Mind Blowing
August 12, 2012 6:25 AM   Subscribe

Please help me stop worrying about sex (and everything else).

I've always been a bit of a worrier. I worry too much about everything, and it has gotten worse over the past couple of years. Thing is, I worry the most about things that are imaginary and will likely never come to pass. Even things that are quite impossible. I worry and worry, and I can't turn it off. I've started having anxiety attacks these past few months, and I've been having a hard time dealing with that. Funnily enough, when things actually go wrong, I'm surprisingly calm and can handle the situation alright.

One of the things I've been worrying (a lot) about is sex. I'm in a great loving relationship (almost two years together), and both of us enjoy sex. Since the anxiety attacks, I can't have sex without constantly worrying about things like accidental pregnancy, etc. We always use protection (and use it correctly), and we're always careful, but I keep worrying constantly. All sorts of scenarios keep playing in my head---during foreplay, after sex, sometimes even during the sex.

I know that all this worrying is irrational and is likely going to cause a lot of harm, but I can't seem to stop. It really feels like the anxiety is never going to leave me. The way I deal with it is to constantly tell myself that everything is going to be okay, but I find that I have to keep doing it. Once every few minutes on most days.

How do I stop worrying so much and just enjoy life? I'd love any suggestions (except for shrinks) to deal with this crippling anxiety.

(I'm 26 years old, and physically reasonably healthy, if it's relevant.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

Why except for shrinks? I mean, seeing a therapist is probably going to be the most effective way to tackle this problem. That certainly was the case for my anxiety, which came on pretty suddenly when I was 26 also, and some at first weekly, now maybe monthly, sessions with a therapist squared it away with no need for meds.

Not only did the therapist give me the tools to break the intrusive anxiety loops, the very fact that I had a therapist meant that I could "file away" some momentary panic to discuss with her later and turn it off in the moment. Of course, in making the conscious decision that the intrusive thought was a) related to my anxiety, b) therefore in the realm of my therapist, c) going to be taken care of by the therapist at some later date, meant that d) it put enough distance between me and the anxiety attack and I started just "filing" anxiety attacks away almost automatically and then I do, or I do not, bring them up again in therapy. Therapy helped me understand WHY I am anxious, but it's also a great tool to manage the anxiety itself.
posted by lydhre at 6:55 AM on August 12, 2012 [10 favorites]

Absolutely try psych treatments as listed above.

BUT keep in mind that some level of worry about pregnancy is rational because it could happen. Obviously it shouldn't interfere with your enjoyment of sex. But do you have a copy of Plan B around just in case? Have you considered an IUD? I don't want to say, oh, yes, be crippled by anxiety (God forbid). BUT wrt pregnancy specifically, there's something to it.
posted by skbw at 7:17 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have anxiety that comes out in driving. Gritting my teeth and trying to deal with it on my own was marginally successful in that I was able to drive from one location to the next, but boy was it miserable. Then I saw a therapist for it. I felt really stupid at first, like, "Doesn't this person have clients with actual problems and I'm taking up her time with this silly thing?" But she took me seriously, talked to me as if my anxiety were a legitimate concern, and truly helped me.

You're dealing with this anxiety every few minutes? That sounds so stressful and exhausting. I'm not a therapist, I have no qualification to diagnose you. But what you describe sounds like something that could really benefit from professional treatment. I hope you'll reconsider your willingness to try therapy, at least to try an evaluation.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:18 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry you're experiencing this. It sounds crippling. There is an extent to which this question is a bit like the below:

Q: My leg is broken. What do I do?
A: See your doctor.

Q: My leg is broken and I'm stranded on the side of a mountain. What do I do?
A: Consult your field manual for emergency wilderness medicine.

I'm going to assume you really are stranded on the side of a mountain - you're in a country with no mental health services, or where you don't speak the language, or you're uninsured, broke and without access to low-cost care. In that case, the most useful field manual may be The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook. Otherwise, please re-read what the young rope-rider said and grant yourself the very best resources to which you have access for proper diagnosis and help. Everybody who replies, including me, will just be guessing.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:21 AM on August 12, 2012 [10 favorites]

I would tell my partner. Sometimes, if we have something we fear, two people can carry the load better than one. That is a start for the specific issue of pregnancy related fears, but I would suggest talking to a therapist to understand what is causing you to suffer fear more generally.
posted by samofidelis at 8:28 AM on August 12, 2012

When I'm feeling anxious I try to remember a couple of things. First, that I always have options. Sometimes the options suck, but I have them. Much of (my) anxiety comes from feeling a lack of control, so thinking through the options is helpful to me. Along those lines, I try to imagine the Very Worst Thing that could happen from whatever I was worrying about. Often, the worst thing wasn't all that bad, or I could at least think of a solution.

