Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

Anxiety and Relationships: How to Stop it Stealing the Magic

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Anxiety and Intimate Relationships How to Stop Anxiety From Stealing the Magic

Intimate relationships are a mirror, reflecting the best and the worst of all of us. They can inflame our struggles or soothe them. When they’re right, they can feel like magic. Even when they’re completely right, anxiety can steal the magic and loosen the connection between two people who belong together. All relationships require trust, tenderness, patience and vulnerability. People with anxiety often have these by the truckload and will give them generously to the relationship. The problem is that anxiety can sometimes just as quickly erode them. 

If you’re someone who struggles with anxiety, there are plenty of things about you that would make loving you easy. All relationships struggle sometimes and when anxiety is at play, the struggles can be quite specific – very normal, and specific.

Anxiety can work in curious ways, and it will impact different relationships differently, so not all of the following will be relevant for every relationship. Here are some ways to strengthen your relationship and protect it from the impact of anxiety: 

  1. Top up the emotional resources.

    You’re probably super sensitive to the needs of others and give openly and abundantly to your relationship. Sometimes though, anxiety can drain those resources from the relationship just as quickly as you invest them. This is completely okay – there is plenty of good that comes with loving you to make up for this – but it may mean that you have to keep making sure those resources are topped up. Whenever you can, heap your partner with attention, gratitude, affection, touch – lots of touch – and conversation around him or her.

  2. Let your partner see you as a support too.

    Your partner might feel reluctant to ‘burden’ you with worries, particularly if those worries don’t seem as big as the ones you’re struggling with. People with anxiety have so much strength – it’s impossible to live with anxiety without it – so make sure your partner knows that it doesn’t matter how big or small their struggles are, you can be the supportive one sometimes too. The tendency can be for partners of anxious people to dismiss their own worries, but this might mean that they do themselves out of the opportunity to feel nurtured and supported by you – which would be a huge loss for both of you. Be deliberate in being the rock sometimes too. Ask, hold, touch. There’s nothing more healing than the warmth of the person you love.

  3. Let your partner in on what you’re thinking.

    Anxious thoughts are supremely personal, but let your partner in on them. It’s an important part of intimacy. You will often be thinking about what you need to do to feel safe, what feels bad for you and what could go wrong. You will also have an enormous capacity to think of other people – anxious people do – but make sure that you let you partner in on the thoughts that arrest you. Keeping things too much to yourself has a way of widening the distance between two people. 

  4. Asking for reassurance is absolutely okay – but just not too much.

    Anxiety has a way of creeping into everything. When it’s left unchecked, it can make you doubt the things that don’t deserve to be doubted – such as your relationship. It’s completely okay and very normal to ask your partner for reassurance. Too much though and it could be felt as neediness. Neediness is the enemy of desire and over time can smother the spark. Make sure your partner has the opportunity to love you spontaneously, without prompting – it’s lovely for them and even better for you. 

  5. Be vulnerable.

    Anxiety can effect relationships in different ways. In some people, it might stoke the need for constant reassurance. In others, it can cause them to hold back, to lessen their vulnerability to possible heartache. Vulnerability – being open to another – is beautiful and it’s the essence of successful, healthy relationships. The problem with protecting yourself too much is that it can invite the very rejection you’re trying to protect against. Part of intimacy is letting someone in closer than you let the rest of the world. It’s trusting that person with the fragile, messy, untamed parts of you – the parts that are often beautiful, sometimes baffling, and always okay with the person who loves you. It’s understandable to worry about what might happen if someone has open access to these parts of you, but see those worries for what they are – worries, not realities – and trust that whatever happens when you open yourself up to loving and being loved, you’ll be okay. Because you will be.

  6. Be careful of projecting anxiety onto your relationship.

    Anxiety can be triggered by nothing in particular – that’s one of the awful things about it – so it will look for a target, an anchor to hold it still and make it make sense. If you’re in an intimate relationship, that’s where the bullseye will sit, drawing your anxiety into its gravitational pull. This can raise feelings of doubt, jealousy, suspicion and insecurity. Anxiety can be a rogue like that. That doesn’t mean your relationship deserves your anxiety – most likely it doesn’t – but your relationship is important, relevant and often in your thoughts, making it a lavishly easy target. Remind yourself that just because you’re worried, that doesn’t mean there’s anything to worry about. Worry if you have to, but then see it for what it is – anxiety, not truth. You are loved and you have anxiety and you are okay. Let that be the truth that holds you. 

