Television and Anxiety

PICT0277.JPGIf you’re a member of my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety E-Course, you know that I follow a holistic model when working with anxiety. This means that in order to break open and discover what’s embedded inside the messenger of anxiety, we must address the four realms of Self: cognitive, physical, emotional, and spiritual/soul/creative. When anxiety and intrusive thoughts hit we ask, “What’s needed in these four realms of self? Which realm is asking for my attention?” Anxiety and intrusive thoughts are the distress flare. Our loving and compassionate action is the response.

In order to do our inner work and even slow down enough to ask what’s needed, we need to create time and space in our lives. Yet when I ask people how much time they’re spending turning inward, they often say, “I just don’t have the time.” Tell me your day, I respond. “Well, I get up, check email/FB/news, take a shower, go to work. When I come home from work I’m so tired, all I want to do is zone out in front of the television.”

Ah-ha. Too tired to do anything else so I plop in from the T.V. There’s the chunk of time right there – and while it may not be time that you can do inner work, it can certainly be time that you can spend replenishing instead of depleting further.  Now, I certainly understand being tired at the end of a day. As a wife-full-time-business-owner-mother-of-two-boys-who-we-homeschool-and-make-all-of-our-meals-at-home I certainly understand what it means to lead a busy life. But one of the key reasons that I’m able to maintain a sense of inner home is that I don’t squander away energy on television. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a nice evening here and there of watching a show, but it’s certainly not a regular part of my day or even my week. Daily and extended television watching, like eating an unhealthy diet, works against everything I teach that allows people to break free from anxiety. If we’re doing to find true wellness, we must attend to each realm, and that includes how we’re spending our time. And in order to make different, more nourishing choices, we must push through the inherent laziness that is part of the human condition.

There’s nothing inherently harmful about watching television. It can certainly be a source of entertainment, humor, and information, and my husband tells me that the quality of many shows these days is on or above the level of films, with excellent writing, storytelling, and cinematography. The problem arises when television becomes the default mode for how to spend downtime and is the only form of relaxation. As with all potentially addictive substances and processes, it’s fine in small doses but, like sugar, it’s difficult to “eat just one cookie.” To follow the parallel with eating, we hear of people going on a “Netflix binge” where they spend an entire day or weekend watching several seasons of their favorite show. Following these binges, just as with food, they report feeling hungover, empty, anxious and/or depressed.

For the most part (and I’m sure there are exceptions in terms of higher quality shows), television amplifies our already distorted messages and images about love, sex, attraction, and long-term relationships. It delivers the message that everyone is beautiful, that love happens at first sight, and that sex is always hot. People often watch television to escape from their lives and their anxiety, but watching it furthers the belief that one’s life isn’t as fabulous as the people they’re watching on television, which then furthers their anxiety and their desire to escape their life. Television hooks us at the level of longing: longing for more aliveness, passion, and excitement. But inevitably the show ends, and then we’re back to our regular life, where we trudge off to bed and begin again the next day.

Furthermore, one of the most common complaints I hear among my clients suffering from relationship anxiety is that they’re bored in their relationship. As the true source of relationship anxiety is projection, my first question is, “Are you bored in your own life, separate from your relationship?” The answer is always yes. Boredom, like fear, can take many forms: lack of aliveness, emptiness, flatness, deadness. The projection then often becomes, “If my partner was more academic or read more books I wouldn’t be bored.” Here again we see a key component of relationship anxiety and the true cause of projection: an unwillingness to take full responsibility for one’s life and one’s aliveness. If aliveness is what you’re seeking, watching television is not going to help your aim. And blaming your partner for your lack of aliveness by falling into the pit of the intelligence projection will only further your anxiety.

Too much television depletes the Well of Self in all four realms:

Cognitively: It not only distorts our beliefs and ideas by presenting damaging messages and promoting a fantasy world, but it also robs our minds of absorbing more stimulating information. It has to be one of the most mindless activities that humans do. Does it actually kill brain cells? I don’t know, but I know that it doesn’t grow new ones. And I know that when someone watches television for hours on end, they tend to have a dazed, zombie-like quality in their eyes, as if they’ve been smoking marijuana (and the two activities – television and pot smoking – often go hand-in-hand).

Physically: We know that television in all forms, including video games, is responsible for the rise of child obesity, and we must ask how much it contributes to adult weight issues as well. I can’t think of anything more physically passive than watching television.

Emotionally: As I said, it creates unrealistic expectations about love, romance, sex, and marriage. When do we see a couple married 25 years on television having beautiful, seasoned, playful, erotic sex? When we do see people struggling with boredom in marriage without jumping ship and taking the easy escape hatch of having a scintillating affair? When do we see people falling in love based on intrinsic qualities of kindness and honesty instead of externals of looks, clothes, and money? Furthermore, while television hooks us with its high-drama storylines, it often leaves people feeling empty afterwards. This emptiness and sense of inadequacy is an instant breeding ground for anxiety to fester.

