Mental health and wellbeing is very close to our hearts, and while we truly aim to have an always-on approach to covering all aspects of mental health, we have chosen to shine an extra bright light on #WorldMentalHealth today, and for the rest of October.
We bring you The Big Burn Out — a content series made up of honest personal essays, expert advice and practical recommendations.
I'll never forget this moment: I was on a second date with a guy, patiently awaiting the large portion of cacio e pepe I eyed on Yelp six hours prior, when he brought up the concept of anxiety. At this point, I was more into the pasta than I was into the guy, but I had to take my eyes off the restaurant's kitchen door and focus on the conversation that was about to ensue for a few minutes. "I've never had anxiety before. What's it like?" he asked, genuinely curious. Well, honey, I'm going to assume they skipped this lesson during Dating 101, but this is not the time, nor the place. I stared blankly, proceeded to giggle adorably, and thanked the heavens above to see the waiter holding my
savior dinner right in front of me at that moment.
Anxiety is something I've dealt with since I was 15 years old, and I'm well aware of the stigma associated with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), so as ingenuous as this guy's question was, I wasn't prepared to answer it. It's hard to explain what "anxiety" is because it affects everyone differently, and I definitely wasn't going to attempt to describe the debilitating feeling I've had for a large portion of my life to a stranger. Thanks, but no thanks.
I'd be lying if I said anxiety didn't impact my dating life.
Dating when you have anxiety is, uh, interesting. But before I get into it, I want to again clarify that everyone has a different experience, and I can only speak to my own. My experience is not social anxiety or anxiety about dating (usually), it's about how my general anxiety impacts my life as a 27-year-old single woman in Manhattan who's just trying to get her date on. While I definitely think I'm a great dater — I'm on the apps, I like going out (sometimes), I'm an outgoing and positive person — I'd be lying if I said anxiety didn't impact my dating life.
A viral tweet from Gage DeAngelis perfectly encapsulates this: "My girlfriend has major anxiety issues and it really affects her and I see that, daily. So I asked her if there's anything I can to do help. Her response? 'Just let me be crazy and I'll be fine.' Yes ma'am," he wrote. I don't know him or his relationship, but his girlfriend's reaction to "let her be" is important. In the modern dating era, I believe that you really have to put yourself out there if you want to meet someone. Whether that's on a dating app or out in real life, you just have to. For me, someone with anxiety, that comes with listening to my body and my mind, and of course, "letting me be."
There are weeks when I'm feeling hopeful, and the thought of going out with someone I potentially have a great connection with sparks joy, so I'll make a few dates and dinner plans with friends. There are also weeks when I need my alone time, so I'll line up workouts after work to clear my head. There are even weeks when I can't bring myself to work out because I need to de-stress in the comfort of my own home, so I won't make any plans that could add to my anxiousness. But the most important thing for me is to listen to my body and figure out what kind of week it is to plan accordingly.
There's no shame in rescheduling a date if you're going to be mentally elsewhere during the prime hours of getting to know someone.
Listening to your body and your mind is one thing, but acting on it is another. My anxiety, like many people's, can be unpredictable — a lovely morning can turn into a panicked racing heart if something triggers me — so, cancel plans if that's the case. There's no shame in rescheduling a date if you're going to be mentally elsewhere during the prime hours of getting to know someone. Anxiety and the negative, racing thoughts that come with it are out of your control, but canceling plans and taking the night to cuddle with a weighted blanket and some CBD to get back to feeling like yourself is in your control.
I'm not a mental health professional, and I'm definitely not an expert on dating (hello, single!), but I've juggled anxiety and societal pressures to "put yourself out there" long enough to know this: sitting at a table nodding to a forced conversation when negative thoughts are running rampant through your mind is not going to lead you to your soulmate, or even lead you to an enjoyable evening. Listen to your body, your mind, and "put yourself out there" only when you're able to be present and able to be the best version of yourself. As for me, I just need to remember that Carrie Bradshaw was a fictional character, and in real life, someone with a fabulous shoe collection, a very active social life, and never-ending editorial deadlines would *probably* have anxiety, too.