In other words, defining my anxiety and thinking the worry through to the end helps me. Have you done that in a constructive way? I mean, it sounds like the worst thing in your scenario is that you (or your partner, can't tell your gender) would get pregnant. If that happens, you still have options.

It doesn't sound like you're looking for a "being pregnant at 26 isn't the end of the world" so I won't belabor that point. But, it isn't.

If none of that works, my last resort is to remember all I really need to do is just keep breathing.
posted by lyssabee at 8:29 AM on August 12, 2012

this is probably relevant. Your attempts to suppress worry by mental willpower might be making it worse. That site I linked compiles and analyzes scientific research on self improvement. Here is everything on anxiety. I once saw a graph (can't remember where unfortunately) that showed a comparison of anxiety treatment effectiveness, and therapy was one of the most effective ones. Even better than therapy, though, and by a big margin, was aerobic exercise. I started running after seeing that graph and i can say that it helped me a lot. But the effect is most noticeable right afterwards for the first few hours. So try running or swimming or something in the evening and the post-workout glow and energy should carry you through the night. And go easier on yourself! It sounds like you're worrying about the worrying, instead try to be nice to yourself for a while.
posted by 100kb at 8:31 AM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

If it is shrinks that you are not in the mood to deal with then you should consider that your general practitioner may be inclined to give you an Rx for this. While this is not an ideal treatment plan, you do not need to feel obligated to spend the rest of your natural life in endless hours of Freudian psychoanalysis in order to get a little help with the weird wiring of your brain.

It is wiring, mostly, by the way. Nothing that is your fault, and nothing that is easily controlled. I find it is helpful to interrupt my brain when it goes into the worrying feedback loop. Do not be scared to tell your partner that you need a break - then go do something that completely absorbs your attention: read, run, mindless flash/video game, tv, etc. Break the loop, then try again. Over and over and over.
posted by skrozidile at 8:50 AM on August 12, 2012

Your description reminds me a bit of a case from Mindsight.

My therapist recommended the book to me, and it's really helpful in understanding the reason these worries emerge, and how they can be dealt with.

The best thing would be for you to seek help from a therapist, but if you really are "stuck on a mountainside" then this book could help. You could also look at support forums for OCD and anxiety.
posted by bunderful at 8:50 AM on August 12, 2012

There's an Anxiety living in your mind. Dang Anxieties -- they can take up residence inside a person's mind and just live there, forever. An Anxiety has an incredible self-preserving instinct. Once an Anxiety settles into your mind, it will do everything in its power to stay, to keep you from kicking it out.

I've spent most of my life with an Anxiety nesting in my mind. It convinced me to let it stay, for years, by deluding me. First, it got me to think that it was normal, that everyone felt and acted the way the Anxiety made me feel and act. That little ruse couldn't last for long, though. Second, it convinced me that I needed it, that it and I had a symbiotic relationship where I was the parasite. It got me thinking that, without it, I wouldn't be able to remember to pay my bills, I wouldn't remember to do my work, I would accidentally run red lights, I'd forget my birth control pills, I'd.... I'd completely fall apart at the seams. Whenever I noticed the Anxiety living in my mind and got even the slightest interest in uprooting it, kicking it out, it'd give me all these images of how my life would get destroyed if it weren't there to protect me.

So, I 'knew' I needed my Anxiety. And I knew that, if I saw a therapist, she'd try to get me to kick my Anxiety out. But I couldn't kick my Anxiety out! I avoided seeing a therapist for years, so convinced was I that it would actually be my destruction, as it would take away that one noble thing, the Anxiety, that was keeping me alive.

My Anxiety lied to me. I finally got kicked by relatives and friends into seeing a therapist, and that's where I learned that my Anxiety wasn't the thing holding me together. I learned that, actually, I can pay my bills, do my work, etc., all without it. I had spent years living in this warped, twisted fantasy that the Anxiety gave me, in which it was responsible for all of my successes and I was reckless, irresponsible, worthless without it. I haven't fully gotten that Anxiety out of my mind yet, but I've handed it eviction papers: it knows its on borrowed time, now.