Spirit/Soul: While there are certain shows that light the fire of spirit and soul, like Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday, most television deadens the spirit. And, I would argue, that even a show or movie that touches our soul in a meaningful way doesn’t have the same, long-lasting effect as spending time in nature or sitting in meditation. I don’t want to paint this in a black-and-white way and I certainly don’t want to encourage one’s inner critic to pipe up if you do spend time watching television. The question is really the amount and intention, not the action itself.

Then it’s important to ask: What else could I be doing with that time that would help me relax, bring in nourishment, and fill the four realms of my Well of Self?

Take a bath (physical): Taking a bath is one of the easiest, least expensive, and most accessible ways of nourishing our bodies. Humans have relied on water for thousands of years to cleanse not only body but soul as well. When we immerse ourselves in water, especially hot water (and bubbles don’t hurt), we release our bodies from the stress of the day and help ourselves come back to Self.

Take a walk  (physical): You may think you’re too tired to walk, but even a short walk in fresh air can give energy back. You don’t have to walk quickly or for exercise; just walk because it feels good to be outside and move your body.

Light a candle and draw, paint, knit or write by candlelight (emotional): There’s something about candlelight that invites us to slow down into soul-time as opposed to technological time. When we light a candle and engage in tasks that don’t require electronics, we connect back to an earlier, simpler time, and our souls remember a more natural, slowed-down way of living.

Call a friend (emotional): Connect with someone by phone (not text!) that helps you drop into your heart and remember your place of home.

Listen to podcasts (intellectual/cognitive): One of my clients said, “I just started listening to podcasts again and I’m remembering how much I love to learn! I usually watch 3-4 hours of television a night, and I’m starting to see how much time that sucks out of my life. What else could I be doing with that time?” There are so many excellent resources for podcasts (please feel free to list your favorites in the comments below), and is also a wonderful resource for intellectually and spiritually nourishing audios.

Listen to music (and dance) (Spirit/Soul): I don’t know of a more immediate way to connect to our deepest essence than music and dance. It’s like an instant soul transfusion.

Final note: If you think your partner watches too much television or plays too many games, resist the impulse to show him/her this article and, more to the point for the anxious mind, resist indulging in the thought that your partner is “wrong” in some way! Instead, keep your eyes on your own plate and focus on your own inner work. After all, you’re the one struggling with anxiety otherwise you wouldn’t be here, which means you have plenty of your own work to do without focusing on your partner’s perceived faults ;).

70 comments to Television and Anxiety

  • Chantal

    Hi Sheryl,

    I first off want to say that I absolutely love your work and all that you do. I am going through your Break Free of Relationship Anxiety course and feel it is a godsend. It’s really been helping me. Right now though, I’m really struggling. I have been with my boyfriend for 5 years next month. He’s everything I ever dreamed of and we did have a, what I would describe as, a pretty close to perfect relationship.

    Years ago, I went through some trauma and after telling my partner, I started to get the relationship anxiety/depression. I feel like I completely lost myself and am in a situation where I am reliving the trauma on a regular basis and am looking to get out of that situation ASAP – moving away from home. I am also looking to move in with my boyfriend. I am finding it hard to fill my ‘well of self’. When I think of trying to hang out with friends or do something fun I feel depressed and have a fear that if I do that, and don’t feel better, then I may have to leave my partner. The thought of doing those things just feels so off to me. I don’t know if that makes sense at all. I’ve kind of lost my spark in life and have this “bleh” feeling whenever I think of doing something exciting. What is this that I’m feeling?

    I just came back from spending time with my older sister, who is unaware of the trauma. We were first talking about me moving and how she wants to make sure I am going to live in a place with my boyfriend that I am comfortable with. With our current financial situation and where his job is, we can’t live near where she is or where I’d really like to. She was saying “what’s going to happen when you’re alone? Are you going to feel more anxious and depressed? If you’re living so far away, you won’t be able to see your friends.” etc. After me crying, and me saying that I just hope she likes my boyfriend, she said that she saw a few red flags with my boyfriend (none of the red flags you’ve talked about in your course). I don’t know what her red flags are because she said she didn’t want to make me cry again. Her opinion does matter to me, however, it won’t make or break my relationship. She is my big sister so she is protective of me. How would you handle this situation?

    I am just feeling really down and off right now and would love your advice on what I should do.

    Also, I am going through therapy (tapping/EFT) to overcome the trauma.

    • Filling your well of Self has much less to do with spending time with friends than it does with cultivating your sense of self, the place inside that feels like home. That’s a process that requires turning inward and becoming curious about your inner world. From that place of fullness, spending time with friends takes on a different flavor. But we must always start with where we are without forcing ourselves to be somewhere else.

      • Chantal

        I think I maybe merged my sentences of well of self and feeling alive. Will feeling “alive” and less depressed come from filling our well of self? If not, what are things someone can do to feel alive again?

