Anxiety is a Game of Whack-A-Mole

IMG_6188The anxious mind can latch onto almost any topic:

  • What if I don’t have enough money?
  • What if my kids aren’t okay?
  • What if I don’t get pregnant?
  • What if I have cancer?
  • What if I don’t love my partner enough and I’m making a terrible mistake?
  • What if I don’t have enough friends?
  • What if I’m gay?
  • What if I’m a pedophile?
  • What if I have an STD?
  • What if there’s a terrorist attack ?
  • What if I’m in the wrong career?
  • What if the plane crashes?

How many of these thoughts have you struggled with? And have you found that you can resolve one thought only to find that another pops up in its place? That’s why anxiety is a game of whack-a-mole: if you whack down one mole (thought) without addressing it from the root, another will quickly appear in its place.

We know now that some people’s minds are more prone to anxiety than others. There seems to be a sub-species of humans that easily allows the ups-and-downs of life to roll off their back. I rarely meet one of these people (in fact, I can’t think of a single one at the moment), but I do hear that they exist. They’re usually the partners of people who find their way to my work, the even-keel shore to the tumultuous ocean of the one suffering from relationship anxiety. But for the people who find me, anxiety – also known as worry – has been a thread in the fabric of their psyche for as far back as they can remember.

Before I go any further, I need to remind you that there is a positive side to anxiety. The anxious mind is also the sensitive mind. The anxious mind is often the highly creative mind. Anxiety gets a very bad rap in our culture, and there’s no question that living with high levels of anxiety creates a state of misery. But once we learn to work with anxiety, it transmutes into something quite beautiful. Remember, in other cultures and other times, the highly sensitives, the ones attuned to the nuances of life, were the scouts, the shamans, the gatekeepers to this and other worlds. We held a very honored place in the culture and were often responsible for the physical and spiritual well-being of the tribe. We still hold that place. Anxiety transmuted into awareness becomes our gift that we share with the world around us.

Now, back to the list. If you pare it down, you’ll see that all of these statements share a similar core: the fear of loss. We desperately fear loss because we don’t know how to manage loss. We’re not taught the tools and language of loss, so it always feels like a death. Loss is death, but again, since we’re not taught a framework for walking through death of any kind – literal and metaphoric – imagined loss/death feels like an annihilation of self. In this simplistic sense, anxiety is the fear of loss is the fear of death.

I teach many tools in all of my courses for working with anxiety, but the one that underlies them all is developing an inner anchor point that can help us cut through the fear-mind. The tendency of the fear-mind is to seek reassurance from others when anxiety takes over: to talk, to Google, to research. But we quickly find that reassurance-seeking, while possibly providing temporary relief, doesn’t allay the soul’s need for deep comfort. Only one thing can offer that: the resting place and the still point of our own Self. Some people call this God. Others call it Soul. Others call it guidance or stillness or wisdom. It doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is that you develop a practice – daily, if possible – for turning toward this place so that you can rely on it when you truly need it.

We all have access to this place. You have tasted it for moments here and there in your life. It lives in you as certain as your own breath. And it’s when we tap into this wellspring that the fear, the chatter, the worry, and the what-ifs fall away and we can exhale deep into the earth, lie our bodies down in the grass or dance them across the field of serenity. In this field, it’s all okay. In this field, we’re able to touch down into our true intuition, the place that holds are own wordless answers, the place beyond “yes” or “no”, the place of is. It just is. It’s just so. And it’s all okay.

80 comments to Anxiety is a Game of Whack-A-Mole

  • Newly Married

    Hi Sheryl I was just checking in you blog and I saw there is a new article and I didnt see the notification on my email that I normally do, are you still sending them out?

    Thank you and blessings 🙂

  • greenlane

    Hi Sheryl,
    You and so many other writers and teachers I respect (Brene Brown, Sue Monk Kidd, Annie Dillard) talk about a need for faith and spirituality in order to live a grounded, wholehearted life. I meditate daily, have a regular and deep yoga practice, and spend as much time as possible in nature, where I find peace. But I still experience a lot of anxiety and have a lot of trouble connecting to the idea of a “Higher Power.” When I try to connect to “something bigger than me,” I come up empty. I’m looking for a tether—something to place my trust in when my own self-compassion wears a bit thin. Do you have any thoughts?

    • Faith and spirituality is certainly one aspect of wellness, but it’s not the whole picture. I take a holistic approach to working with anxiety, which means attending to our four realms: physical, emotional, spiritual, and cognitive. People can use meditation as a way to bypass the other realms, especially the emotional, but the physical is also foundational to wellness. How do you do in those areas? How do you meet your painful and raw emotional places? How do you attend to your physical body? Sleep, hormones, nutrition, hydration, exercise?

      • greenlane

        I think that’s why I’m struggling. I take really good care of my body (8 hours of sleep, 80oz of water on good days, exercise almost every day, heavy on the veggies and preferably from local farms!) and try to stay really attentive to my inner world, dialoguing and being mindful. I’m in therapy, where we touch my raw places often, and my partner and I have even developed a beautiful practice of sharing what’s difficult and holding space for each other to feel what’s hard. I make sure to take the time to explore on my own, too (I just got back from my first weekend retreat. Such a cool experience!) Of course I’m not 100% with the work all the time, but I’ve learned a LOT since finding you in March. Sometimes I think I try too hard, always looking for a ‘why’ or a reason or wanting an answer right away. It’s when it comes time to give up the control and just “stay with the tensions of pain,” as Kidd writes, that I wish I had some kind of faith.