  1. Analysis leads to paralysis.

    There’s a saying – ‘Analysis leads to paralysis,’ – because it does. ‘Is it love? Or lust? Or am I kidding myself? What if my heart gets broken into tiny jagged pieces? How will it ever work if we don’t like the same music/ books/ food/ movies? What if we book the holiday and the airline goes on strike? What if one of us gets sick? What if both of us get sick? What if we can’t get a refund? Or pay the mortgage? What if he gets sick of me?’ Yep. I know you know how it sounds. What you focus on is what becomes important, so if you focus on the possible problems they’ll absorb your energy until they’re big enough to cause trouble on their own. They’ll drain your energy, your sense of fun and your capacity to move. You probably already know this, but what to do about it. Here’s something to try … Set a time frame in which you can act as though things will be fine. So for example, worry from 10-3 each day and after that, breathe, let go and act as though things will be fine. You don’t have to believe it – just ‘act as though’. You’ll have another chance tomorrow to worry if you need to. Be guided by the evidence, not the worries that haunt you at 2am. 

     

  2. Come closer. No. Go away.

    When you focus on every detail, things will get wobbly. You might focus on the things that aren’t right with your partner or your relationship, while at the same time looking for reassurance that your partner loves you and is committed. This can cause you to push your partner away, (‘You’ve disappointed me,”) then pull him or her close, (‘Tell me that you love me. You do love me, don’t you?’). Have a chat with your partner and if it is a familiar process, set up a safe way for your partner to point out when it’s happening. Agree on what that will look like. When it does happen, be careful not to hear it as a criticism – it’s not – it’s your partner asking for some stability with the way you love each other.

  1. The tough conversations can bring you closer.

    All relationships have to deal with tough stuff now and then but anxiety can make things more threatening and bigger than they are. The temptation might be to avoid talking about difficult issues with your partner, because of concerns about what it might do the relationship. Difficult issues don’t go away – they fester until they reach boiling point. Trust that your partner – and you – can cope with a hard discussion. Relationships are built on trust, and trusting that your relationship can power through difficult conversations is an important one.

  2. Let your partner in on what it’s like to be you.

    We humans are complex creatures and bringing someone in closer to you and your story – even if it is someone who has been with you for a while – is the lifeblood of intimacy. People change, stories change, and even in intimate relationships it’s easy to lose touch with the person who fall asleep next to at night-time. Let your partner in on what your anxiety is like for you. Talk about your thoughts, how anxiety is affecting you, your work, your relationship, your partner, and how grateful you are for the love and support. 

  3. Let your partner know what triggers you.

    Is there a particular situation that’s tends to set your anxiety alight? Crowds? Strangers? Difficulties of exit? Loud music in the car? Being late? Talk to your partner so that if you find yourself in the situation without warning, he or she will understand what’s happening for you.

  4. Be patient. The quick fix isn’t always the best.

    As a way to feel better and ease your anxiety, you might be tempted to press for a quick fix to a problem or issue within your relationship. You might become frustrated with your partner’s desire to wait or put off committing to a course of action, or their resistance to keep talking about the issue, but be open to the fact that your partner might see things differently, sometimes clearer. Breathe, talk, and don’t assume that your partner is taking time or pulling out of the conversation because of a lack of commitment or because the issue isn’t important enough. 

  1. Make sure you’re looking after yourself.

    Being in love is crazy good but it can take your attention away from looking after yourself and on to looking after your special person. We all tend to do this but for people with anxiety it can be particularly problematic because once you’re off-balance, the ripple can bring other things undone. Taking good care of yourself is so important. Eating well (a healthy diet rich in omega 3, low in processed carbs and sugars), as well as regular exercise and meditation will help to build your brain against anxiety. If looking after yourself feels selfish, think of it this way: it’s not really fair to expect your partner to support you through your anxiety if you’re not doing everything you can do to support yourself. Think of self-care as an investment in you, your relationship and your partner. Remember too that anything that’s good for anxiety is good for everyone, so talk to your partner about chasing a healthy lifestyle together – cooking, exercising and meditating together … nice.