All Anxieties are liars. The lying is one of their best defense mechanisms, but not their only one. An Anxiety will do whatever it can to stay in your mind. It will abuse you, to keep its home safe. The absolute best method an Anxiety has to protect itself is to keep you away from anything that might help you kick it out. You broke through its defenses pretty well just by asking this question -- good job! But the Anxiety knows that just asking this question and getting advice on books, etc., won't really do that much to it. The Anxiety knows that the biggest threat to its place in your mind is help from a professional trained in rooting out Anxieties. The Anxiety knows that it will be safe and secure, so long as you're interested in any advice for getting rid of it... except shrinks.

You don't explain why you won't consider seeing a therapist. It may be, as was suggested above, that your life conditions are such that you can't see one. If that's the case, do whatever you can to change your life conditions. You need to see a therapist; it sounds like you are suffering horribly, and you deserve better than that. Otherwise, if it is practically possible for you to see a therapist but you just refuse to, please, reconsider. I know it sounds silly to think of anxiety as if it were, like, some evil bird that wiggled its way into your brain and now lives there, but there's a real point to thinking of it this way: anxiety, like many other psychologically-distressing issues, has incredible self-preserving capabilities, and those self-preserving capabilities work against you. Don't let the anxiety talk you into thinking shrinks are awful and you should never see one; that's the anxiety convincing you to continue suffering so it can stay safely lodged in your mind.

Please, see a therapist. If you still have some huge problem--if you don't know how, if you're not sure what kind, if you have past experiences that are leaving you unprepared for seeking another--you can ask a follow-up ask.me about it in a week. Please. If you feel yourself buckling down, becoming more and more convinced that you'll NEVER EVER agree to see a shrink.... Think of that as the anxiety working for its best interests and against your best interests. Think of it as a reaction to fight against. For your sake. For the sake of a more peaceful future for yourself. What you are experiencing is something you really need to see a therapist about.
posted by meese at 9:45 AM on August 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

This may seem counterintuitive, but the key to reducing anxiety is not to fight it, but to embrace it.

The more you fight it, the more anxious you become, the more you fight it, etc., in a self-defeating feedback loop.

Anxiety has a tendency to worsen: first you are just feeling anxious, then you also become anxious about being anxious, and then you become anxious about being anxious about being anxious, and then anxious about being anxious about being anxious about being anxious, etc. etc. That's a lot of additional anxiety! This 'meta-anxiety' makes the anxiety much worse than it needs to be. You write "It really feels like the anxiety is never going to leave me" which makes me think you're currently stuck in such a negative feedback loop.

The key to breaking this loop is acceptance.

It means you need to stop thinking like this (as you write above):

I know that all this worrying [...] is likely going to cause a lot of harm

Right before you have sex, say to yourself: "I'll probably be feeling anxious, and that's OK." Better yet, tell your SO about it; make jokes about it. When you're feeling anxious, merely observe your feelings as if you're a neutral bystander: "I'm feeling anxious right now. But there's nothing wrong with feeling anxious. Everyone worries now and then. Anxiety is harmless. This too shall pass."

By fighting it, you give your anxiety power over yourself and make it much worse. By accepting anxiety, you will eventually feel its grip on you lessen and feel it diminish to an acceptable level.
posted by tarantara at 9:52 AM on August 12, 2012

Regarding specifically anxiety over sex and pregnancy, perhaps it would be helpful to learn more about your reproductive cycle and how to tell when you're likely ovulating. Think of it as being better informed, an additional layer of protection to add to your other methods of BC. Knowing at least when it's highly improbable to be ovulating might help. I find that my anxiety flares up worst when I "don't know" enough.
posted by lizbunny at 10:53 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

We always use protection (and use it correctly)

If you don't already, it might be worth switching to a hormonal (BC/IUD)+physical method in combination. Or if you can't do hormones, maybe fertility awareness combined with condoms (avoiding sex entirely at your most fertile times, and condoms the rest of the time).

I've never felt comfortable with just one, but I don't worry much with two unrelated contraceptives.
posted by randomnity at 11:03 AM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is there any link between this anxiety starting and any other changes (life events or physical changes) in your life?
From what you write it seems clear to me that your anxiety is serious enough to warrant therapy and/or medication, even though you say you'd rather not have therapy. By all means give the other suggestions here a try, but I think it would be wise to at least consider getting some help.

Is there a family planning/reproductive health clinic who you could talk to about birth control methods and chances of success? Learning more about how this stuff works is a good idea I think.
posted by EatMyHat at 12:24 PM on August 12, 2012

As skrozidile suggested, your GP might be able to give you a prescription for some anxiety meds without having to see a therapist or counselor. I still think that talking to a professional is the way to go in dealing with this, but if you can't or are unwilling, mentioning it to your GP is a good option. I did this myself a couple of years ago and noticed that the medication was helping within a week.