        • I think you answered your own question ;). A great deal of this work is learning to sit in the mystery, the place that Kidd talks about so beautifully in “When the Heart Waits.” It sounds like at least one aspect of your anxiety could be related to the need for control and the ego’s desperate search for answers when, most times, there are none. Also, fun and play are essential. Sometime we get so caught up in “doing it right” that we forget to have fun. x

  • EShee

    Hi Sheryl, many times your updates come at perfectly timed moments of doubt and frustration and ALWAYS restore some calm, allowing me to go limp to it all and just sit with the thoughts as they flow, no bopping over the head needed 🙂 Wishing you well this week.

  • Rachel

    This spoke to me. I worry constantly about my 2 boys. What if they die, what if they are bullied, what if they suffer greatly through life. The thoughts are so real and cause me a great deal of anxiety. I try to pray for God to protect them. Sometimes the anxious feelings are overwhelming. Thank you for your words of wisdom. They really do help.

  • brandy

    Sheryl can you please please share how you recommend journaling? I find that I tend to spin out on the problem in my writing sometimes. Thank you in advance!

  • Rachel

    I have tears in my eyes. Thank you so much for your reply and I’m sending huge hugs back.

  • AmJu

    This certainly hit home for me. I’ve had many of the listed topics you mentioned. It’s very true that the anxious mind latches on to different topics like that, often one starting shortly after the other one ends, and sometimes even many at the same time.
    The same is true within a topic. The focus of my mind now is relationship anxiety and thoughts around my relationship, and my brain latches onto different topics within this as well. When I started getting a handle on my intrusive thoughts about the “here and now” in my relationship – if I wanna be with him now, love him right now etc – the intrusive thoughts evolved and instead latched on to the uncertainty of the future and if I’ll still love him and wanna be with him in a few months, a year, a decade etc. And these thoughts are even harder to handle because I simply can’t know what the future holds.

  • rlaco31

    Hi Sheryl! I love this post and have used this metaphor (the gopher holes) in therapy a lot. Do you have any thoughts on the more intrusive feeling of “there’s a hole” “something isn’t being filled” and it’s directly being put on the relationship to fill it (I.e. Youre feelings aren’t as strong as you thought) which is I know is telling myself a story… So I go to this place that the relationship won’t survive if it doesn’t fill this seemingly critical feeling needed in a relationship. It’s not really a thought so much as a “lack of” something… Any thoughts would be welcome from anyone!

    • This is one of the most common manifestations of relationship anxiety. The “hole” or “lack” lives inside of you and, thus, can only be filled by you. One of the greatest misconceptions about relationships is that your aliveness or “that feeling” is supposed to come from our partner. This belief alone creates untold anxiety and, sadly, ends many good, healthy relationships. The work is yours! I have dozens of articles on my site on this topic. Please read through them all.

      • rlaco31

        I have been coming to that realization the past couple days and been doing some inner digging to the root. Just graduated college… (Gulp) not sure what I want to do… Feeling distant from God. Thank you for your response. And the work that you do to help people heal. It’s a beautiful gift and we thank you for using it.

          • Findingpeace28

            rlaco31- I very much related to your post. This is my “go to” projection. But I do know when I’m connected to myself, I’m connected to him, which is my only assurance at times that the relationship anxiety lies in me.

            Sheryl, are there are specific other articles you can reference on this topic? Thank you!

  • Kalika

    A few days ago, my husband and I were outside a children’s game arcade and we compared my anxiety to Whack-a-Mole. So, how fun to see this week’s edition! Thanks, Sheryl, as always, for the wise words at the right time.

  • Kalika

    Rlaco, I often interpret that hole as a lack of nurture needed from a parental source, and now that I’m an adult, an area where I need to parent/nurture myself. Reading on attachment theory seems to help with this. I’ll be interested to see how others respond to your Q as I struggle with it, too. Blessings!

    • rlaco31

      Yes! Learning how to parent myself with compassion… Something my parents weren’t too good at. And being the source of my own aliveness. It’s a daunting task, but I’m so ready to do it!

  • Meggan

    Hi Sheryl!

    Thank you for your blog. It is nice to know that in the end I do make the choice to let my anxiety take hold of me and let my fear over run all that I believe is truth. Apart of me feels like I should know better by now (I have followed your work going on a year now). But I still can’t help but think that the intrusive thoughts have truth to them. Sometimes I think that the things that bounce around in my head are far too horrid to be not real. Like, who thinks of this??? I guess I feel like if I can just solve this problem it won’t be a big anymore. At the same time I know I’m just spinning my wheels. It very frustating. But it does help reading your blogs for comfort. I thank you for your work and for being the guidpost I need.

    Have a great day!

    • This work really takes time, Meggan. I know a year may seem like a long time, but it’s really not when you consider how long you’ve been spinning in these negative habits. Hang in there!