     

  2. Understand that your partner will need boundaries

    For the relationship to stay close, healthy and connected, boundaries built by your partner can be a great thing. Understand that boundaries aren’t your partner’s way of keeping you out, but as a way to self-protect from ‘catching’ your anxiety. You might be worried and need to talk about something over and over, but that’s not necessarily what will be good for you, your partner or your relationship. Your partner can love you and draw a bold heavy underline between the last time you discuss something and the next time you want to. Talking is healthy, but talking over and over and over about the same thing can be draining and create an issue where there isn’t one. Know that your partner loves you and that boundaries are important to nurture love and grow the relationship, not to push against it. Talk to your partner about what he or she needs to be able to feel okay in the face of your anxiety. Invite the boundaries – it will help to keep your connection strong and loving and will help your partner to feel as though he or she is able to preserve a sense of self without being absorbed by your worries. Worry is contagious so if your partner wants to draw a boundary (eventually) around your worry, let it happen – it will help to preserve the emotional resources of the relationship and will be good for both of you.

  3. Laugh together.

    This is so important! Laughter is a natural antidote to the stress and tension that comes with anxiety. Laughing together will tighten the connection between you and when there has been a stressful few days (weeks? months?) it will help you both to remember why you fell in love with each other. Anxiety has a way of making you forget that life wasn’t meant to be taken seriously all the time. If it’s been too long since your partner has seen the shape of your face when you laugh (which will be beautiful and probably one of the reasons he or she fell for you in the first place) find a reason – a funny movie, memories, YouTube … anything.

Falling in love is meant to be magical, but getting close to another person isn’t without it’s highs and lows at the best of times. From the ecstasy of realising that someone pretty wonderful is as moved by you as you are by them, to the agony of self-doubt and possible loss, to the security, richness and sometimes stillness of a deeper love, intimacy is a vehicle for every possible emotion. Anxiety does effect relationships, but by being open to its impact, and deliberate in responding to it, you can protect your relationship and make it one that’s strong, close and resilient.

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203 Comments

Lulu

My eyes are welling up as I am writing this message. I constantly check for clues whether my partner is cheating on me or not and I always watch my phone looking for messages from him and if he does not text me for the entire day I always assume that he hates me and wants to end this relationship but has not found courage yet.

I am 26 year old receptionist for a very busy restaurant and my boyfriend is in the transport industry. He is always out and about and has many other small businesses that he is running on the sides. Basically he is always not there even when I need him the most.

We had a fight about two weeks ago where he told me that he is tired of me blackmailing him emotionally and from then on I could not stop worrying that he must have been suffering in silence and I do not know how many times my anxiety might have creeped in to our relationship because sometimes this happens without me even noticing.

I feel sorry for him because when I am angry I can not control myself and I have picked up a very unhealthy habit of calling him a million times if he does not pick up. How do I stop myself from doing this as I do not want my partner to be driven away because of things that exist in my mind only.

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Gary

I had met someone 5 months ago at 49 and and she was mid 40s and I really fell for her, we shared a love of music and going to gigs and planned to do loads of things throughout the coming year and for the first month we saw each other a couple of times a wk , things were going great , anyway during that time she told me that she’s suffers with anxiety and has done for a while and it really affected her life , I thought I was listening and offering help when I could but all I was doing was annoying her more and more over the coming weeks , she started say I was self centred and other stuff along the same lines like I didn’t make her feel good about her self , which I couldn’t understand . As I alway told her she was best thing that’s happened to me , then early this year she had some problems occur in her life , she got a bad virus/cold which kept her off work for a few wks, and I think her employers wouldn’t pay her all the sick she was owed, then her daughter was going through a tough time with her boyfriend, and then her ex husband had been stealing money from his family and they came to her for help to sort him out and get him back on track , then she had a grandparent die , all of which would put pressure on a strong confident person let alone her with her anxiety,But I thought I’d give her space and support and let her know I would always be there for her if and when she needed anything or help, I’m by no means perfect and it’s all I could think of to do and I thought she was slowly coming round to wanting to spend more time with me again. But I was wrong I was making her feel worse. And just last wk she blocked me on social media and blocked me from calling and texting her . I think the world of her and want to help her , but I cannot contact her and we don’t have any mutual friend to help . But I respect her wish to exclude me from her life as she cannot deal with her anxiety at the moment and I was stressing her out . I just hope one day she will let me back into her life . Always hope I suppose .

