Stop my brain from third wheeling!
February 10, 2016 9:56 AM   Subscribe

I really have no reason to be anxious in this relationship, but it comes along anyways, as anxiety does... but how can I start to disentangle myself from it so I can enjoy myself more?

I'm super happy in this relationship. It's still pretty new, it's my first time, I'm an anxious person to begin with, there's really nothing bad that could happen anyway, etc... so I know that all of this is completely normal and expected. But it really bothers me that I'll be completely enjoying spending time with her or doing something completely unrelated and then one of these nonsense anxiety thoughts will come along and send me into a worry spiral. I feel kind of guilty and very annoyed that sometimes I have to just tough through the anxiety when I should be having a perfectly good time. And the pattern of these worry spirals is often that because I have this anxiety -- I was distracted while we kissed last night, I didn't feel a flood of excitement when she messaged me earlier -- I'm doing the wrong thing. Should I just be readjusting my expectations? I feel a lot better when I tell myself that there's no reason I should expect myself to feel any particular thing with any particular intensity to justify trying this out. And besides, I obviously like her quite a bit, so I should just trust in that inclination enough to let it develop even if it doesn't constitute a constant 24/7 stream of excitement. But it's really really hard to make these things stick. How can I start to shut down these worries and just enjoy it?

I understand that this is the sort of thing I should be talking to a therapist about, but I'm having trouble lining that up right now and could use some help in the meantime. Thank you all!
posted by myitkyina to Human Relations (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How can I start to shut down these worries and just enjoy it?

I (try to) notice the worry, remind myself that my brain is doing That Thing It Likes To Do, and then get back to the moment.

It's really hard and takes a lot of practice but once you start doing it, you'll notice a big difference I think.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:59 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Should I just be readjusting my expectations?

Yes, if I'm reading correctly and you're saying that your expectations are "I will be 100% present at all times for all contact" and "every message will be overwhelmingly thrilling."

Think about it: some people are married for 60 years. If they were drowning in "a flood of excitement" every single time that partner messaged them for 60 years, society would crumble into flames and chaos.

That flood of excitement is super super super early-days shit. It comes from the insecurity of an early relationship wherein there's a huge chance the message won't come. In fact, a LOT of the heady, overwhelming sensations we associate with "love" are fundamentally the rush of getting something we weren't sure we'd get. Unsustainable, once we're at the point of calling a thing "a relationship."

Maybe a mantra when you feel that spiral coming on? Whatever statement would serve, for you, as a reminder that relationships are made of people and life, and as such, are deeply imperfect.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:10 AM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm with schroedingersgirl above - the best thing that I've found to deal with these anxiety thoughts is mindfulness, which is basically noticing/acknowledging the thought and then coming back to the present moment.

The tough thing about thoughts & feelings is that you don't really have direct control over what your brain is throws at you, and often if you think you should feel a certain way in a particular situation, then this close monitoring of how you feel can mean that you just end up feeling numb/anxious. Also if you really don't want a certain thought/feeling to come up in a particular situation, it can often make it more likely to appear (the white bear effect).

However, practicing mindfulness can help you to notice when these thoughts do come up, label them as what they are ('that's an anxiety thought') and then choose how you react to this (eg. coming back to the present moment rather than off on a worry spiral).

This has really helped me with anxiety that comes up in relationships. I've now realised that the initial instinct of my brain to constantly monitor how I'm feeling about a person to work out whether or not I should continue the relationship actually gets in the way of being in the moment and experiencing how the relationship is progressing over time, which is the only way to really make an informed decision!

If you're interested in learning mindfulness there are loads of useful resources out there. I like this book, and also find the Headspace app really helpful to help me practice regularly.

Good luck, and please try to be kind to yourself and your anxious brain - it's just trying to look out for you, although in a slightly misguided way.
posted by amerrydance at 9:55 AM on February 11, 2016

Best answer: One other thing to think about, if you come back to this thread: you say you are constantly monitoring whether or not being in this relationship is "doing the wrong thing".

But relationships aren't cancers. You don't have to "catch" the bad ones right away or else you die. It is totally, completely, utterly allowed to muck about in all kinds of so-so, weird, imperfect relationships for a bit before you decide to stop seeing the person. You're what, maybe 19? Jeez, the whole point of being 19 is to date people you think back to when you're 30 and go "oh man, what the fuck was THAT! Wow."

Obviously I'm not talking about abusive, controlling relationships or people who make you absolutely miserable. I'm talking about the regular kind of relationship that is fine but imperfect and probably you won't spend your life with this person. I promise you: nothing devastating will happen if you accidentally spend an extra week or three in college dating the "wrong" person.

TL;DR old person lecturing: Try to consider what your hypervigilance is trying to protect you from, ultimately, and you may find that it's completely unfounded.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 4:30 PM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

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