    • Kaiti

      Hi Meggan,

      I read your comment and from what I read I feel almost exactly spot on. My anxiety is so frustrating and it latches onto anything and everything! Let me know if you need any help!

  • ColoradoGirl

    This article brought me right back to that time/space where I was in the deepest well of despair or my dark night of the soul. Where each thought (and I related to many on your list) would send me in to a sick to my stomach hell that would last for days or weeks or months until someone would say something to help pull me out of it- then I’d find the next thought to worry about. It was beautiful to be reminder of how far I’ve come in seeing that I don’t need to latch on to every thought that runs through my mind- thanks to you!

  • Chantal

    I am a Christian, but really get spiked by the idea of “God’s Will.” I have read your article on it on the blog (probably 15 times) and have found some comfort in CBear’s journey from what I’ve read so far on it. It still spikes me. I get fearful that when I calm and listen to God that he’ll tell me to leave. In the depths of my anxiety, I remember crying out to God asking him to help and I heard a voice saying “what if I have something better?”. I am REALLY hoping the voice was anxiety. Everything was great until my world was flipped upside down and shaken to its core. Do you have anymore advice?

  • Kalika

    Chantal, I also am a Christian and I’ve found great help in Jesuit spirituality for discerning God’s will, as well as seeking spiritual direction from a trained director. We “highly sensitive people” often have difficulty confusing the voice of the Holy Spirit with the voice of our own anxiety. I’ve have to come to believe that God can work beauty out of everything, and so while there’s perhaps a “good” path and a “better” path, even if I miss the “better” path God can make beauty out of the “good” path and make it just as amazing as the “better” path would have been. I have to remember that, no matter what path I choose, the destination goal is the same: union with God for eternity. I really think that once in that place, I won’t really care which path I took to get there, I’ll just be glad to be forever face-to-face with God. So, we pursue God and holiness/wholeness in whatever path we choose, keeping our destination ever before us and knowing that suffering will accompany us no matter what we choose (as suffering is our refining fire). God has worked incredible things out of paths much more “mistaken” than any path I can choose. Thanks for listening to these thoughts and I hope others will respond as well. God bless you!

    • Chantal

      Thank you SO much, Kalika! That helps me so so much!! I’m definitely going to screen shot this and save it to read for other times.

    • Kyle

      This is awesome! I am a Christian too, and this just made my day. I’ve been having a more anxious than normal day (seeing my fiancee in a week after 4 months of separation), and it completely reminded me that I don’t need to figure all of this out; there is no secret passageway I have to find and go through; God is not holding “the right choice” in a lockbox waiting for me to figure out how to open it. He wants me to trust, make a decision (ANY decision), and He will work out the rest. I love Sheryl’s work in that it constantly reminds us to make a choice and trust ourselves (and God in our case). This is fundamental in moving through the anxiety and accepting it as part of who you are 🙂 Thanks for this! Really is an answer to prayer.

  • Brittani

    Hi Sheryl, while looking into my feelings, I recently started learning how my anxiety works and it’s strange, yet amazing. A few days ago, my anxiety levels were extremely high and instead of running from them and blaming my partner I sat there and a strong urge came over me. I needed to work out and I needed to be outdoors. Is this normal?

  • Kelsey

    This makes a lot of sense, but what I don’t understand is if I’m anxious because I fear loosing my partner, why in turn do I feel like I don’t like or love my partner? Wouldn’t it make more sense for me to feel more love to try my hardest NOT to loose my partner? Not feel like I’m loosing my feelings? This has always been something I have a hard time understand, and thoughts would be appreciated!

    • Brittani

      One of the common traits of anxiety disorder is feeling trapped, unable to do the things we have to do or the things we want to do. For us, having an impulse to do healthy things and then simply going out and doing them gets short circuited. Your anxiety is making the love you have for you partner seem like a trap that you can’t escape from. Your heart is with your partner and your mind is filled with anxiety, so it’s a battle between the heart and the mind. The toughest battle you will ever face is what you feel versus what you know.

      • Mani

        Woah~ thanks for the thoughts… even though it was not me who asked 🙂
        I wonder the same too, cause… yeah, if my head is saying something, but i can’t seem to leave, how can i actually know what “the right” thing to do is? I mean, not to mention the fact that i feel like this is like lying to my amazing boyfriend 🙁 and that makes it worse :/

        • Brittani

          I apologize for the late response Mani. I wish there was a plugin on the site that allowed us to receive notifications when communicating with others. I usually memorize the number of comments and scroll down to my name when the amount has changed, but I haven’t been on in a couple of days, but I am here for you now. I let my partner know everything. It’s so much easier this way. We’ve been together 8 years and I am very thankful for her. Whatever thoughts pop up or whatever impulses I may have, I always say to myself I’m not leaving. Like, its literally to the point where I know I’m researching online and all that other crap for nothing because I KNOW I am not leaving. I have faith in my relationship and that’s all that matters. You should too Mani?? I don’t know your full situation or how long you’ve been suffering, but if you’re here,? I’m pretty sure we have lots of “thoughts” and “what ifs” in common; so just be strong and fight the good fight. Also, one more thing. My aunt went through relationship anxiety for 3 years.?? She described it as a closet with no door. It was also 17 years ago. Right now as we speak she’s literally packing for her & my uncle’s vacation to Italy; they’ve been together for 28 years Mani!! Isn’t that amazing?