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Tiffany

Gary,
I really hope you got in contact with her by now! I too suffer from anxiety and I hope that if I try to explain to “MY GARY” , yes my boyfriends name is Gary, he will be just as understanding as you are. Thank you for your story. I’d find her for you on social media if you haven’t found her by now!

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Bobbie

This has helped me a lot. I definitely do the push/pull method frequently and now I know its due to my crazy brain wiring. Luckily my bf is patient with me. I just need to calm my brain down and embrace the journey that I’m instead of constantly worrying what if all the time. I got this. Thanks 🙂

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Nicola banks

I’ve been with my boyfriend 5 months now, I think the world of him, but he’s struggling to open up about his problems, I say to him il never leave him, and don’t deal with your problems on your own but he says his problems are his and finds it hard to talk about them, which is putting a strain on our relationship, as I want him to trust to communicate, find his anxiety very difficult sometimes, as I’m scared to say the wrong thing please can someone advise me what to do to understand what to do, as I don’t suffer from it myself

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Olivia A

hey im olivia, im in your boyfriends position in my relationship, i have sevre anxiety and today i had an anxiety attack about my partner cheating on me or / and leaving me. Your boyfriend could be going through that too, he will be scared that if he opens up to you about your problems you will reject him. you need to let him know that he can trust you with the fragile messy untamed parts of him. hes worried that youll judge or maybe even leave him if you have access to these parts of him. you need to let him know you wont, and that he can trust you and whatever he tells you, you will still love him, and it will be okay.

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Natalie

I would say just be there for him as support but don’t push him to share what’s bothering him too much. Guys tend to want to solve their problems on their own. Just let him know that you are here for him and make yourself a safe person to confide in.

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Martina

I wish this article was helpful, but I had a relationship ruined by my anxiety and my ex trying to fix my anxiety. My fiance doesn’t even know that I have an anxiety disorder because I am sure he will leave me. People in society also say they wouldn’t date anyone who is mentally ill and tell people not to date mentally ill people. Mentally ill people need love too and I have found it best to hide my mental illness so I can be sure to find love and get married.

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beckah

I personally have hid my anxiety disorder from people before in efforts to make sure I will be loved regardless of my anxiety disorder or not. But in hindsight that hurt me more in relationships because the man I was with at each time I did that when I ended a relationship because of other reasons he told me I never opened up to him. Both of the two guys I dated told me that when I ended our relationship. I just started a newer relationship with his guy I work with and want a future with him so bad that I have promised myself to be completely open and venerable with him as much as humanly possible the more things I am open to him about, that I normally could not see myself being open with the more confident I feel in what I have with him and the possible future we could have.

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Noam

Hi. My girlfriend has Anxiety and her brain causes so many prob to her. I am trying to help – but I can do nothing. shes now going to a therapist and hopefully it will help even in the long term.

She make Projection on the relationship and ppl are trying to talk to her . Will it be smart to send her that article ? thanks

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Ellen

I’ve been seeing this wonderful man for several years. He just cut me out of his life completely. I know he loves me. I tried talking to him, sent emails etc. But it’s been over a month and he’s still in the grips of an anxiety episode. It’s breaking my heart and I know his too. He’s so angry and shutdown. I’ve always supported him. I love him unconditionally. So afraid he will never talk to me again. We get along great and after all these years ,no major issues. He does have intimacy issues and doesn’t communicate about what’s going on in his head. I know that the communication part needs to improve. Any suggestions?

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Anonymous

I’ve been dating my S/O for two years now. I suffer from extreme anxiety, I am always scared of her dying, falling out of love with me and in with someone else, her cheating on me, or her not wanting to actually be around me but just doing it spare my own feelings. I feel so bad that I constantly ask for reassurance from her but it’s literally the only thing that makes me feel slightly better. However, no matter how many times she tells me how much she loves me or that I’m the only person she wants to date, I always start second guessing everything like 20 minutes after her telling me. I hate it. I want this anxiety to go away so badly so that I can enjoy my relationship again. I know that I’m pushing her away slowly but surely, and I don’t know how to stop it. Someone please help me.

