My Anxiety Used To Ruin All My Relationships But Not Anymore

If you have anxiety, you know the feeling—your heart pounding in your ears, your mind racing, and all of your senses on high alert. Learning to accept that my anxiety would always be a part of my relationships was difficult; taking the steps to embrace it was even harder. Here’s how I finally overcame it—and you can too.

  1. I acknowledged that my anxiety was real. It was always too easy to devalue the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety. Most often, when talking about how I was feeling to boyfriends, it was always assumed to be stress or—you guessed it—PMS-related. Talking with a psychologist helped validate what I was going through, but whether your anxiety is diagnosed or not, you know your body best. While stress and hormones may affect anxiety, I knew that what I was feeling was different than your run-of-the-mill uneasiness or monthly mood swings.
  2. I worked to understand where my anxiety came from. My anxiety was a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, that came as a result of a sexually and emotionally abusive relationship. In learning to recognize the reality of my anxiety, I also had to face what had caused it—trauma. Taking a hard look at a relationship that caused so much pain was daunting, but understanding it was imperative. Anxiety and PTSD were my brain’s survival instincts kicking in; I was a survivor, not a victim or crazy person.
  3. I accepted That my Anxiety Isn’t Going Anywhere. After realizing the origin of my anxiety, I was eager to get rid of it. Almost immediately, I realized I couldn’t. My anxiety was deep-seeded and not something that could simply be erased or forgotten. I could, however, train my brain to overcome it. Understanding triggering situations, anticipating anxiety attacks, and practicing grounding techniques made anxiety manageable, but I never had the expectation that it’d completely go away. Managing anxiety is a continual process. It requires effort every day but it’s an investment that ultimately paid off.
  4. I accepted that it’s not my job To Educate. Even after I came to grips with my anxiety, it’d creep into my relationships and sometimes go so far as to ruin them. My fight or flight responses were skewed, making it hard to decipher what was or wasn’t a threat in relationships. Whether because I was unable to slow my brain down or I had shut down in a relationship altogether, anxiety was at the forefront of many long talks and arguments. For hours, I’d exhaust my energy trying to explain my train of thought, and why I was reacting the way I was—with little success. In the midst of experiencing anxiety, I had to learn that the situation wasn’t going to get better if I had to teach my partner about the ins and outs of anxiety. Instead, I had to be able to focus solely on managing it.
  5. If Someone Isn’t Willing To Learn, I Let Them Go. I used to feel guilty for expecting a loved one to take the initiative to learn about anxiety. However, it was always a clear indicator of who was willing to work at the relationship with me. Don’t get me wrong, I was more than willing to answer specific questions, but providing a general, base knowledge of anxiety was exhausting—and if forced, it often wasn’t genuinely listened to. It took a very long time for me to learn the difference between a healthy, open conversation about mental health, and the unhealthy need to over-explain and justify everything I was going through. Once I internalized the fact that I was entitled to my emotions, letting go of people unwilling to learn became easier.
  6. I learned how to make anxiety work for me. Once I was able to manage my symptoms and became generally successful in taking control over them, I was able to take advantage of them when needed. For example, first dates, which once made me incredibly anxious and self-conscious, became “challenges” to overcome. Feeding off the adrenaline in a positive way broke down the barriers that I was used to carrying around with me when getting to know (and, eventually, be vulnerable with) someone new. On the other hand, when I did feel those anxious indicators, like a drop in my stomach after an off-putting comment or gesture, I listened. Noticing triggers while dating made me aware of potential issues within the relationship, and helped me confront those concerns proactively.
  7. I started Treating Anxiety As Another Partner. As with any relationship, my affair with anxiety has been tumultuous. Living with anxiety requires constant effort, but also forces you to be extremely self-aware. Though there have been instances of incredible conflict and sacrifice, I’ve also been able to learn a great deal about myself and grow as an individual with my anxiety.
  8. I made it a part of me. Just as I’d share stories about my family and hobbies when dating someone, I also told people about my experiences with anxiety. Whether welcome or not, my anxiety was a part of my story and had many effects on my life. I became proud of the fact that I’d been able to harness it, and that was something I’d willingly share within my relationships. After all, if I hadn’t been willing to break down the stigma regarding mental health, how would I have learned if my partner was open to tackling those hard issues with me?
  9. I refused to let it define me anymore. As much as anxiety has had an influence on my life, I don’t identify myself by it anymore. Now, I define myself by the determination it takes to stare down the traumatic relationship from my past. I pride myself on the resilience that’s needed to work through anxiety’s side effects and work on fostering positive, loving relationships despite them. I love myself for the strength I’ve shown in my ability to accept and overcome anxiety—and to embrace every part of me.
Emily Boudin is a marketing professional based in New York City. She also is an active advocate for women's issues and shares about her experience with sexual assault and abuse.