It’s true that exercise and a good gut health have a direct link to lowered anxieties. But we’ve recently been enlightened with the fact that your gut health and all the sweat that you detoxed after a work out simply won’t cut it. The additional ingredient for a stress-free recipe is creating successful pathways in your brain- basically, getting into specific mental habits for better control of your anxiety. And it’s never been easier. With our access to mindfulness apps, therapist apps and daily positivity reminders, you’re never far away from help. But all those resources can also be overwhelming- we live in times where there’s ‘not much time’ for all that you want to do and achieve. We get fomo, we get burn out. What I’ve found success with, in addition to my trusty Insight Timer app is prioritizing what your body and lifestyle needs and deep dive, in addition to working on your thoughts, consistently.
Sometimes, working on self makes a part of our lives suffer- your partner or a relationship that you hold very close. I was curious about relationship anxiety and realized it’s an issue many of us have to deal with and want to tackle so we’ve asked Dr. Scott Symington, licensed clinical psychologist and published author of Freedom from Anxious Thoughts and Feelings: A Two-Step Mindfulness Approach for Moving Beyond Fear and Worry, to help answer some questions and guide us towards successful self (anxiety) help.
What is relationship anxiety?
Relationship anxiety is a distressing pattern of worry and feelings of insecurity in a close relationship—most often around the potential loss of the important other.
What are triggers for relationship anxiety?
In an intimate relationship we all want to feel loved, valued, desired and maintain a sense of relational security. One one of these core needs feels threatened—and this is a very subjective process—we get triggered. We feel anxious and start worrying:
- Fearing Rejection/Abandonment: He/she’s going to breakup with me!
- Ten minutes after sending a text: Why haven’t they returned my text?
- Responding to your partner spending time with friends: He/she doesn’t desire me…he/she would rather hang out with his friends.
Can couples feed off each other’s anxiety?
When people feel anxious and insecure in a relationship, they will reflexively act in ways to gain a sense of security. They might get clingy; try to control their partner; or pull back and shut down emotionally as a form of protection. These common coping strategies have a destructive influence on the relationship and change how the other partner acts and feels. A criticized or over-controlled partner, for example, might start feeling resentful and look for more opportunities to get away from the relationship. This only increases the insecurity of the anxious partner and the negative cycle continues.
How can you help a partner with anxiety?
Here are 4 helpful steps when one or both of the partners experience relationship anxiety:
- Acknowledge the Challenge
The first step is acknowledging the challenge and openly talking as a couple about the fears, worries, and feelings of insecurity. This alone can turn down the anxious volume and tension in the relationship.
- Identify Worries in the Moment
The second step is identifying your relational anxiety in the moment. When you get hit with a jolt of insecurity, name it: Hello, relationship anxiety. Remind yourself that this is something you struggle with and just because you have the dreaded feeling doesn’t mean there’s a problem. At times, you may want to share your struggle with your partner: I just wanted to let you know that I’m feeling pretty anxious right now but I’m trying to work through it in a healthy way.
- Practice Mindful Acceptance
In the midst of your anxious experience, take a few deep breaths and say to yourself, I can live with this feeling. Try not to fight the anxious feeling—allowing it be there—while redirecting your attention and life energy to another life task or the present moment.
- Cultivate Healthy Individuation
Relationships are most healthy when the intimacy is accompanied with healthy individuation, where both of you have a life outside the relationship. While you may choose to be with your partner most of the time, still make a point to foster your own friendships and activities outside the relationship. Not only is this part of a healthy relationship but it provides an opportunity to practice and work through the relational insecurity that can stifle the relationship.
How can a self aware person self-help their own anxiety?
The key is spotting the recycled worries when they happen and relate to them in a way where they have less power and presence in your life.
I developed a user-friendly application of mindfulness called the Two-Screen Method which can help. You imagine your internal world—all the different thoughts, feelings, and images that can show up inside you—as a media room with two screens.
On the forward facing wall is the Front Screen. This is where you experience the present moment and the more life-giving and positive thoughts and feelings—all the internal activity that translates into a sense of well-being and being the best version of who you are.
Off to the right, still inside your mind, is a Side Screen. There is where the fears, worries, insecurities, and other potentially destructive thoughts and feelings show up.
In the first step of the Two-Screen Method you catch yourself hanging out with the anxious worries on the side screen and apply the principle of Accept & Redirect. You redirect your attention to the Front Screen, while allowing the anxious tape to play in your peripheral vision. When your internal eyes get pulled back to the anxious side screen you keep gently redirecting back to the Front Screen.
The second step is using one or more of three anchors I outline in the book, Freedom from Anxious Thoughts & Feelings: A Two-Step Mindfulness Approach for Moving Beyond Fear & Worry, to stay tethered to the Front Screen. You engage in a mindfulness exercise (Mindfulness Anchor) that brings you into the present moment or maybe you engage in a healthy distraction (Health Distractions & Activities Anchor) or loving action (Loving-Action Anchor), where you take the anxious energy and use it as a force for good.
By following these two steps, you will defuse the anxious worries while, at the same time, move your life forward in a positive way.