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Devon

I too am going through the same thing but with my boyfriend. We are long distance till January and it’s killing me. I feel exactly how you feel. He’s the only one who makes things better but that anxious feeling never goes away. Is he cheating, will he cheat, is that girl who trained him at work I love with him? Is he going to leave me. Im trying so hard to just be normal. My my brain is sabatoging me all the time. He went away for work and he was busy I knew he was working but because he couldn’t talk as much I felt like he didn’t want me anymore, that things change, and our love has died. I know its all in my head, he’s so amazing & constanly reassures me. But I’m scared he’s going to get tired of me & I sometimes wish I never met him so I didn’t feel this pain. I’m scared of pushing him away but in reality I’m pushing myself away from him. I can feel my feelings for him disappearing, because I’m protecting myself from getting hurt. Its a strange thing anxiety, I need to do better.

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Amya

Hi Im going through the same thing with my bf I keep questioning Everything I’m scared he gonna leave or I’ll push away I don’t know what to do but I hope everything gets better for you just gotta tell yourself she loves you and isn’t leaving and tell yourself ur okay

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Rebecca F

My fiance and I have been together for the past 2 years. Last year really started to test my anxiety and the relationship. My grandfather passed away. Recently my parents and I have not been on speaking terms due to our engagement. They started name calling him to me and it made my anxiety worsen. I have had so many anxiety attacks lately I can’t even keep track. He has delt like my rock even on the bad days. Unfortunately its come to the point where our relationship is being held on by a string. He loves me which he has shown me everyday but lately it’s been difficult for him to feel the urge to stay something he’s spoken to me about. I am desperate need to repair what’s left of our relationship because he is worth every moment of it something I feel I have taken for granted. It hurts so badly knowing that after two years i allowed myself to get this bad to where i didn’t face my problems on myself but rather put it all on him. I fear that i waited too long to accept my anxiety issues and work on building our relationship. I have a lot of triggers from my past that we have had to work through before. I want him to be happy but I don’t know how to make him feel happy again in the relationship when I can’t even repair myself. I fear for what is to come. Even writing this brings tears to my eyes.

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Miss Linda

Understand that boundaries aren’t your partner’s way of keeping you out, but as a way to self-protect from ‘catching’ your anxiety. You might be worried and need to talk about something over and over, but that’s not necessarily what will be good for you, your partner or your relationship . Talk to your partner about what he or she needs to be able to feel okay in the face of your anxiety. Invite the boundaries – it will help to keep your connection strong and loving and will help your partner to feel as though he or she is able to preserve a sense of self without being absorbed by your worries.

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Fidel B

I’m 17 years old and a senior in high school. I’ve known my girlfriend since about the 8th grade and we’ve always been just good friends. However recently we figured we’d venture into a relationship. I do love her and want to be with her. We’ve been together for about 3 months and I always find myself drifting into a place where I want my space and feel that my anxiety pushes her away because of worry and maybe the reality that because of life and college that we wont be together. Whenever we’re together we have a great time and we really do click. However I always find myself in silence whenever we get around certain people or certain situations and sometimes envious of her. How do I fix this its just something I cant seem to change ?

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Samantha

I have just started dating this wonderful guy after three years of being single.

Cut a really long story short…

My last partner I chose based on being the complete opposite to my husband whom was very abusive in very sadist ways, I thought I would be safe BUT as it happened the totally tire me apart and destroyed my life in so many awful ways. Being single protected me from making this mistake again!!!

However, I’ve turned my life around completely and dating someone I know in my profession… He’s the nicest person I have ever met yet I already fear EVERYTHING and can’t get my head around whether or not I deserve this happiness at all…

I’m so fearful of being hurt and so anxious my “inner critic” is enjoying what could possibly be the best time of my life…

I don’t know how to manage this I don’t want to loose this person because I want to run… Likewise I don’t want to loose this person unconsciously by being relationship anxious…

Any advice would be great… I love this article so much and vowel if I get through this to build the confidence to share this with others….

I have endured some of life’s toughest ventures but I feel totally rocked by this…

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Theresa D

Hi Samantha!

Your comments struck me. Obviously, we all found this page for a reason, but I also have been hurt in past relationships and I KNOW myself when I am independent. I like to move, I like to control things, I like to know the outcomes and that I can protect myself.

About once a month, I have an anxiety episode… I know… it’s exhausting. They used to be 10 days long, then a week, then days, and now a little over a year later they last for one day. I sure hope that it keeps decreasing with time!