  • N

    Thank you Sheryl for yet another great post 🙂

    I was just saying to a fellow forum member that I feel as if I have not done ANYTHING the last week for ME, that I have not attended to any of my four realms (which could very well explain why I have been feeling anxious the last couple of days). I was about to say that “I just haven’t had any time”, but then I look at how I have spent my lazy Sunday today, or even this evening…. this blog was a great wake-up call for me. I NEED to attend to my four realms, and like you said in Week One of OYH… it is hard work to attend to them, but once I do, I will slowly start to see that I am no longer anxious about my boyfriend…

    Thank you again 🙂

    • I’m glad it was helpful. It is hard work until it becomes a habit. Then it’s just a way of life. If we were all taught good physical, emotional, spiritual, and cognitive habits from early on in life, this would all be so much easier! But our parents could only teach what they had learned, and their parents could only teach what they had learned, so eventually it’s up to the next generation, and often the most sensitive child who is overwhelmed with anxiety and, thus, determined to do something different, to create new, healthy habits that they can pass down through modeling.

  • Stéphanie

    I could not agree more with everything you just said. For Lent this year our whole family stopped watching TV, playing video games and playing with iPads/iPods and it was the best/revitalizing experience. When I suggested the idea I was sure to be the only one doing it but my husband got on board. Then we told the kids that we were doing it as a family and they got used to it very quickly. We all went through a detox period but very soon we didn’t need it anymore. After the experience, I asked my kids what they thought about it and they both said that they liked spending time together and playing games as a family. They also said that now they know that there is so much more to do than just sit in front of the TV. Behavior changed dramaticaly and their social skills improved. They can now play together without pushing each other’s buttons. After Easter, it took about a week for one of us to turn the TV back on, if felt weird and lonely. We then told the kids that from now on, they could only use 1 hour in front of a screen each day. Our lives are more connected and we have a lot more energy to do the things we always wanted to do before and never had time.

    • Beautiful! I’m not surprised that their behavior changed dramatically, and I love that you spent time playing games together. I was just thinking last night that I want to teach my kids how to play backgammon. Some of my best childhood memories are sitting on the floor of my room playing cards, backgammon, and rummy tiles with my mom.

  • Heather

    I usually feel like you are reading my mind, and never more so than with your final note on this one! Thanks for re-focusing me back to myself! Very helpful!

  • Ng

    this was great…before i hit this anxiety i used to do a lot for me… workout, paint, watch documentaries and travel. since then anxiety hit i have become afraid of filling my own well. thanks for another great article. i look forward to your articles on sundays

  • A

    I couldn’t agree with you more. This social media craze has to be one of the most unhealthy trends out there. Of course in small doses it’s rather harmless but for those of us who suffer from anxiety, this is incredibly detrimental. Too many times I’ve found myself comparing my life to characters on TV and feeling as though mine didn’t match up. Or comparing the thrilling romances in movies to my long term relationship. That usually leaves me feeling like I don’t have enough. Enough excitement, thrills, passion, happiness, aliveness, uniqueness. I also recognize that I’ve become accustomed to a bad daily routine of coming home from work, changing into my pjs, getting into bed, and turning on netflix with my phone in hand. No wonder why I’ve been feeling so down lately! And when you throw a poor diet into the mix, you’re asking for trouble. This cycle has been so unhealthy for me and I truly want to improve my way of life. Once I make these changes I can begin to fill my inner well of self and no longer project onto my partner. I can clearly see how my lack of self care affects my relationship negatively. It’s time that I take responsibility for me and show up for myself in loving ways so I can be a better girlfriend, sister, daughter, and friend 🙂

  • Sonja

    Thank you again for speaking about another important topic.
    Can you please write about making room and holding the tension of opposites?
    I think this has been my greatest struggle- to recognize and allow two opposing emotions to coexist. My mind is so adept at recognizing only the ‘negative’ emotions and running away with all kinds of “This must mean…” narratives. I know joy is there too, but it has definitely taken a back-seat. I’ve learned to see more of joy and peace within, and to let the ‘negative’ feelings and thoughts to just be. I still have a ways to go.
    Thank you for your compassionate heart, wisdom and support!

  • Kate

    Great article, Sheryl! My concern is this…I have always been someone who enjoys turning inward through the activities you listed but since I have had this relationship anxiety, I hate being alone or doing things where it’s just me and my mind, because that’s when my anxious voice pipes up the worst. Losing the ability to enjoy my “me” time has been one of the hardest parts of this anxiety for me, and though I’ve been trying to do a better job of journaling, I haven’t feel the relief from this that I need to get my head out of the dark places it goes. It’s gotten to the point where I am almost fearful to do the quiet, invigorating things I enjoy, such as painting, going for walks, taking a bath, because I don’t want to hear that voice. I don’t watch a lot of tv but do find myself scrolling through Facebook and such more because of it.
    I’m currently doing a rotation abroad in Italy (I’m finishing up medical school) and really looked forward to the time without a cell phone to turn inward and truly enjoy the beautiful culture here. But I have so much alone time that I feel my anxiety is taking over. I just spent the weekend in Paris, where I grew up, and always feel lonely there when I’m by myself without my family. I wish I had been able to enjoy it more, rather than spending So much of the time questioning my engagement. I know it sounds terrible to complain about these wonderful travel experiences–I just feel so much pressure to enjoy them to the max and am so sad that I’m not because of ruminating relentlessly on whether I should marry my fiancé or not.

