Our era has been called the Information Age, the Technology Age, and the Digital Age. But it could also easily be called The Age of Anxiety, for anxiety is rampant and can manifest in so many ways: social anxiety, test anxiety, work anxiety, relationship anxiety, sleep anxiety, fertility anxiety – just to name a few. There are many ways to address anxiety, as I discuss at length in my blog and courses, and at the core of my work is the understanding that in order to heal from the root, we need to address anxiety from the root, which means understanding that anxiety’s symptoms – intrusive thoughts, worry, insomnia, physical symptoms – are messengers from the unconscious designed to grab our attention so that we will turn inward and pour the light of compassion and curiosity into our shadow realms. This is not fast or easy work, but the fruits of the labor are well worth it, for on the other side of the pain you find the joy of living in alignment with your true self.
When working with anxiety it’s essential to commit to both on-the-spot and deeper practices. Journaling, meditation, and therapy are a few of the deeper practices that work over time to address the root causes of anxiety. But there are also simpler actions we can take that can reduce anxiety dramatically. Exercise is one. Reducing or eliminating alcohol is another. Spending time in nature is a third. And given the age we’re living in, where the world is streamed through our fingertips, the best piece of advice I can give you to reduce your anxiety is to limit your screentime. I can’t tell you how many thousands of emails and conversations with clients and course members I’ve had over the years that start with, “I was feeling anxious about ________ so I Googled it and my anxiety got ten times worse.”
Limiting screentime means:
- Less Googling
- Less social media
- Less Netflix
- Less reading the news
- Less YouTube
- Less texting
Your screens not only amplify the anxiety that is living inside of you, but they can also cause it. You might be feeling fine, then you jump on your screen in a moment of boredom and the daily headlines conveniently pop up, and before you know it the mildly uncomfortable boredom has been replaced by anxiety. For it’s not the positive headlines that pop up on your screen. No. They’re the headlines designed, as environmentalist Paul Hawken says, “to light up your amygdala – fight or flight as opposed to joy and celebration – because it sells better to advertisers.” The news runs on a 24-hour fear cycle because it knows that that’s how to hook you. If you want to take back your power, reduce your time on screens.
My husband and I have made many mistakes in our parenting, as it’s not possible to parent without messing up, but one of the aspects we’re most proud of is that both of our boys know themselves and like themselves, which naturally results in self-trust, and while many of our parenting decisions have helped them to retain their intrinsic sense of self-trust the one that rises to the top of the list is limiting their screentime. As a result of intact self-trust, they’re not easily swayed by others’ opinions. They know what they enjoy and what they don’t enjoy. They generally don’t have trouble filling their free time with meaningful activities or sitting around in the vital pool of boredom, which they both understand is necessary for creativity. They’re motivated by an intrinsic desire to learn about their passions and they couldn’t care less about receiving external validation in the form of grades. When my older son had his first graded test, he was more excited about learning the information than the grade he received. This is what self-trust looks like.
Until recently, the only time they watched screens was once a week to learn about science with their Dad and once a week to watch a fun, very family-friendly movie. We have vetted as much media as we could for as long as we could not only to protect their minds but also to protect their souls. Eventually, we decided that Everest, our older son, was old enough to watch more educational shows during the week, but the rule is that he has to be on the treadmill while watching. Because of their limited exposure to inappropriate sexual themes and gender stereotypes, they’ve been free to grow and develop according to their own wisdom and preferences. They haven’t internalized messages that say, “Boys shouldn’t cry” or “Boys should only be interested in these activities” or Boys should only be interested in girls”, and without that powerful download they have been able to follow their own intact compasses.
Everyone has this compass; it’s your birthright. You’re born with self-trust intact, which means you know what you need, what you like, and who you are. But this beautiful self-trust is often interrupted by well-meaning caregivers – parents, teachers, clergy – who believed that it was in your best interest to be told when to eat, sleep, cry, express, play, share, and learn. You were likely told when and how to socialize, what foods your were supposed to eat, and when you could go to the bathroom. As you grew, you were conditioned by an education system to externalize your sense of self even more, teaching you to chase the grade instead of follow your intrinsic interests.
There are so many by-products of lack of self-trust. When you don’t trust yourself, you’re more susceptible to caring about what others think. When you don’t have a full well of self, you don’t know that mistakes and failures are how you grow. When the central c0lumn is weak, you’re a leaf in the wind instead of an old-growth redwood, which makes you reliant on others’ approval. When you don’t know yourself, you lack the self-trust necessary to access the still-point of truth when intrusive thoughts enter your mind.