          • H

            Brittani, everyone you said really soothed me! I always tell myself I am not leaving no matter what. But sometimes I feel like I want to. But I never do, hence the fighting with the mind and heart at the same time. It’s really strange because I felt anxious but good feelings were trying to poke through this morning. I was looking at wedding dresses and I felt happy and knowing that I am making a good decision but then I had all the normal thoughts of ‘do I leave? Am I making the right decision?’ It’s the not knowing of the future and if you have made the right decision! I know I have a great loving partner who does a lot for me and our future family but I just get so scared he isn’t right for me because he isn’t like how I imagined the guy would be who I am spending the rest of my life with.

          • Brittani

            Trust me H, I know that feeling. It’s horrible when the person you want to spend the rest of your life with is the person you want to run from. Since I had the thought of leaving in October, I’ve had several mini obsessions such as gut instincts, intuition, tarot cards, numbers, dreams etc. I came to a point where I was just ready to go to sleep. I wasn’t enjoying anything in my life. I’m a Graphic Designer and my biggest joy of creating became my worst nightmare. Its amazing how our thoughts work. As a thought would pop up, I’d worry about it for about 3 days, I’d have 2 days of peace and then another thought would come. Just annoying!! You know what though H, through all those thoughts and all the other drama, I still believed in us. & that’s all that matters. There were days when I thought I was completely pushed to the limit and I wanted to just run and hide, but I could never allow myself to pack my bags because deep down inside, I knew I didn’t want to leave. Don’t give up H. I’m here for you. Also, try reading this.

            Stay Amazing: Britt

  • Fight for happiness

    I struggle the most with letting go. Two years ago, before I found this work, I struggled with the idea of first love and my ex. For almost a year the anxiety went on and off–mostly on–full of fear that I was supposed to be with him. I was convinced despite the guidance from my father and what I knew as truth deep down. It nearly split apart the man I love and me. The anxiety has latched onto and bounced between topics every few months since then. Once it focused on intelligence of my partner, another time was making a huge mistake–is he right for me? Is there someone better. In the end, I had to make choices. I choose love every time despite how impossible and difficult it was. I didn’t find Sheryls blog until last year. Now I deal with letting go of singlehood. I haven’t spent a great deal of time there–being in two serious relationships since I was 16 and I’m only 21–but I’ve spent time enough being single to know what it’s about. Maybe I haven’t dated around or had blind dates or flirted endlessly–a few months ago that’s what I was focused on: losing those by choosing love and marriage. But I came to a place of understanding that marriage is the long term goal of dating and those superficial experiences are not worth throwing away the love of my life. I’m still struggling with it. But this is my truth and I keep fighting. Mostly now my anxiety festers on “I’ll never be single again–and I’m ready for that? Can I do that?” It’s scary as hell. But I also know I’m not willing to give the man I have to delay marriage for the sake of fear. I keep fighting even though some days I want to just give up. Hang in there. I made it through my other impossible anxieties when I thought I wouldn’t. They aren’t even spikes anymore. I’m sure somehow I’ll get through this one.

  • WorkingOnMe


    What a great post!!! 🙂

    I love how you reframe the “what if” anxious snowballing we do, as a deeper fear of loss and death. SO TRUE!!! Wow, that’s like a big breakthrough. Now, when I start thinking, “what if…”, I will be able to stop myself and look deeper and ask myself, “What am I afraid of here…and what am I afraid of losing?” Thank you for this post… it’s very helpful! 🙂

  • LightAtTheEnd

    This article made me stop and consider what thoughts spike my anxiety…

    For me…it’s the constant Comparisons that I make with others…

    ”They are more in love with each other’
    ‘They are happier than me’
    ‘He is better than mine’
    ‘They are having a better time’….

    My biggest issue is not taking responsibility for my own life…and responsibility to create the relationship I want. I just want the free ride…the lustful feelings…an escape from my own mind…to be someone else.

    Is this a form of ‘loss’ in some way?!

  • Georgina

    Hi Sheryl after such a long time! I read your posts every week but I haven’t actually stopped to say hello.
    I wouldn’t say I’m struggling with anxiety but I’m copying with the raw pain of having tried to get pregnant for 6 months without much luck.
    My husband’s so positive and so is our obstetrician but I still feel that lump in my throat, that sharp pain in my stomach and the sensation that my chest’s going to fall off my body every month my body whispers “this month I’ve brought you this, I know how much it hurts, everyone feels like that in your situation, you can be kind to yourself” However, there are times when I feel hopeless. I feel God’s presence and I truly respect the situation but it hurts so deeply.
    I do remember what I’ve learned on the Trust Yourself and Trust Yourself Continued courses and I have to thank you because the mindfulness and kindness towards myself combined with my call to my loving adult have held me all along. I feel quite sad but I don’t torture myself with questions anymore, if they pop up, because they do, I reassure my frightened inner child, and I tell her I’ll hug her and protect her. Thank you Sheryl, I learned that thanks to you.
    Anyway, I just wanted to stop to say hello, to say thank you and to say how much I still need you. I hope we can do meet again on the Birthing a new mother course, in the meantime bridging the gap between us like this will be more than enough.
    Love from this corner of Argentina