  • R

    Like your husband, I try to watch tv with the intent of finding something meaningful and engaging, not mindless or mind numbing. I think the writing, stories and characters on some quality tv are some of the best sources of art out there right now. To me, what’s the difference in reading a book, listening to music, watching tv, or surfing the Internet. The difference is the intent, like you mentioned. When I’m just trying to escape, or zone out, it doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t matter what I’m filling myself up with, entertainment, food, napping, it’s not rewarding in the long term. It’s the easiest form of gratification though and I am overly guilty of indulging in it, while complianing about not having time for myself, my art, my creativity, exercise, etc… The one cookie is never enough describes it perfectly. I always start with, I’ll just watch this one quality show, and then turn it off. That’s usually 3 to 5 hours any given day. It’s usually worse when I’m in an anxious or depressed cycle. When there’s something I need to be dealing with, but don’t feel like it, so I zone out.

    To me, it’s about finding that balance, really looking at the intent of what I’m doing, and fighting that laziness whenever I can. Right now it’s a lopsided losing battle, but I’m hoping that th awareness is the first step.!!

  • Tee

    Sheryl, I loved this – more please 🙂

    I agree with everything you said and realised that I also fall into the trap of watching TV and then feeling a bit dull afterwards. The same happens every time I go on holiday, too. Before my holiday, I’d gotten into a wonderful time of prayer, worship and just being in the presence of God and I felt a WHOLE lot better. Coming on holiday, I’ve slipped back into the habit of checking FB and my emails in the morning and I don’t feel as good.

    Your post has reminded me to cut back on those external distractions – a timely reminder.

    Blessings, Sheryl

    • These simple morning habits can create an extraordinary shift in our internal landscapes and can help us connect to that place of home – OR separate us from it. It sounds like you clearly know the difference!

  • H

    Hi Sheryl,

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. You always hit the nail on the head! I have a question for you…

    Would you say that REAL LOVE is all about finding ways to open your heart to your partner, enjoying the moment and time when your heart is open and then when your heart is closed again learn how to open your heart again. Enjoy the process, even if it is difficult and scary. But enjoy the process of learning how to open your heart again and love them again? I find that I get annoyed or disheartened when I go back to my heart being closed again after it being open. I think I have learnt that our hearts sometimes can naturally just close, and it’s nothing to do with our partner so we have to find a way to open it again by being patient. I sometimes find this very difficult. Would you say the state of open heartedness is difficult to maintain? Because I find it is for me. I want to feel happy with him everyday but I realise this is totally unrealistic but I’m still learning to try and accept that real love isn’t like that all the time. I have taken the open your heart corse in October 2015. Would you suggest I keep going over the material or join the next open your heart course? I really want to feel more open and happy with my partner, I know he is a good man but I still get very afraid. Thanks!

  • BB

    Love your articles. My partner and I haven’t had a TV for 2 years, so now we speak to each other alot more! It improves relationships

  • A

    Can anyone suggest free resources for yoga? Perhaps online videos that don’t require a subscription? Due to financial circumstances, I had to cancel my gym membership and I miss my yoga and cycling classes:( So I really want to try and make positive changes at home for my health and overall well being. Sheryl, do you have any blog posts on how to effectively journal? I’d really like to start that but I’ve been hesitant as I don’t want to spiral out of control with intrusive thoughts. And if you guys have any other helpful suggestions for getting fit at home and/or meditative practices, please share! Many thanks 🙂

  • Rachael West

    Hi Sheryl

    I have recently just got engaged, and it has triggered a huge anxiety episode. I have struggled with anxiety for the last 4 or 5 years but my last extreme episode was 5 years ago. I understand that an engagement is a huge step to take in a relationship and it is natural to be anxious and question things. But I cannot stop, I am completely obsessed, constantly checking and analysing. As far as I am aware, I was fine before, but of course my anxiety is having me believe that maybe it wasn’t right. I have seen a counsellor, and trolled the internet for support and suggestions and I feel like I will do absolutely anything to fix this so I don’t have to leave him – it is the safest, most loyal and trusting relationship I have ever been in. I truly do not know where I’d be without him.

    I have signed up to the free sample of your e-course, and it seems to be full of really helpful stuff. I really just want to know whether this will truly help me. I do no have a religion and wouldn’t describe myself as spiritual so I do not want all that to be lost on me.

    Your advice would be really appreciated, thank you.
    Rachael x

    • You’ve found your way to the right place, Rachael, and I hope you give yourself the gift of the e-course – and I would suggest Break Free versus Conscious Weddings since you’ve struggled with anxiety prior to being engaged. You don’t need to be religious or spiritual to benefit enormously from this work.

  • Rachael West

    For some reason I am having trouble using my mastercard, it isn’t being accepted. Have you had this issue before?

  • Alissa

    I love watching tv. On good shows (e.g. downtown abbey) I love the stories, character development, scenery, elements of surprise. …I just love it. Sitting down at night watching TV with a nice cup of tea….ahhh…i will have to think more about this article and see where it takes me.