But it’s not too late. The great news – which is now corroborated by science – is that patterns can be reversed and, with proper support and tools, you can reclaim the self-trust that is rightfully yours. With simple actions – like limiting screentime – and more involved actions and information practiced and implemented over time, you can undo what has been done and become the person you are meant to be. It’s never too late to heal.
This is what my Trust Yourself program will teach you. If you’re ready to reverse the cultural conditioning that taught you to externalize your sense of self and learn about what it means to love yourself from the inside-out, please join me for the eleventh round of Trust Yourself: A 30-Day Program to Help You Overcome Your Fear of Failure, Caring What Others Think, Perfectionism, Difficulty Making Decisions, and Self-Doubt. I look forward to seeing you there.
What if you have the general feeling of anxiety often, even if you don’t know why? And then you think, I’m anxious, so it’s obviously my partner. I shouldn’t be with him. Why does it project to him instantly even when I know he’s not the cause? I already know I have a fear of being left/ hurt. It’s just so frustrating
You’re describing classic relationship anxiety: it begins as anxiety then projects onto partner. If you read through my site in depth this will make more sense to you.
It’s kind of like the message of Wizard of Oz. So true. I love this post. I can feel your calm energy and consciousness through your post.
Thank you, Jackie. I love quoting the Wizard of Oz. So much wisdom there.
I was told I have anxiety from my psychologist before I have read about Rocd- and I believe that I for sure have it. I can’t afford your relationship anxiety program I do not think as I’m from Australia and it is just so expensive 🙁 but no psychologists here understand Rocd…. is there anything else I can do to overcome this relation ship anxiety, it is really eating me up inside and I know and care and I know I love my partner so much but there is this voice inside my head saying I don’t which makes me so so sad. However if you didn’t actually love them anymore how would you differentiate? I guess you wouldn’t care this much and you just simply wouldn’t love them? Is that correct? I’m just finding it hard to know the difference if you understand what I mean? I would like to know your thoughts
If you can’t afford the course I encourage you to read through my site from the beginning. While the course into much more depth, many people have been helped by my blog alone.
What about when you are already aware of the impact of television/Netflix/social media and still can’t seem to give it up?? I keep thinking of all these meaningful things I could spend my time on and never do them because I have a hardcore Netflix habit. But I try to give it up and don’t last longer than a day. Like, it feels completely aTerrible and unfathomable to eat without some sort of visual and mental stimuli. Not to mention I spend a lot of time laying in bed and eating. The kind of life I envision for myself is completely different from the one I lead. But when I try to make changes (yes, even gradually), it doesn’t last longer than a day. It makes me feel defeated and really harms my self-esteem. 🙁
You’re not alone, Emily. It can be challenging to make significant changes without the help of a therapist or coach, and I would encourage you to consider seeking support. We’re not meant to navigate through this life without help:
My boyfriend just told me a version of this article today!!Perfect timing…as far for a girl like me with relationship anxiety and self doubt which had been there for a year..
Good to hear, Gopika. x
Hey Sheryl, thank you for the article. How would you go about watching things for fun, things that arent educational but interesting and funny. I can feel when I watch something to avoid myself-the sense of guilt and emptiness that follows gives it away. But what do you think about watching shows, movies, anime etc. Just for fun or wind down and relax? Do you feel they still act as distractions?
I think it’s fantastic! I’m in the middle of a wonderful movie right now (it takes me a few nights to watch a film) and it’s so nice to unwind and relax. The important piece is to tune into your intention: is watching coming from the need to unwind/relax or is it a way to distract/avoid? It sounds like you’re in touch with that internal difference, which is great ;).
I’ve recently discovered your website, and found that a lot of what you’re saying resonates with me. What first brought me here was an article about relationship anxiety. I’ve read your page about the e-course, took the self-assessment, AND read the 26-page document about the attractiveness spike. I’m debating whether or not to take that course, but I’m also considering the Trust Yourself course because I do struggle with indecisiveness as well as general anxiety (I’ve not been diagnosed, but suspect it strongly). Is there any overlap in the two courses?
Also, there are some special circumstances holding me back from taking the relationship course which haven’t quite been addressed in all that material:
1) My relationship with my current partner started in a foreign country. He’s since come to my country, but can’t work legally nor stay indefinitely. Also, neither of us are FLUENT in each other’s native language(s) and a lot of frustration has been born out of our inability to communicate deeply and easily.
