Anxiety has become the quintessential modern affliction. Nearly 2 out of 5 college students report living with anxiety, according to the most recent Healthy Minds Study.
Dating someone who experiences bouts of anxiety is becoming quite pervasive. If you’re currently on the dating scene, that means there’s a good chance you may ultimately meet — and really like — someone living with an anxiety disorder.
Some therapists describe anxiety as the third person in a relationship. Depending on your date’s symptoms, going out or establishing intimacy can be challenging.
But dating someone aware and sensitive can also be wonderful. Understanding anxiety and how it manifests itself might actually make your relationship stronger.
How to date someone with anxiety? Starting on the Right Foot
Anxiety can manifest itself in different ways. Following a few basic guidelines can help you put your date’s behavior in perspective.
DO: Get curious about your date’s experience of anxiety.
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Ignoring the issue or trying to tell your date they shouldn’t feel the way they do will not help you build a lasting relationship. Instead, ask your date about how they experience anxiety. What does it feel like in their body? How often do they feel this way? Do they have coping strategy to help them return to neutral? Do they use prescription medication? How they feel they have over it? What situations seem to create the most anxiety? Meet them with curiosity and openness.
DON’T: Assume anxiety looks the same in every person — or that people with anxiety disorders don’t have good relationships.
Anxiety manifests itself in different ways. Your assumptions may get in the way of intimacy and trust. And while it’s true that some symptoms of this disorder can make dating a tad tricky at times, there are millions of people with anxiety who are in happy, successful relationships. You and your date could be, too.
DO: Manage your reactions to anxiety or panic attacks.
Your response to your date’s symptoms matters — a lot. Don’t think you can talk your date out of their anxiety or, worse, try to negotiate with them. Anxiety is not rational. If your date is experiencing unexpected anxiety, don’t assume you know what’s happening. Instead, simply say you notice something is wrong and ask how you can help. Then remain calm and assist in the ways they’ve suggested, whether it’s a postponement of your date or a change in plans.
DON’T: Take anxiety personally.
It can be easy to get offended when your date has anxiety. Just remember: It’s not about you. The sooner you can move past seeing yourself as part of the problem, the better you’ll be at providing support and comfort.
DO: Set boundaries regarding hurtful language, accusations, or threats.
Anxiety is not an excuse for abuse. Just because your date feels anxiety does not mean they get to treat you badly. Set boundaries early and enforce them when they get crossed.
DON’T: Allow your partner to use their anxiety as an excuse for bad behavior.
There may be times when your date needs to cancel plans or take some time for themselves. But there is a difference between self-care and bad behavior. Talk to your date about the best way to be respectful toward one another.
DO: Practice self-care.
Dating someone living with anxiety can be stressful. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself and that your own support systems are strong and healthy.
DON’T: Try to absorb your date’s stressors.
If you try to help them by letting them relieve their anxiety out on you, dating someone with anxiety will be exhausting.
You can practice caring and compassion with your date without letting things get to the point where you, too, feel overwhelmed. Know your limit and be mindful of the spectrum of emotions you feel around your date. If taking on their stress is mostly what your relationship is about, perhaps you are not getting your needs met in the relationship.
Therapy Can Help
It can be tempting, especially in the early stages of a relationship, to take on the role of therapist — but it’s a bad idea. Anxiety Therapists have the training to help people in your date’s situation, and they won’t approach the therapy process with the kind of romantic interest that can cloud objectivity.
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If they haven’t already. Encourage your date to start working with an anxiety therapist who can help them learn how to manage their anxiety. Be a cheerleader throughout the process. Anxiety can be lessened and managed. There are some very effective coping skills and strategies that can help all of us live with less and manageable anxiety. These options to manage anxiety can create a profound difference in everyday experiences, improving overall well-being.
Therapy might also be right for you. It’s not always easy to not take anxiety symptoms personally, or set the right boundaries, or come up with good strategies for dealing with your own stress. Learning to manage your own issues can help you build a healthier, happier relationship.