  • A

    Hi Sheryl,
    As I’ve read through your work is definitely know that I’ve been suffering from relationship anxiety for quite some time now. I’ve read your post on having a water tight marriage (sorry if I have the title wrong) and I’ve seen people comment on that. One of the main reasons why I spiraled down the rabbit hole of intrusive thoughts in the first place is because I put my energy outside of my relationship a long time ago and indulged in a crush. Nothing actually happened- I never cheated and I didn’t have true feelings for this person. But rather I liked the attention. I craved the aliveness, excitement, and newness that my relationship didn’t provide me at that time. I came clean to my partner and that almost ended us. But we decided to work things out. In retrospect I realize why this happened in the first place- this whole time I didn’t understand that my partner isn’t responsible for me. My aliveness is my own…it cannot be found in another person. I’m happy to say my partner has completely forgiven me and it doesn’t seem to even bother him anymore. He totally trusts me. But this is when my anxiety started. Always questioning do I feel enough love, do I stay out of comfort, feeling like I don’t deserve him, how could I have hurt the one person I love so much, checking my feelings, do I feel “in love,” since I did this does this mean I want to be single? And I constantly check to see if I have “feelings” for other people or a “crush.” I have ocd obsessions about if I’m acting right around other guys…if I was too flirtatious. It’s like I don’t trust myself while I’m experiencing tremendous guilt and shame. I love my partner deeply. And the thought of being single and not having him as my bf makes me so sad and terrible. All of this perpetuates a vicious cycle of intrusive thoughts like I’ve mentioned in previous comments. Sheryl do you have advice for those of us who have made this mistake? I truly want a tight, committed relationship with my partner. I think I just hold lots of pain in my heart and have put walls and blocks in front of me.

    • A

      Sorry that I keep posting. I just feel so horrible when I’m stuck in a bad rut of anxiety. I truly and desperately want to move forward and be happy with my partner, but I go back and forth with these intrusive thoughts. This is all so painful and depressing.

      • Beth

        I feel like part of my questioning came from something similar, except it was he who seemed to be interested in other people. He still had feelings for a girl he used to see. He didn’t want to commit right away, even though he said that he wanted to. He would tell me that he didn’t feel like he could be a good boyfriend without a job and stuff. It’s not that he couldn’t commit because of other girls. He didn’t date or see other people. He just felt he wasn’t ready. But when he finally opened up and we became “official” or whatever, I pretty much shut down–put walls up, like you said. I held so much in and felt that he didn’t want me for so long that when he did, it was painful or something. The mind is so strange.

        • A

          Hi Beth,
          Yes the mind is very strange indeed! And I totally empathize with you. It’s a struggle to work through pain and all the issues that come with it. I’m so grateful and happy that my partner and I overcame this huge obstacle. I think the problem is that although my partner has forgiven me, in some ways I still have not forgiven myself. I still harbor a lot of pain and anger towards myself. Which is why I think I have ocd obsessions and intrusive thoughts about whether or not I’m being a good enough partner. Constantly scrutinizing over my every action/thought/feeling. That awful experience of nearly losing my relationship was very traumatizing and I also think I struggle with the fear of abandonment. So it makes sense why these intrusive thoughts always happen and why I’m so critical of myself. Because if I were to mess up, I could lose the person I love so much. I’m committed to him 100% and love him deeply. I fight these intrusive thoughts almost daily because I don’t want to imagine a life without my partner. I can see a future together. This pain is so crippling and dark. Ugh I hate when I get stuck! Thanks for sharing your experience with me Beth 🙂

          • A

            What I do know is that underneath all of the anxiety is fear and pain. And I must address that and work towards filling my inner well. Which is something no one else can do but myself. My inner well is very depleted and it needs attention and nourishing. Because the lack of care to myself causes me to project onto my partner. And continues this vicious cycle of intrusive thoughts. Deep down in my heart I know what is true- that I love my partner and only want to be with him…he is home for me- but when I’m in the grips of anxiety it’s easy to lose sight of that.

  • Beth

    This sounds so silly, but when I really think about it, I didn’t start questioning my feelings for my boyfriend until I got so engrossed into Grey’s Anatomy. I was dealing with a lot of stress and that was the thing that my sister and I would do together to ignore life for a while. I had started to constantly feel a wrongness in my life, and randomly one day I started comparing my relationship to the relationships on the show, and I was like, “This is what’s wrong. My relationship is making me feel this way.” And it really took off from there. However, the only time I didn’t feel anxious was when I could let myself get engrossed in a television show at the end of the day. When I have a day off from work, that’s usually what I do with it and I do feel somewhat dazed the entire time. I need to limit myself to only a few hours of it a week.

    • That doesn’t sound silly at all, Beth. I would say that the media is responsible for a significant portion of relationship anxiety. A few hours a week sounds like a healthy amount of television.

