The title of my memoir would be “Anxiety Bites,” but it would be filled mostly with complaining, so I won’t write it.
Anxiety — overthinking things, going through panic attacks, and experiencing uncontrollable emotions — is difficult enough, but adding another person to the mix through a dating relationship takes courage. I’m of the opinion it’s worth it, though, because experiencing unconditional love from someone who’s willing to be patient and take things at a pace you’re comfortable with is glorious (sounds kind of like my relationship with God, actually). It’s scary, too, but if a significant other genuinely cares about you and is open to learning, here are some tips that may help with dating if you have anxiety.
1. Don’t hide your anxiety.
Explaining to my significant other that I have anxiety is difficult, but admitting I’m panicking in the moment is far harder. Opening up to God is easy for me, because God will never let me down. But with another person, especially one I’m interested in being intimate with, my initial reaction is to hide my anxiety. What if it scares him off? What if he can’t handle the fact that our relationship stresses me out, even if it’s healthy and I’m happy? Of course, if the answer to those questions are “It will scare him off” and “He can’t handle it,” then maybe it’s better off that I know sooner rather than later, since anxiety and I are a packaged deal.
2. Explain how panic attacks work.
Going into detail about my emotional issues requires vulnerability, but who said relationships were easy? We make it so much simpler for ourselves if we prepare our significant others for how our brains work. (At an appropriate time, of course. I’d recommend leaving the first date material to whimsical questions like “What would your lightsaber color be if you were a Jedi?”) But when it’s clear things are moving forward, it’s wise to give him a heads-up. That way, he isn’t left surprised and helpless when your emotions take over.
3. Clarify it’s not your significant other’s fault.
This one is a big deal for me because I do not want my boyfriend taking responsibility for inexplicable emotions that aren’t his fault. But if I’m anxious about the relationship, it’s easy for him to think, I’m the source of her stress, and feel guilty, unsure and uncomfortable in the relationship. For the record, anxiety is no one’s fault. It just is. Anxiety is a mental disorder, and we learn to manage it (see my article “Experiencing Anxiety for the First Time”).
4. Don’t push someone away “for his own good.”
There’s much to be said on the importance of humility and self-sacrifice, and as Christians these are things we try to embody. But in this case, hiding our emotions or ducking out of vulnerable conversations come from a masochistic desire to protect ourselves. We’re kidding ourselves when we say it’s for their sake; if we’re pushing away a person who wants to be there for us, who cares and yearns to understand, we’re doing it because we’re scared to be vulnerable. They might not respond the way we want. They might make mistakes and hurt our feelings — and those very real possibilities are terrifying. But being vulnerable is superior to lying to ourselves, and honesty opens up a healthy dialogue between partners, paving the way for a healthy relationship.
5. Let yourself enjoy the moment.
I think about the future all the time. I’m always planning for what’s next, preparing for catastrophes that might come and looking forward to the next stages of life. I forget to enjoy the here and now. Sometimes my anxiety doesn’t let me, but trying to enjoy the relationship, whatever stage it’s at, can be stress-relieving.
6. Create a signal.
Social events make many of us nervous. I especially don’t like the idea of needing to leave early but not wanting to say anything in front of a crowd of people. It’s easy to create a signal between you and your significant other so he’s aware of what you need. You may never even need to use it, but knowing it’s an option is comforting.
7. Give yourself time to adjust.
Relationships bring on this whole thing called change. It’s weird. My mind and body don’t always like to accept it. For example, I had a panic attack after a couple weeks of dating that was going really well. I was happy. The relationship was healthy. But my mind whacked out, and I couldn’t figure out why I was crying, feeling scared and having trouble breathing. But I guess even good stress is still stressful, and because my body wasn’t used to being so happy for such an extended period of time, it demanded compensation in the form of panic. Giving myself permission to feel what I was feeling helped. Giving myself time to adjust (and having a patient partner) also helped. My anxious mind requires time to accept that someone else cares about me unconditionally, and that’s OK.
Copyright 2018 Allison Barron. All rights reserved.