the entire page, and it’s all we see.

Being “stress-free” doesn’t mean you’re walking around like some hippy-dippy zen robot who looks like they took a few too many puffs of the good stuff. It really is just having a feeling of being OK, of realizing there isn’t a problem you need to solve.

This is where the majority of people go wrong in relationships. They are on the defensive waiting for something to go wrong, and they can’t relax and just be.

Instead, they’re on high alert for the worst case scenario to come to pass. They are hyper in tune with things that look like bad signs, or indications that he’s losing interest and doesn’t care anymore … that he’s going to leave at any minute.

When you stress over your relationship, you aren’t able to be in the relationship. Instead of interacting with the person in front of you, you’re caught up in your own mind, interacting with the worried thoughts in your head. And the guy will feel it. He’ll pick up on this negative energy and he will just feel turned off. He won’t know why he’s turned off, he thinks you’re great and he’s attracted to you … but there’s just something he can’t quite put his finger on …

Whenever guys suddenly lose interest, this is usually the reason. I have interviewed so many guys over the years as part of my research and this is a consistent theme whenever I ask them if they’ve ever suddenly lost interest in a great girl … and what the reason was. Most of them will say yes, and sometimes they have legitimate reasons (realized she was a terrible person, her values were off, not attracted enough, etc), but more often they don’t know what it was. They say it was just a “feeling.”

Now here is the big takeaway. This is pretty much the only thing you need to know about men to fully understand them: Men move toward what feels good and away from what feels bad.

When it feels good to be around you, he wants to be around you. When it feels bad, he doesn’t. And it feels bad to be around a stressed out person.

Ok, now that we’ve looked at the ways stressing screws you up, let’s talk about how to get the stress under control.

1. Stressing solves nothing

Here’s the trap we fall into with stressing over things. It feels like you’re doing something. It feels like your being productive. It feels like you’re running on the treadmill. Sure you’re not getting anywhere, but you’re doing something beneficial. But stressing is not the treadmill because the treadmill serves a positive purpose, whereas stressing expends energy for no reason and you gain no benefits.

You feel like if you spin your wheels hard enough you’ll land on some sort of a solution. But instead, you poison your mood and your vibe and your self-esteem. It feels like the stress and worry will lead you somewhere positive like it will open the doors of clarity and confidence and a happy relationship, but this is one big delusion. Stressing multiplies your problems, it doesn’t solve them, and it leaves you emotionally exhausted and battered in the end.

Whenever you catch yourself stressing, try to remind yourself that this is a huge waste of time and you’re getting nowhere.

2. Set a date to panic

A lot of women prematurely panic. They assume there’s a problem when there is none and they live this whole one-sided drama, meanwhile, in boy world, he has no idea anything is amiss.

For example, you’re dating a guy and everything has been going well and then one day he doesn’t text you back and you literally lose your mind.

I remember going through this when I started dating my husband. We had gone on our first and were talking about when to go on the second. I told him I was free Monday and Thursday that week, and he said,”Great, let’s go out on both!” (For context, I dated my husband in high school and we started dating again 11 years later. In that time frame, we weaved in and out of each other’s lives and every time I saw him I secretly hoped things would start up again between us … but they never did, until they did! So it was already a pretty emotionally fraught situation because something I wanted for so, so long was finally happening.)

So we went out on Monday night and I didn’t hear from him at all the next day and I had no idea if we actually had plans on Thursday or not. Maybe he decided he’s not into me. Maybe I talked too much on our date and it was a turn off. Maybe I was too nervous. Maybe he’s not attracted to me. I was drowning in a sea of maybes. I literally felt sick to my stomach. I can’t believe I pushed him away after only two dates. Why do I always mess everything up? Why don’t things every work out for me? And on and on the tragic stream of consciousness went.

Then came Wednesday and I still didn’t hear from him and it was happening again. The panic, the worry, the feeling of terror in the pit of my stomach.

But then I said no. I said no more of this. I will not stress and obsess like I do with every relationship. I decided that I would not worry about this at all, at least not today. I gave myself until Friday. If I don’t hear from him by Friday, then I will allow myself to be upset. Until then, I will not give into these frantic, frenetic thoughts. I will not let this ruin my day or my mood or my self-esteem.

It isn’t always easy, but it’s possible to take control of your mind and your thoughts. When those panicked thoughts started creeping in, I just told them to go away and come back on Friday. This wasn’t the time for them.

And you know what happened? He texted me later that night … and everything as just fine and normal! I easily could have spent that entire day driving myself half insane and for no reason! And that’s what we do to ourselves all the time.

Anytime something like this would come up in our relationship, I would set a date to panic, and pretty much every time, whatever the problem was would resolve itself before I ever got to the day where I was allowed to freak out about it. Soon enough, I realized that there was nothing to ever freak out about and I learned to just be calm and deal with things and not let stress overtake me because like I said, no good ever comes of it.

3. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll be OK

This is another one of my mantras and another line that I tell friends and readers all the time: if it doesn’t work out, you will be OK. You were OK before him, and you will be fine if things don’t work out. For some reason, this basic revelation feels groundbreaking when spoken out loud.

It’s hard to realize something so obvious when you’re in the thick of it because it doesn’t feel OK. It feels like you will combust if he leaves. You just can’t handle that being a reality.

And to that I say, stop attaching so much to what it will mean if things don’t work out. Dating is a discovery process, that’s all. It’s not a means to find happiness or self-esteem or to heal your old wounds. Being in a relationship isn’t a goal to achieve. It is something that naturally happens when you’re dating someone and you both realize it just fits. It feels easy and effortless and being together is just much better than not being together. You mesh, you click, you want the same things.

If one person doesn’t feel this way, then there isn’t much you can do. You can’t force someone to feel what you feel. If he doesn’t want to be with you, he doesn’t want to be with you, and that’s fine. You will find someone who wants you and wants what you want.

It may feel like you will never be able to find anyone as good as him, and maybe you won’t find anyone exactly like him, but that’s a good thing because it didn’t work out with him, so someone different who is better suited for you is what you need!

No matter what, when those panicked thoughts creep in, just remind yourself that you will be OK. Say it as many times as you need to until it really sinks in.

4. Imagine other possibilities

The reason we stress ourselves out so much is because we invest so much in this other person, oftentimes before they’ve shown any real investment in us. There’s an underlying feeling of I need this relationship to work!

Maybe it’s because we just really like him, maybe it’s because we don’t often come across guys we genuinely like and we don’t know when the next one is going to come around, maybe it’s because it just seems so meant to be….

But you can’t attach until that is where you’re at in the relationship, meaning, you’re both on the same page. When I started dating my husband, I really made a solid attempt to not make the mistakes that just seemed to be my default, primarily, stressing and letting my anxieties run rampant.

In the early stages, before we were “official,” I kept my options open, even though he was the only option worth pursuing.

Before we started dating, I was talking to this guy who seemed promising. It was the summer and our schedules just never aligned and we had yet to actually go out, so he was just chilling on the back burner … And there was this other guy who lived down south who was friends with my brother that I had been talking to all summer. He was trying to plan a weekend to come up and meet me, and I kept that door open as well.

I followed my own advice: you’re not in a relationship until you’re in a relationship. And I allowed myself to mentally consider the possible ways my story could unfold.

Either I would end up with my husband, and wouldn’t that make the most romantic story ever? Or I’d end up with the first guy who lived a block away from me and happened to be in Italy at the same exact time as me that summer, but yet we could never find the time to actually meet, wouldn’t that be funny if we wound up together?! Or the guy from the South, the guy who is friends with my brother who actually found me on a dating site and we later made the connection … and both got mad at my brother for not thinking to make the introduction, that would be a cute story!

Or maybe it wouldn’t work out with any of them and that’s fine too because I actually really like being single, so maybe I’ll be single for a little while longer and I feel really happy at this point in time, so I’m cool with that.

Obviously, option A ended up being the winner, but I didn’t cut it off with those guys until my husband explicitly locked me down as his girlfriend (which happened fairly early into the relationship, when you know you know!).

The point I’m making is don’t mentally or physically cut yourself off from other options. You’ll leave much less room for stressing if you have other things to keep you occupied. And if you don’t have any back burner dudes, just mentally keep yourself open to the possibility that it won’t work out with him … and there’s something else in store for you. When you do this, you’ll take the pressure off the situation and let things unfold more naturally, without force of agenda.

5. You have control over your mind

This is a common mistake. We think we have no control. We think our mind runs the show and we let it steer us in any which way, down even the darkest most destructive paths. We let it tell us we’re worthless and useless and unlovable and nothing will ever work out the way we want.

Why do we allow this?!

You have control over which thoughts seep in. If you don’t like what you’re hearing, send those thoughts away and replace them with something different. Your mind heavily influences the way you see the world and interact with it.

Here is a way to see for yourself. Close your eyes and pick a color. Spend about a minute thinking about that color exclusively. Imagine things that are that color, think about what it looks like, how it makes you feel, and so on. Then open your eyes. I guarantee the first item you spot will be something in that color (as long as you don’t do this in an all-white room). And this after only a minute of thinking of something! If you think about how terrible you are, then that’s what you will pick up on in the world.

Don’t let your thoughts control you. Take control! When the negative thoughts creep in, ask them to leave. You can visualize plucking them out like a weed, or telling yourself the opposite thought. It may feel weird, but it works! Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Sabrina Bendory is a writer and entrepreneur. She is the author of You’re Overthinking It, a definitive book on dating and self-love.

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