ColumnsThe Seeker

The Seeker: Quelling Relationship Anxiety

That ’ship has sailed

relationship anxiety
Katie Grant (Photo by Lauren Mazzella)

When I say I live with anxiety instead of suffer from it, I choose those words carefully, simply because I try not to fall victim to its grip. While my chronic anxiety can be crippling at times (excessive armpit sweating, sleepless nights), I have found a handful of coping methods that work adequately enough for my brain and body.

I think it’s safe to assume everyone has felt nervous in some way at one point or another in their life, and sometimes a general sense of unease is completely normal.

For example, feeling nervous while awaiting a graduate school application decision letter (I speak from recent experience) is probably a very normal ordeal involving the psyche. If you have dealt with an episode like this and quickly recovered, you may wonder, “What’s the big deal”? Well, let me tell you that the inability to calm down is a big deal to some, including myself.

Do you think I would be lying in bed late-night writing about it if it were so attainable?

So, how is nervousness different from an anxiety disorder, you ask? According to Healthline, “Nervousness is a natural response to a stressful event. It’s temporary and resolves once the stress has passed … Anxiety disorders are psychiatric disorders that develop from a number of complex factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, and life events. Anxiety disorders are long-lasting and uncontrollable without treatment.”

Temporary. This word resonates like a peal of a bell for someone with anxiety because none of it is short-lived.

Living with an anxiety disorder is like enduring a string of incessant stressful events, one after another after another.

And because anxiety is so much fun to deal with, not only have I recently discovered I have “time anxiety” (yes, it’s a thing), apparently, I also live with “relationship anxiety.” Double trouble for my poor little brain!

I honestly didn’t know what relationship anxiety even was until I received an email invitation to a workshop that offered an overview of the specific anxiety disorder and how to overcome it.

This means I most definitely didn’t know I have been living with relationship anxiety for almost a decade now.

And before I go even further, let me be clear: I am speaking about a friendship that has recently gone south, not my marriage.

If you listen — like really listen — you’ll know the body doesn’t lie. Sitting in stillness and allowing my thoughts to flow without judgment, I see my friend in a new light; it’s not a flattering one.

I now see her for what she is: a bully who pushes all of our other friends around. Bully behavior is not something I am willing to put up with at this point in my life.

Breaking confidence and excluding people from our group is an ugly, repetitive behavior that I have seen my former friend illustrate. These acts are called relational aggression, which is often associated with the “mean girl phenomenon.”

Now in our thirties, I had hoped we would have all outgrown this anti-social behavior, but sadly I was wrong. I have severe relationship anxiety when it comes to this person because I have a mean girl for a friend. Eww. Time to make some changes.

After my eureka moment, I wiped the scowl off of my face and scrolled back through my email. I reopened the invitation to a 90-minute workshop titled Tools for Coping with Relationship Anxiety. Booked!

What I learned during this intimate session (I say “intimate” because even though we met virtually, the subject matter is still incredibly personal), was that pretending everything was fine because I’m afraid to have a serious conversation with my friend was indicative of relationship anxiety.

This scenario is key. During our meditation, I realized how badly I did not want to discuss our relationship status, preferring to bow out quietly. Does this qualify as ghosting? Apparently not!

The good news is, based on what I learned in the workshop if the thought of being honest with my so-called friend about how her behavior makes me anxious (in this case, I feel sick to my stomach) it’s a sign I am in a toxic relationship not necessarily worth repairing. Thank the universe for this type of neutral, third-party support!

A quote that someone shared with me after moving out of the dorms in college comes to mind: “There are three kinds of friends: friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for a lifetime.”

We don’t often think about our friendships coming to an end until it happens abruptly, but sometimes they really do sour over time. Any type of breakup, romantic or otherwise, is painful. But a key takeaway is to focus on quality over quantity. My friendship circle may wane but the quality of the relationships within it will flourish.

Be sure to check out Katie’s other columns here

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