Your question: What can I do if my boyfriend makes me anxious?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Anxiety or panic attacks are quite unpleasant, both physically and emotionally they generate significant discomfort. Even more so if the cause of such attacks is a loved one, such as your boyfriend in this case. This may be caused by recurring arguments or general tension in the relationship. Either way, identifying the cause of your boyfriend’s anxiety is the first step to treating it.

Relationships are complex, and many times people wonder if it is normal for “such a situation” to happen in their couple dynamics. Since anxiety is a natural process in humans, it is normal for it to occur in relationships in healthy amounts. For example, worries about moving in together, financial problems and the usual fights that occur when living together.

However, anxiety in a couple is no longer normal when one or both partners are suffering emotionally. If your boyfriend causes you anxiety there may be several reasons, but regardless of the cause, it is not healthy to be in a relationship that makes you feel unhappy.

What else can you do?

It is important that, before applying some of the suggestions below, you assess the quality of your relationship, as well as the things you can both do as a couple to improve it.

Track your emotions

My first suggestion would be to work on recording the specific circumstances that trigger the attacks. A valuable strategy to work on anxiety is to keep a self-record of emotions. It is known as a “panic diary” (1). There, you are going to write down during your day what are the situations that cause you the anxiety attack, you are also going to specify what are the physical symptoms (e.g. tachycardia, sweating, stomach pain) and emotional symptoms (eg. crying, anger, worry). Along with this, you will write down your subjective assessment of how intense the anxiety attack was from 1 to 10, with 1 being extremely low and 10 being extremely high.

This will help you learn to identify the events that trigger the attacks, and then work on them to reduce them. In cognitive behavioral therapy we believe that we must learn to adapt yourself to critical situations to avoid emotions and behaviors that harm us. You also learn to make decisions that, although complicated, give us the greatest benefit and psychological peace of mind in the long term.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Another strategy you can implement during anxiety attacks is called “5, 4, 3, 2, 1”. This consists of using your senses to dissuade emotional discomfort at a specific moment. It is useful when we are experiencing a lot of physical agitation or we feel that we have a lot of unpleasant thoughts, and find it difficult to control our emotions. Wherever you are, you will focus on identifying 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste (2).

Whether you are in your room, in a car or a public place, you can sit and practice this exercise in silence, breathing slowly as you do it as many times as you feel necessary to decrease the anxious symptoms. With time of practice this exercise will become easier, and you will realize how helpful it is to focus on our essential senses when we are overthinking things that make us feel bad.

Put yourselves first

Anxiety makes us believe that we have no way out and no hope. It creates maladaptive thoughts that form a negative view of the world, others and worse, ourselves. I understand your situation, and although it may seem difficult at the moment, counseling can help you deal with anxiety attacks and find your strengths to cope with the problems of everyday life.

In my experience…

No one deserves to be in a relationship that makes them unhappy, and this applies to family, work, friendships and romantic relationships. Therefore, I would also suggest you take stock of your current relationship, identifying the aspects that you think could be improved as a couple, which in turn will help anxiety attacks to decrease, working together as a couple on communication and decision making.

It is a complex process, but not impossible. By seeking professional help you are already taking a step towards improving as an individual, and I must give you that. While we are in contact, I would like to read how you feel practicing the strategies I mentioned here, do you think they work for you, do you notice an improvement, is there anything else you would like to work on?

Do them at your own pace, as it can create more anxiety to feel like you are making too many changes at once. I have always believed that people can face and solve their difficulties, and that counseling is a tool that helps them to be their own tool to improve and heal what they dislike about themself. I am sure that this will be so.

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!