  • Mani

    Hi, Sheryl~
    Like you mention here, it doesn’t take long for one thought to replace another. I am still wondering if i am doing the right thig by staying in this rrlationship, as i feel i am deceiving my loving boyfriend. Like the back of my mind keeps saying “this is not where you are supposed to be” and i am am afraid i might end things with him soon :/
    Btw! Just as you mention here, he is one of those people that just glide through life 😛 i really kind of wish i could do the same… kind of~ cause i kinda enjoy being so sensitive and living this crazy inner life of mine xD i am only afraid i will hurt him and maybe thar is why i am staying.

  • Brooke

    Isn’t it sometimes justified to be anxious? The world is a harsh place
    I find that sometimes in the spiritual/healing world, many teachers talk about seeing the world as loving and moving past anxiety and fear. But our world is full of insecurity and I think we need to worry! Isn’t it naive to think we can have such an attitude to the world?

    • There is a lot of harshness in this world (and vast amounts of beauty as well). But how does worrying about the world help the situation? Action helps. Prayer helps. Healing ourselves so that we can ripple-effect out into the world helps. That’s what this work – and all effective healing modalities – are about. It’s not about putting your head in the sand. It’s about meeting your own inner world with compassion and then, from a filled-up well, bringing that into our relationships, our community, and our world.

  • SL

    I keep having anxiety about other girls, whenever I see someone attractive I think that I want to be with her in my life but still thinking about them doesn’t last too long but they haunt me and destroy me. Makes me wonder if I’m settling in matters of looks or not or is my partner intelligent enough I am torn.

  • Toza

    Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you for these posts- they are always so timely and helpful. I’m doing the Break Free course and feeling improvement in my anxiety through the skills and information I’ve been learning. An issue I keep coming back to that my anxiety centers on is that I am a practicing Christian and my partner is not and I’m concerned about how this will work over the long term when we don’t share a common spiritual path. Can you recommend any additional resources or books I should check out? Our values seem to be closely aligned, but I’m missing having a shared faith since it is such a big part of my life. In Break Free I believe it says that religious differences are not a red flag issue which gives me hope for us but I think I need some more tools to help with this and would deeply appreciate any suggestions you could give! Thank you again for your work.

    • I recommend “100 Things I Wish I had Known Before I Got Married”. It’s not specifically on religious differences but it’s on differences in general, and how being different from each other is NOT a reason to walk away.

  • Olga

    Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you for a wonderful blog again! It really gives a calming start to my week. I wanted to let you know how much progress I already made since starting the Breaking Free course a couple of weeks ago. I experience much more clarity and calm moments in which I can truly enjoy the love for my partner. I am not there yet, but thank you!

  • Angela

    Hi my dear Sheryl, I love every word, every word? . We worry because of horrible things happening to people and we dont it to happen to us. We are human and its what we do. I think I have found my self well today isnt that coincidence you are talking about it on this blog! I found my trustful inner self, where i feel home. Finally im here, i feel so relaxed and at peace its better than anything i imagined. A besutiful place to be. Thank you so much Sheryl for guiding me to my special place that nobody can take away from me. Xx

  • Albane

    Hi Sheryl,

    Thanks for this article. I think that’s the first time this famous fear of loss/death rings a bell inside. How do we articulate this with relationship anxiety?

    I actually was spiked by the article in the sense that I immediately thought “that’s why you cannot leave him. You are afraid of seeing that part of your life dying.” It immediately reminded me of the internal struggle I felt when I wanted to break up with an ex 10 years ago and where I felt absolutely unable to let him go even if I was the one initiating the break up.

    I thought I was handling projections quite well until I realised recently that I was still projecting a lot on my husband. Am I projecting again? (I guess the answer is yes! 😉 )

  • Albane

    I want to add something. This ex am mentioning is the only other really loving relationship I have had (it’s quite a recent realisation as I had always classified this relationship as “i fell out of love, the guy was clearly not for me, too weak, too limp.”) and I think the internal conflict I had at that time was pretty much based on false-beliefs vs the terror of dumping someone so kind.

    When am trying to get your article more in the sense of “am afraid of loosing my husband”, it does not ring anything inside.

    • It often doesn’t ring a bell for a long time, Albane. It sounds like you’re uncovering layers and layers inside of yourself, and I want to encourage you to stay with this process and have faith that you will continue to have openings and awakenings.