      • Beth

        I personally have a hard time sleeping without the TV on, and this only developed during the time that my anxiety started and was at its worst. I can sometimes sleep without it, but I usually feel strange and a little frightened without it for some reason. During the time my anxiety was at its worst, it was nearly impossible to sleep without it. I know it’s a bad habit, with or without anxiety, but it’s going to be a hard one to quit.

  • Macy Doucet

    Hello Sheryl, I wrote to you at least a year ago about a relationship I was in ( i am very young, 21 years old). At the time I had been with my boyfriend from the age of 13 to 19 and I had always struggled with anxiety. He was a loving partner, but my anxiety (among other things) caused me to decide to end it. I am now with a new partner. My new partner and I do long distance every once and a while because he is from another country. Recently I came to the realization that I have never actually been alone in my life. I have always had some sort of male attention, been in some type of relationship. I was told once I had a dependency issue, and through talking with my boyfriend and reading your site. I think I have realized that indeed I have a dependency issue, it causes me to be very selfish in relationships. And I know that love is only what you give, and so by giving more, and dealing with my personal issues, I will feel less anxiety and more loving feelings towards my partner. My question to you and others is, if I have a dependency issue, but I have a supportive partner, do I have to leave the relationship to fix it? Or can I work on not depending on him while in the relationship? Because right now, my anxiety is hanging it`s hat on `you are only with him because you are dependent and cant leave`. If anyone can give me their insight on this particular situation, it would be greatly appreciated.

    • FrenchCDN

      Hi Macy,

      As I have been through the same train of thought, I thought I could give you my two cents.

      I met my partner 9 months after I had ended an 8 year relationship. My past relationship was one of codependency, and for some time in my new relationship, I had intrusive thoughts that I was with him only because I didn’t want to be alone and that he was only my “rebound” guy. That’s when I thought that maybe I had to leave this relationship in order to fix myself. Needless to say, being told by a close friend that maybe “this is not the right time, even if it’s with the right guy” did not help.

      Thankfully I remained in the relationship, even if it felt very hard at times. I truly believe that one can learn how to love and work on themselves while being in a relationship. The key in this, I believe, is how understanding and supportive is the partner. If they understand that you have some inner work to do and that at times you may be more distant because of that, but that doesn’t mean you love them any less, than I certainly think one can stay in a relationship while doing inner work. The key is to have good communication to make sure no one feels neglected/rejected.

      As for me, I am lucky that my partner is very supportive and encourages me a lot to do inner work. In fact, he says that one of the things that he loves about me is my willingness to improve myself and work on my issues.

      We are also doing long-distance for the next year as he is away for school. I think this could be a great opportunity for you to do work on yourself while developing your relationship.

      Wishing you all the best.

  • EFitz

    This post spiked some anxiety for me. Watching Tv and playing video games is own the things my partner and I have so in common. We love settling down to watch a movie and we talk through the whole thing analyzing it and the story and the actors. It’s a bonding time for us. I agree mindless tv can get old an dull. But I cultivate my relationship in one way by bonding over it in a mindful and attentive way. Just another perspective so I don’t feel like we are doing something “wrong”.

  • katers

    Great article, Sheryl! I totally agree that defaulting to unwinding with TV everyday doesn’t actually lead to the unwinding, relaxation-feeling that we’re seeking after an exhausting day. I don’t own a TV, but when I have the chance I do love watching shows of all types because I love the feeling of being “transported into another world” like a good book does. And even though I don’t own a TV, I end up binge watching youtube videos or browsing entertainment and news sites on my phone and I have the same feelings of anxiousness and emptiness that you describe! It’s a tough habit to stop, but I think the take home message is it doesn’t matter what the medium is, to drive anxiety away we will find things to distract ourselves hoping to alleviate the anxiety. Meh, despite me typing this out I just spent over an hour procrastinating on some time-sensitive school work surfing the internet instead! Investing in many hobbies and forcing myself to socialize (even though I’m actually pretty introverted), helps me to stay balanced though.
    Lastly, I lol’d when I saw the end paragraph about immediately showing an SO this article, I have done that before! It’s true, much better and productive to focus on my own happiness and well-being. After taking the Trust Yourself course almost a year ago, I truly ‘get’ it. I realized that I projected my negative criticisms onto my spouse because of my unhappiness and insecurities with myself. Still working on it, I still catch myself barking at my husband for dumb things (and I make sure to apologize). But building a full well-of-self is a great analogy of the inner work I must do to find happiness and confidence. I know you have touched upon this topic before in your blog, do you mind sharing more of your thoughts about absorbing negativity (especially for highly-sensitive folks) and the contagiousness of positive and negative energies/emotions/feelings in the future? I think that’s an interesting topic and this blog post reminded me of that.

    • Yes, as HSPs we must be very mindful about what we ingest, both negatively and positively. This is why I recommend limiting watching or reading the news because it’s mostly negative, and also being aware of how we’re spending our time socially. Everything we ingest is food: mentally, socially, emotionally, physically.