WRT sex and anxiety about pregnancy, you should discuss this with your SO and add redundant levels of contraception (hormonal BC + condoms + spermacide, etc).
posted by youngergirl44 at 2:26 PM on August 12, 2012

While your worries about sex and getting pregnant possibly seem to go beyond the normal concerns of the average person who uses birth control, I don't feel you're that out of line here. Some people are more worried about it then others. But here are a few suggestions to hopefully put your mind at ease by giving you several options in several scenarios. First, use multiple forms of birth control...condoms and the pill should just about do it. Second and more importantly, discuss with your SO what would happen if you got prego. Would you both be ok with an abortion? If yes then really your worries should be diminished. I'm not saying that abortions are a good form of birth control, but you two are having responsible sex. Nothing more you can do other then not have sex. Which is always an option, but I don't think that's the answer. You're young and you should enjoy a good healthy sex life. Just know all the possible outcomes and "what ifs". Communicate this with your SO and I think you'll be just fine.
posted by ljs30 at 4:52 PM on August 12, 2012

take PiV sex off the table for now, and explain why to your partner: you know it's an irrational fear, you want to have PiV sex again, but you're going to need some help getting into it. do other sexy things in the interum. after maybe 1 month take baby steps, like he only fucks you for a few minutes then move on to something else. make an agreement that you'll switch to something else whenever you have anxiety, that way you'll have control over the situation. once you're settled down, maybe you can green light PiV sex again during the session.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:13 PM on August 12, 2012

I know that all this worrying is irrational and is likely going to cause a lot of harm, but I can't seem to stop. It really feels like the anxiety is never going to leave me. The way I deal with it is to constantly tell myself that everything is going to be okay, but I find that I have to keep doing it. Once every few minutes on most days.

Well, so first: You're not going to harm yourself physically by worrying a lot. Humans are well-equipped to withstand anxiety, even extended periods of it.

Second, "Everything is going to be okay" - this doesn't really help me when I'm anxious. Maybe it would help more to think through what will happen if everything isn't okay -- if you get pregnant, for instance. So what next? Abortion? Raise the baby? Adoption? Just run it all the way through, and show yourself that it wouldn't be the end of the world, even if it's not exactly "okay" either.

I wonder if your aversion to seeing a shrink might be based on a couple of common misconceptions. Here's what I thought therapy was about, before I actually did a bit: you see a psychiatrist every week for years, who puts you on medications that you have to take for the rest of your life. But this is what actually happened: I went to see a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, who can't even prescribe meds herself. I went for literally 10 sessions -- less than 3 months -- and I took no meds. It really screwed my head on straighter. This was more than 10 years ago. I'm still more on the worrying side, but it is now just a personality trait, not something that intrudes into my life every few minutes. It's mostly irritating to my laid-back sister, who turns her head when I gasp in alarm at some hijinks by one of our kids and then makes an annoyed "Tcha!" noise when she sees they are merely jumping from a 6-foot concrete wall to the ground or whatever.

You say you're afraid the anxiety is "never going to leave" you. And I wouldn't say it "left" me, exactly -- rather, that I learned in therapy how to show myself that I'm bigger than the anxiety -- that it can happen, and I can feel it, and I can continue to function. And it seemed to just start to fade away, like I outgrew it. I wish the same for you.
posted by palliser at 9:01 PM on August 12, 2012

Please, please, please seriously consider seeing a therapist and exploring the idea of anti-anxiety medication. I struggled with anxiety and low-grade depression for years and had been in therapy for four years before I asked about medication. It completely changed my life for the better.
posted by anotheraccount at 6:11 AM on August 13, 2012

The OP asked me to post this on his behalf (as we've been in touch before):

"The anxiety isn't based on anything rational. I can feel my head sinking after we've had sex, even if it was a really hot session of sex. I can physically feel my body getting anxious to the point of almost-panic. Even when I'm out, all it takes is a billboard with a child on it, or looking at someone carrying a child in their arms, etc. for the anxiety to hit me again. I don't know why I'm this scared all the time.

"Thank you for all the great suggestions. I was wondering if maybe there is something I could eat or drink that could help me with this? I will get in touch with my GP as well. I'm hesitant to visit a psychiatrist because its just way too expensive in my country.

"And I'm a guy... just thought I'd clear that up!"
posted by murtagh at 8:02 PM on August 17, 2012

« Older I'd like to show you where I'm going with this...   |   Russkaya popsa? Otlichno. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.