  • Newly Married

    My husband has become and its a wonderul man, but at the beginning of our relationship he would make a lot of comments about the girl he had been seeing, not a serious relationship and he would make things up to make me jealous he now says and he is very sorry, but the thing is that when we were younger he and i were seeing each other and i saw him with her and he would make me also jealous or try to do that with me back then and that made me feel he didn’t never cared then they got back together and i felt so replaced, we decided to try again this second time 5 years later, he is a wonderful man and we have a great relationship but he still would try to make me jealous or to make up things to try to get things out of me instead of asking, and that created a lot of resentment and insecurity since back then when we were young and now, and i cant get pass that, he has matured and he really really is wonderful and loving and patient and like everything i ever wanted but now its me who cant get pass that feeling its like it lives in my body and every time he gets close to me i get triggered, i get so angry of all those things i dont know what to do… my husbands admits he did those things to get me jealous and because he was afraid and didnt know how to ask things instead of trying to say something to see what i would say, and it feels like seeing him with her back then and him playing those games make me feel like i am stupid because he left to be with her although he says it was not that he was with her..
    I dont know who to talk to about this, I thought I might write, sorry if its too much.
    Thank you

  • Anne

    Great article and so true! My most recent Whack a Mole is about being induced for labor on Thursday at 39 weeks. I had a few high blood pressure readings and while my heart would prefer a natural childbirth, I am consenting for a number of reasons. Thanks to your work, Sheryl, I sat with my feelings until I realized my anxiety is in part disappointment over the birth experience I wanted (early labor at home and no interventions). My MIL died after her battle with cancer on June 3 and I know fear of actual death (mine or the baby’s) due to the interventions associated with induction is part of my current struggle, too. Nonetheless, thanks to Trust Yourself and your work Sheryl, I have and continue to use the tools and I know deep down everything will be okay, regardless of outcomes.

    Fellow readers, please send me all your thoughts, prayers and positive energy on Thursday. 🙂

  • Angela

    Hi Anne,
    Im sorry about your MIL its sad, Wishing you the best of luck on your precious baby.
    Stay strong ?

  • hayley

    Do you think that fear can make us think that red flag issues exist. I dont think there’s any red flag issues but things like I generally organize dates (although he has too, just not as often), he isnt as emotional as me, and other things that I wish he would do. Could this just be me wanting the perfect prince charming boyfriend?

  • Kyle

    Hi Sheryl,

    Just wanted to say this post really spoke to me! 🙂 My fiancee has had an incredibly difficult time understanding what it is I go through (to the point of sometimes getting impatient about it), and I am thinking about reading this post to her in order to help her better understand. It really gives a good concise summary of what goes through the anxious mind, what it is on a most basic level (fear of loss/death), and how we must go about meeting and treating it. Excellent read, and definitely helped me on a more anxious day to remember that none of us, no matter how shaken inside, are alone!

  • Becky

    Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you for your beautiful words. I’ve been checking your website on and off for about a year, and think I’m suffering from relationship anxiety for about 2,5 years, from the very beggining (which is one of my main triggers – no butterflies and no pounding heart, how can this be someone I am meant to be with?).

    My relationship has taken a turn for the worst, unfortunately my boyfriend just couldn’t take it anymore and basic lack of communication and us not really knowing what we want from life (to go abroad or stay home? to change professional areas?) lead to this point of him breaking up with me about a month ago, only to immediately regret it after. He told me he realized this was him not knowing how to deal with my doubt and anxiety and that this led him to shut down emotionally and just hoping it would go away, not voicing his own pain to protect me and not cause any further drama. Now he says he wants to fight for us and to do things differently, trying to make us fall in love “again” (if we were ever “in love” the way our culture defines it and the way I so strongly long for it) and being here for me.

    Right now I don’t even know what I’m feeling, ever since we broke up I am in this dark place of solitude, barely find the strenght to get out of bed in the morning and on top of all this I’m working really long hours and my performance has plummeted these last few weeks.

    I asked him that we stay apart for a while, so I can figure out these doubts in my head because I know we’ll only have a real shot at this if I find my inner peace – but at the same time I just want him to come, fight for us and do some grand romantic gesture that makes me feel like a 15 year-old with shaking knees and then I’d knew we’d be worth a second shot.

    I don’t think it is fair to come back to him with this mess inside my head, but I also worry that when (if) I come to terms with my own feelings/thoughts it will be too late to try and fix this whole thing.

    Shouldn’t I… just know he is worth another chance? How can I still not be sure if we love eachother / fell in love with eachother even after all the misery this breakup has put me through? All my friends insist I should call it quits, but there’s something inside of me that just won’t. I wonder whether I don’t want to be alone and so feel like come back running or this is really a sign that we should be together. I can’t go back to the way things used to be, with this anxiety sucking the joy out of me. I feel as if he never really saw my best self while we were dating – he only knows my “happy potential” from the years we were good friends before dating, and all of this seems so unfair.

    Some insight would be dearly appreciated*
    Thank you for your work and thanks everyone for showing me that as sucky as this feels at least I’m not alone.