  • just me

    Hi Sheryl, I am feeling now like a scared six years old girl who is waiting for punisment because she think that she has made a mistake and married his husband according to his head. These insecurities are so huge that we have seriously talked about divorcing. I have doubted my desicion all the time and I am giving up.. I would like to feel as an adult while making desicions about divorcing but I feel like a little girl who is devastated and broken. I just cannot connect with my loving adult. I want to trust in my desicions and be present, but all of my energy is now wasting with these insecurities and fears. We are both quite tired and I really do not know if I am able to find any other clarity than divorcing.. Is it possible to open your hearth if I feel that is completely closed? And my husband feels more like a friend..

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl, This is an interesting blog!!
    I enjoy tv and I only watch shows that are educational, inspiring, humourous and realistic. When I do watch something thats not soul nourishing, only by curosity and very rarely, I engage in it to the end.I switch channels. I refuse to indulge in it and believe whatever is on. Music, cooking, and celebrities are my passions. I enjoy watching people who are talented
    And I like to learn from them. There are negatives and positives in watching tv. Television can be a distraction for me but only if itmakes me feel good. I do try to avoid the news but it isnt easy as I grew up with the news. I feel its important to know whats happening around the world, even if it is depressing. I totally agree with you saying. Spend your time doing things that are good for your mind, emotions spiritual body and your health.

  • Angela

    Sheryl and everyone I also wanna say. I have been feeling on top of the world lately. I wanna yell out to all you guys.
    I feel like ME again. Angela is back, I feel like Im grounded, I feel happy to be alive in this cold and sad world but also beautiful world. If your feeling lost, dont worry things will get better and better.Things wont feel like this forever, this anxiety,, which I call BLUFF will pass. Im looking forward to hearing all your wonderful and happy relationships as time goes by. X

  • Engaged and scared

    I needed this x

  • Lea

    I am so terrified, my therapist told me today that I don’t love my fiance enough and that’s why I have so many doubts and that I have to be honest myself and just say it. This spiked my anxiety so much that I started panic immediately . How could I let things get so far…Now I feel even worse 🙁

    • Chantal

      Sheryl’s said it before… if your therapist is telling you things like that, it may be time to get a new therapist. Hang in there!

  • Jessicabythebay

    I feel called-out in such a timely and loving way with this post. TV (and food) was my safe place during a chaotic childhood. It’s still my knee-jerk go-to when I’m feeling stressed/overwhelmed/any feeling I don’t want to feel. Lately, i’ve been watching less and less and feeling MORE hungover when I do watch TV. It’s just not working for me anymore, and I think my sensitivity to it is increasing. On the one hand, it makes me sad and scared that I’m losing something that’s always “been there” for me (even if it hasn’t, really). On the other hand, i’m afraid that i’m becoming allergic to all things mainstream like TV, cookies, alcohol, caffeine, etc. and the fear voice says, “What else is going to get taken away?! This is scary! You’re over-sensitive!”

    I loved all your “instead” suggestions, Sheryl. Are there any that you especially recommend for connecting with our partners? I like to read and listen to music in the evening, but I also yearn to connect with my husband and, with both of us so tired from the long workday, sometimes it’s hard to come up with ways to do that in the moment. Thank you!

    • Food and television were stand-in comforts for many with painful and lonely childhoods, and it can be scary to walk away from these crutches of comfort. And yes, fear will always pipe in when we’re paring down our vices! You can trust that there are other, more nourishing and truly nurturing ways to find true comfort.

      As far as connecting with your partner, taking a walk or a bath together is lovely. Making dinner together while listening to music is nourishing on many levels. Reading each other poetry or excerpts from a favorite book can feed the mind and ignite stimulating conversations. And there’s nothing wrong with snuggling up in front of your favorite show; we just want to be mindful about it when it becomes one of the only ways that we connect or unwind.

  • Silver

    Hi Sheryl thank you again for touching a very important topic this really helps alot of things in my life.

    I’ve been constantly getting angry with my partner easily, I understand that it was caused by my anxiety and lack of certainty. I was able to address my other fears this past months that made some changes inside of me. I am also being a slave to my own emptiness and numbness that prevents myself from turning inwards and facing my partner in different ways. I’m always longing for disney type of fairytales, hollywood style romance and tumblr videos and pictures on how a man should effort and how a relationship should be. My partner wants a place for the both of us for her to be my bestfriend,playmate,crush, something that connects us both in a deeper level and I know that I will need that and will want that in the future. I keep thinking what would be the reason why I distance myself from my partner, seeing her messages but delaying replies and not doing anything when we fight. I start to notice that when I get busy I tend to be happier or get distracted for a while and makes me mindful on how to do things around. I do pray to GOD and do hope that our relationship will get better. I have projecting thoughts that my partner is “getting fat”, or “our relationship is boring.” “my partner is not doing anything but watching tv which is tackled in the article.” I have an underlying issue that I’m not ready and not planning for the both of us in the future and I’m scared of falling in love with other women. But I want to develop more love to my partner it’s just I don’t know how to and I’m losing hope because of what I experience right now. I’m in the verge of ending what we have now and not really feeling anything leaving my wonderful relationship. I don’t know if my partner has her own set of unhealed thoughts too.