My best advice would be to seek counsel through a therapist, BUT one that you trust. Don’t be afraid to shop around a little. I’ve definitely talked to some that heightened my anxiety and made me feel like they wanted my relationship to end. But now I have somebody that recognizes my patterns and reassures me constantly that I’m doing the work to enjoy my life! She also warns me if she sees any events coming up (anniversaries, trips, family meetings, etc.) that she thinks might shift my emotions and we come up with a game plan. It’s been INCREDIBLY helpful. She’s a somatic psychotherapist. She focuses on bringing me out of painful thoughts that immediately tense all my muscles and make me want to throw up and start grieving because I don’t see a way out, to finding support, regulating breath, and finding my heart.

I wish you luck, and that you give yourself patience and compassion.

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Cassie

I feel exactly the same way. My boyfriend and I are different in that he goes on nights out quite a lot, and he likes to drink and have fun with his work friends. EVERY time this happens, I have so many negative thoughts which consume my brain – he’s having so much fun with them, he’s probably talking to that much prettier girl, they stay out later and later and I literally can’t sleep until I hear him come back at 4/5am. I want to be a couple who trust each other but my whole body refuses to let me do this. When he gets back i can’t help but ask questions, almost like i’m waiting for him to slip up on some tiny thing and find out that I was right to suspect something. I know that this is unfair but i can‘t switch this negativity off.

I know he’d never intentionally hurt me but I guess i’m So terrified it might happen…I can tell all these thoughts are impacting our relationship and we’re trying to communicate more but I find that i’m ashamed of the things I think because they all suggest that I see him as a bad person. Which I don’t! It’s the anxiety which is making my brain think all these thoughts but i just don’t know how to convince myself that it’s not necessarily the truth.

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Lucy

I have always struggled with anxiety, but not the same anxiety I am dealing with now. I am a university student, and although I found the first few weeks of university terrifying and slightly debilitating, I got through it and absolutely loved university. I met really great friends and a really great guy whom made me feel so secure and happy, I have been with him now for nearly 3 years. I developed anxiety completely out of the blue in my final year, the second day I went back to uni. It was seemingly linked to lots of hormonal complications and stuff. I did not eat for weeks, I vomited every morning and throughout the day, I lost so much weight and I lived in debilitating fear that I would feel like this forever. I spent quite a bit of time at home, but then developed fears of not being at university and worried that my boyfriend would leave me or cheat on me, because how could he possibly enjoy being with me? I hurt everyone so much, my friends, my family, my boyfriend found it so hard to watch and it took such a huge toll on them because they are so sad that they couldn’t stop me feeling this way. I started CBT and it helped so much after 3 sessions. I went back to university the next term and stayed pretty much the whole term. I felt so accomplished. I came back for the easter break and I have just felt generally anxious. I don’t want uni to end, I don’t know what happens after, I don’t like the idea of the last term, I am so scared that things won’t work out. I am burdened with fears for my relationship, i cannot bear the thought of it ending. I tell these kinda fears to my boyfriend and he is generally supportive, having experienced some work related anxiety recently. He is fearful of me feeling that way again for sure. I worry about next term and how much he will want to see me, I worry about next year and seeing him, I worry about him potentially meeting someone else who is better than me, I worry that he will get bored of this issue, I get scared I won’t recover easily, I get worried about him working alongside other women and realising how much calmer and less complicated they are. I worry about everything, he doesn’t see why I do. This pain of anxiety is debilitating, I fear the mornings and get in this cyclical habit of being sick in the mornings because this fear overwhelms me. I have always been the person to make everyone laugh, to make people happy, to lift peoples moods and have always been the fun one, the sassy one. I feel I have lost so much of me with this anxiety, I want to be me but I am constantly living in fear, so how can I be me? I never really had such overwhelming fears before. Even in seriously tough conditions, I just felt I had so much strength. When people say dealing with anxiety takes strength, I do not understand it. I feel beyond weak, I feel close to overload and I am so overwhelmed I don’t see how it gets better (although I have pulled through a lot before). It is so cruel, I wonder if this is just the rest of my life, and if it is, can i bear that? I really do not think so. My life feels like a Hollywood drama, everything feels so big. I just want to feel normal and calm and functioning happily, the way I always used to.

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