  • H

    This is very timely because every time I think I have tackled a ‘issue’ in my head another one pops up. I panic, over think, get sick with worry, then speak with my LA and then feel better. Then ANOTHER thing pops up and the cycle begins. I just want to feel happy with my partner without all this crap. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Do I just tackle each issue as it comes and then eventually it will go? This is what I’m doing but I feel like it will be here forever. At the moment I feel like it’s really hard to see clearly. I feel so alone with this too. My family knew I was struggling with this in the past but started to feel frustrated with me. So I stopped talking about it to them. My partner knows I am a over thinker and create things in my head. He knows that I worry about our relationship at times but I don’t tell him the extent because I don’t want to upset him but now I am thinking I should tell him. I thought this morning ‘I love him and I think I always will. So when we are married, if I don’t feel muxh love for him I will just have to work harder.’ I felt fine at the time. Bu thoughts popped into my head after and now I’m questioning again!. It’s terrible sometimes ! I somrtimes ask myself if this is just generally wrong but I would know if it was wrong after the first few dates and we have no red flags it is just the thoughts I get everyday. If there was something wrong then people would not mention how happy and positive my relationship is and they wouldn’t mention that certain family members are envious of my relationship. I have always had anxiety in this relationship but then again this relationship became very serious straight away. I was so used to being single and free that I could just walk away and leave if I just wasn’t interested anymore. I used to get bored and give up quickly. I can’t do that now. I have to stick it out and that’s what the hardest thing is, is not leaving when I want to run.

  • onedayatatime

    Quick question, I still have doubts and thoughts that come up against my relationship but I also know I have to work on a lot of things inside/about me and that’s what I have been focusing on more when I work on myself. If I continue to do work and courses that focus on myself and not the relationship anxiety piece (like your relationship anxiety course for example) will the relationship anxiety piece get sorted out? I guess I thought I might be ignoring something important if I don’t for sure go through the relationship anxiety course right now.

  • Sheryl's student

    Hello everyone! This will be long, I would like to share my experience so far, from the beginning of my relationship anxiety (last year exactly till now). I got married exactly 1 year ago and I did not do any of the work before I got married. I was just focusing on the wedding planning and it was bliss…until we got to our honeymoon. This was a NIGHTMARE for me! I was crying and anxious and scared, the works! fortunately my husband is sooo amazing that he was nothing of just supportive for my feelings and told me no matter what, we will be in this together (and suddenly the black clouds disappeared and it was pure sunshine). I knew this was not going to be the only time I was going to get anxiety. I literally was getting anxious probably once a week then it shifted to once every 20 days, then maybe once a month, to now its maybe about once every few months (I dont even remember how often I get it). I am still working on trying to reach zero anxiety. Of course this will never happen. However you can choose what it is that you are anxious about. Its takes time and practice. The “time” part is just the faith that Sheryl has mentioned many times, because you may not see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I promise it is there (as long as you know you have an amazing man who is there through thick and thin). If you are crying often, often out of the blue, feel depressed etc. This IS TRULY the transition hitting you hard in the behind! Just like a brand new baby crying as soon as they are born.

    So back to my experience. one key thing I want to share, which I have just recently uncovered after 1 year of going through anxiety, is this. As Sheryl mentioned, it is expected to be highly sensitive (like the brand new crying baby). I noticed that my sensitive self will be frustrated over something in my life as small as cooking, or a responsibility that I have to do like paying a bill, or drama with a relative etc. so these small things will cause me anxiety (it is different for everyone), and you may not notice that you are getting frustrated with all these things to be able to call it out. So I then would look to my husband and expect for there to be something about him to instantly take my frustrations away! and when it doesn’t, I get more anxious! Then it would cause me to feel guilty, then I would cry my eyes out. My husband was the one to realize this about me, that I get anxious when I get frustrated about something. This was my uhuh!!! I now am able to control my anxiety, so when I am frustrated with something, I call it by the name, and I tell my husband I am irritable or frustrated (code name). So he knows where I am currently with my emotions. This is something like the matrix where he is able to slow down a fast motion like the bullets and really mentally register where the bullets are going to avoid getting hit.

    When you get to this point you will realize that your anxiety simply has nothing to do with your partner! It is clearly something going on in your day that irritated you (that may not have irritated you prior to your transition. so because of this, you will not pick up on your frustration that easily). At the same time it is important to focus on all the good times you have with your partner and emotionally keep a memory bank of the bliss you are experiencing. This way if you pay attention to the good times that happen, you will then become an expert at calling the name. “I am just frustrated because of…. And this will go away soon and I will be able to enjoy my husbands company. So what can I do now to smooth out my frustration?” Also sometimes we are judgmental on the things that we get frustrated about like “I am a grown women, why should I be frustrated at cooking at night?” this judgment is counter-active. Once you accept yourself as hey “I am sensitive in this area, and its okay, what can I do to make this part of my life a bitter better, smoother, happier etc. Automatically your anxiety wont even reach your partner.

    I hope this will help someone

    • Brittani

      This helped me so much I could literally send you a HUGE check.Thanks you for the candle you have provided me with down here in this dark basement. You are such a blessing! I my friend am truly grateful.

      Stay Amazing:Britt

  • Stef

    Hi Sheryl,

    I haven’t commented in a while. For the most part I was doing well over the last few months..
    Lately however my anxiety has come back in full force and my relationship hasn’t been dealing very well..
    My partner and I have ‘almost’ broken up about 3 times. I feel the last time she was firm about wanting to leave but I think I convinced her to stay.. Even though I know that’s wrong of me.. I shouldn’t have to convince someone to stay with me..