    I hope someone could relate to me or understand me because when I keep telling my partner she tells me that I don’t love her that’s why I can’t rely her for comfort too. I am very sensitive and even numbing when she tells me her problems too. everything about us triggers my anxiety.

  • CM

    This article is really timely for me right now. I’ve been noticing that I sometimes get into the habit of waking up in the morning with anxious thoughts and feelings and then I’ll default to looking at Facebook mindlessly on my phone for a bit as an escape. Problem is, I can easily just sink into the rabbit hole of this for 20 minutes at a time, and as a result, I’m rushing to get ready on time for work, and leaving my house in a mess, thus contributing to more stress when I come home with no time to properly clean up, or get chores done. It’s a nasty cycle of anxiety – avoidance – and then further stress! I’ve decided to logout of Facebook on my phone so it’s not so easily available to me and isn’t my first default activity. I’ve tried this before for a time (Lent), and found it quite helpful in lessening the time-wasting mindless escapism.

    Also, just wanted to suggest some amazing podcasts to all of you! I’ve been getting into podcasts over the past year, and I am so addicted (hopefully in a healthy way, ha ha). I listen on my way into work, and find myself wanting to sit in the parking lot when I get there, just to finish some of the episodes.
    I like:
    – Serial – season 1
    – Death, Sex, and Money – (one of my favourites)
    – This American Life
    – Modern Love – (don’t worry – it’s not an idealistic romantic love story show -rather, real life stories of love and loss)

    Thanks, Sheryl for the article.

  • Getting better all the time

    Sheryl, this was so pertinent. I relate to the other commenters who said that they find that more and more, they are sensitive to the “mindless” entertainment that doesn’t feed the soul. When I really need to reset myself (especially when I’ve been indulging myself in internet games or TV too much and can’t seem to stop, like an addiction), I read one of your blog posts. It helps so much.

    On a different note, I wonder if you would ever consider writing about the spike of “my partner has effeminate qualities” or “I know my partner isn’t gay, but he doesn’t act macho/has feminine characteristics”. This is something I’ve struggled with in the past, and I know many who also do so. Bless you for the peace that you bring through your work!!

  • bumblebee

    Dear Sheryl

    I want to ask something, whether my insecurity or my boyfriend insecurity
    it happened two times already that he showed me a beautiful woman picture n he said he felt a desire and in love just by saw the picture, and I directly felt awful, because he compared me to that woman, I cursed my body because I’m not as beautiful as the picture and then I realized oh my GOD how fool I was…
    He was hypnotized by the picture , and I was hyhpnotized by his reaction..
    I abandoned myself once again , I was fooling myself

  • Lea

    Hi everyone,

    Is the level of education an important aspect to consider when choosing a partner or character and personality are more valued ? Is this part of compatibility ? I feel like my soul loves him so much but my mind is telling me to run away….

  • Ruth

    Lea, if your soul loves him so much but your mind is telling you to run away then don’t run away, it’s just anxiety.
    I don’t think the level of education is important when choosing a partner, character and personality are far more valued. Level of education is something society has created and your anxiety is judging your partner on that. The higher the education, doesn’t mean the higher the love.

    • Silver

      I feel this way too, very painful struggle I wish that I could turn back time so that I don’t get bumped to her and arrived at what we do have now. I keep hurting my partner because of this. I don’t always want to talk to her like every other couples do. Sometimes nothing really feels better :/

  • Krissy

    Hey there. I often wonder– when is it a good idea to share with friends about your anxieties and when is it a bad one? I am going to be catching up with an old friend who I haven’t seen in half a year…I always feel like a fake if I say “I’m good.” But I also don’t want to go into my doubts…sometimes it makes them feel more “real”. Any advice?
    Thank you for your guidance and patience with us all! You’ve helped so many people.


  • Daphne

    Hello. I am a Christian and have been fearful to comment on here for multiple reasons, but I will anyways. I have a guy that loves me, will do anything for me, has a great family, wants the same things in life as me (even the possibility of not having kids or having them if God so desires)…anyhow…my heart is broken. in my heart I so desire for things to work out between me and him, but I struggle to feel that spark about him…every once in a while I do…but my heart just hurts…out of grief…I am so tired of failed relationship after failed relationship…I just want to be happy. I am very happy on my own, so it is tempting to leave this struggle…for fear that it won’t work out. I just hope it does…and I know I sound all pitiful. I normally am a pretty determined and clear minded person, but this has my heart in a whirl and I just pray that the Lord would give me grace…I understand if it is not His will…but Thinking that just makes me feel hopeless too. So yeah, any encouragement would be much appreciated.

  • Joshua

    It’s not just television. I recently had to stop reading an award-winning book – The Narrow Road to the Deep North – because its portrayal of relationships was too triggering. It led me to Google questions about ‘settling’, where the primary pieces of advice seem to be ‘if you think you might be settling, that is evidence that you probably are’, often from people who call themselves ‘relationshop experts’. Newspaper advice columns are mostly nonsense. (But my Ego continues to ask: ‘what if it’s not nonsense…’)

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