As I mentioned in my last blog post, I will be doing five weeks focusing on relationship anxiety and attachment issues. So back to the topic, if you’re experiencing anxiety in relationships, this tells me that someone is triggering something in your attachment system. This may include someone you went on a first date with, a friend, a parent, a boyfriend or girlfriend, etc. If you don’t know much about attachment theory, it originally developed through the work of a man named John Bowlby. You can look up some of his research or for a quick explanation, you can read my blog here that explains different attachment styles. I also highly recommend the book, Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller.
So let’s talk about what helps! Mindfulness is a key way to combat relationship anxiety. I know, I know. There’s been a lot of hype around mindfulness lately. If you’re like me, what initially comes to mind is sitting there, legs crossed, thinking about absolutely nothing. Nothing?! How can you think about nothing when you’re completely overtaken by anxiety? Well, I’m not talking about this kind of mindfulness. For many of us, sitting there, clearing your mind, and thinking about nothing likely seems like an impossible task, especially when your thoughts are racing. They might look like, “What’s wrong with me?” “I did something wrong,” “He or she is going to leave me now.” “I hate this! Why do I always do this?!” What I’m simply referring to is being curious about what’s going on. When we are emotionally hijacked, the logical, “thinking” part of our brain turns off. We aren’t curious. In fact, our IQ actually goes down when we are triggered. This is because our body and nervous system are in a state of survival. We are geared up for fight or flight. We are just completely overwhelmed by emotions. This is sometimes why we behave in ways we are not proud of. And this feels HORRIBLE! But what if you were to take a few deep, slow breaths? Here is a quick breathing strategy to help you to calm down in the moment:
Circular Breathing: inhale as you naturally would and count the seconds of your inhale. Most people can get to 6 to 8 counts. More or less will also work. You will then hold your breath for the same count as the inhale, then you will exhale for the same count. As you breathe in, you may count to yourself, 1,2,3,4,5,6, then hold for, 1,2,3,4,5,6, then exhale, 1,2,3,4,5,6, hold for, 1,2,3,4,5,6. You will continue until you feel more calm. Tip: You should notice your heart beat slowing down and you should be able to think more clearly.
Okay, so you’re slightly more calm, but definitely not in the clear yet. Now, be curious. Ask yourself the following questions:
What am I so upset about?
Does my reaction match the situation?
For example, if you went on a first date and sent a text message, maybe you haven’t heard back yet. Make a list of all the possibilities that may be occurring. Maybe the person is at work. Maybe the person is sleeping. Maybe the person hasn’t even see your text yet. DON’T text the person and say, “Did you get my text?” “If you’re not interested, that’s fine, just tell me” or anything along those lines. Try to be patient and see what happens.
What in my history is getting triggered right now or what does this situation remind me of?
Notice how you’re feeling in your body. Is this a familiar feeling that you’ve noticed in other relationships? What about with your parents?
When we are curious, we are being more mindful. We are less likely to act out of emotion. This isn’t the cure, but it may prevent you from acting out in relationships in a way you aren’t proud of. More about how to heal attachment wounds in the weeks to come! Sign up for my email list here.