    I feel my anxiety has been the cause of so many of our downfalls. My partner, although she is so supportive and encouraging I think has gotten to a point where this version of me has taken a toll on her even though she tries to push through..

    I feel personal struggles in decision making and being confident.. Something that she used to love about me when we first started out.
    On a personal level, my partners life is going so well.. She is kicking so many goals so to speak. She has purpose and drive and enjoys her life for the most part.. But then it comes to our relationship and I know she’s unhappy.. I feel even though she does so well that she would do so much more without me..

    I am feeling lost in my life.. I think I have leaned on her a little too much in the past few years to fuel my aliveness because I lost sight of what I wanted on a personal level.. And now I’m trying to figure that out again..

    A lot of advice that I get is that I should be on my own to figure myself out but I really don’t want to loose my partner..

    Is it possible to recreate yourself while your still with someone? It’s like we love each other so much but we are not reaching the highest level of self happiness what we could achieve.
    I also feel that if I got myself sorted, my partner would start to feel happier too..
    I don’t want our relationship to end this way. It seems like such a sad bubble we are in..

    I’m wondering if you could shed any light on this topic..


    • I absolutely believe that you can work toward greater wellness within yourself while in a relationship. It sounds like your work, now, is to keep turning inward and learning about what it means to fill your well of Self: what brings you joy, how to attend to your own emotional pain and needs (while asking for help when appropriate), and what makes you feel alive. In some ways it’s more difficult to do this while in a relationship but if the relationship is basically healthy there’s no reason to walk away.

      • Stef

        Thank you Sheryl,

        I feel this is totally where I’m at. I need to find myself again. I’m not really sure how as I feel I don’t even know what my interests are anymore.. I struggle to get motivated and can’t ever stick to something I enjoy..
        I know it’s making me seem like a bit of a downer to my partner and I’m afraid it’s a turn off for her which she has mentioned before..
        I can only work at my own pace but I sure wish that I could make some sort of break through soon..
        I feel other than this our relationship is mostly healthy.. Maybe not the best and there are times when my insecurities have made me feel like it’s toxic or that we are wasting our time being unhappy but I also feel so much hope that with time and with me finding myself again it will get better..

        I want to be the person she fell in love with again not even just for her but for me.. I miss being that happy and for filled with my life..

  • Sadie

    Hi Sheryl,
    I was wondering if there were any books you could recommend that are about the idea you describe above, that our anxieties stem from a fear of loss which is really a fear of death. I recognize this in myself in my own marriage; my fears and insecurities come from a place of being afraid to lose my spouse (to someone or something) even if there is no evidence that that will happen.

    • Pema Chodron’s “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change” is a gem. I also address it in both my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety E-Course and my Trust Yourself Extended course (for those who have already taken my Trust Yourself program).

  • Jess

    Hi Sheryl,
    I have been trying to develop a practice through journaling, but I want to make sure I do it right. Is there a proper way to journal about relationship anxiety and intrusive thoughts?
    Thanks for your posts…you truly are a blessing.

    • Francine

      Jess – I have been wondering this exact same thing. I am keen to practice journaling but I fear doing it wrong and actually feeding my thoughts. How have you been getting on with it? I feel like I could almost do with an ‘example’ post of how to journal in a healthy, effective way…a step-by-step process…

  • Francine

    Sheryl, if you have time, I would love to get your thoughts on something that happened to me a little while ago in my struggle with relationship-anxiety. It has been a few months since this significant ‘occurrence’ and I feel it is key to my understanding of myself. I was worn down with ruminations and feeling ill with worry. I was researching all day long desperate for answers. After fighting my head for so many months, I had come to the conclusion that I could not do anymore to change my thoughts towards my partner and feel more how I thought I was supposed to (and wanted to). I surrendered to my apparent truth and began to accept that I was going to have to end my relationship. Over the course of the next few days, in the company of my partner, I began to feel a complete and unexpected turn around – a quiet mind and feelings of warmth in my heart. It was such an odd experience. I felt overwhelmed with love. I described it to my therapist like this: ‘it was as though all the good stuff was weighed down at the bottom of a murky river, and suddenly someone cut them free and they came swimming back up to the surface.’ I felt like my reality (the loving, compatible, beautiful person in front of me) finally aligned with my inside. It was pure bliss. The doubts and cold, unkind, unloving thoughts about him seemed like utter madness and even fell completely silent. Whenever they did appear, they felt powerless. I could not believe myself for ever believing them. During this short period, I felt shy and vulnerable around my partner, dreaming every night that he would cheat on me or leave me. It hurt, but I felt so relieved to be really, truly feeling again. As the days progressed, the ugliness started to creep back in – triggered notably by a particularly challenging shift at work together. I started to feel annoyance towards him once again and it stuck…eventually resulting in my retreating into anger-fueled solitude and having no desire to be around anybody, not even him. I have had these blissful moments every so often, but they have become more short-lived as I have lost confidence in their truth. Most of the time I am in this ugly, angry, uncaring, unloving, rejecting, indifferent state. Please, can you shed any light on what is happening to me here? I feel desperate to understand. I am clinging on through this emotional turmoil in the hope that these glimpses of beauty are my truth. Thank you.

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