2) I believe I instigated THIS relationship as a way OUT of a developing relationship with someone before him (for whom I had only recently broken up with my last official ex, and someone with whom I had felt a good connection and with whom I’d had great conversations.. but there had been a large age difference, and the moment we got close romantically, I started noticing unattractive qualities).. in fact, my current relationship began when I was drunk, and *I* made the moves. This does not seem a healthy way to begin a relationship. I’ve often thought before that perhaps I should just be single, that I have personal work to do.. Now I’m wondering if that’s just relationship anxiety. Whatever it may be, I clearly need help.
3) From the very beginning, I didn’t feel a special connection to him .. but he was nice enough from what I could tell, seemed caring, like a good guy .. when he asked after just a week of knowing each other if I would like to be in an exclusive relationship with him (as I was catching my flight back home), I instantly hesitated due to how little I knew him, and how great the challenges were for us especially. I think I agreed to it because I’d felt guilty about saying no, rather than an actual desire to be in a relationship with him. But I may also have recognized that he was a little different from many men, incredibly caring. To this day, I’ve never said to him that I love him. And it’s true to an extent; I legitimately don’t feel it, but there ARE moments where I feel a bond, I feel what could be the beginnings of love, if I developed and nurtured it. I felt a surge of this when I asked him to marry me. Which brings me to my next point:
4) I’ve asked him to marry me recently, just so we could have the ability to develop our relationship, so he could stay in my country and work legally and we could start projects together. I’m tired of this stand-still we’re at, together, but not moving forward with our lives because of his limited ability to contribute to a shared life together. Yet I know that if this relationship were with a citizen of my country, there’s no way I’d be considering marrying him right now.. but we’ve considered all other immigration options, and there is nothing else he can do that doesn’t rely on chance.
5) Last night I had a dream that I was at the gym with my celebrity crush, who was coaching me through a new routine. From the very beginning I felt a special connection to him, and when I woke up, I despaired a little; I long to feel that way, but I have NEVER in my current relationship felt that way even fleetingly. Perhaps that’s infatuation, which you’ve said some people just don’t feel and that’s normal and that’s ok. So maybe this was just my unconscious relationship anxiety asserting itself in a big way, now that I’ve asked my partner to marry me.
All in all, I believe legitimately that I’m not in love with him (yet), but that part of that may just be an incredible wall that I’ve built to protect myself. That I also suffer from relationship anxiety. BUT there are also factors in our relationship for which other people would definitely consider legitimate reasons to throw in the towel (such as our lack of ability to speak fluently in each other’s language). Whenever I mention this to him, he says, “it’ll take time, but we can get there.” Always optimistic about our relationship, if I’d just dive in.. and for my part, I haven’t thrown in the towel partially out of guilt, but also out of recognition for his good qualities, how well he has integrated into my family which is important to me, and those rare moments of what could be love.
I feel the need and desire to take action, but feel lost and confused. I think I’d like to start with one of your courses, but not sure with which to begin (or if I only need one of them, not both). I know you’re busy, but I would so appreciate your guidance. If you do find the time to respond to this, thank you in advance.
Thank you for your comment, Nicole. If you can condense your question into 2-3 brief sentences I’m happy to respond :).
Sorry about that.
Is there any overlap between the relationship anxiety and trust yourself courses?
Second, I’m still feeling doubt about whether my current relationship is truly ‘right’ for me (I took the self-assessment, and there WAS in fact one category where I didn’t check any of the boxes). After a year and two months (first 8 months long-distance in different countries), I still haven’t said to him I love him (because I truly don’t feel it .. yet). I’m wondering if there’s any reason other than ‘red-flag issues’ to not be with someone. If there is some expectation of a deep connection, even if only for a short time or a fleeting moment.. or if I’m just wondering that to keep the wall up and preventing me from loving him. I feel that I’m already prepared to move on to someone new, yet I know he would take care of me and be good to me for the rest of my life. I’m just feeling truly lost.
There’s very little overlap between Break Free and Trust Yourself, and if you’re debating between the two I would recommend Break Free as it’s my foundational course and it will help you find clarity to your question.
Thank you for this (once again) very interesting article. I am currently going through your Break free course and all I can say is that it’s already been immensely helpful in reducing my relationship anxiety. My “general” anxiety is being reduced too in the process but it is still there, and I cannot agree more with you: screentime and media exposure is definitely not helpful. Also, I was raised by two teachers (very attached to grades and comparisons) and my bipolar mother was so disengaged from the whole process of bringing me up that I was basically raised on TV and glossy teenage and then women’s magazines. All I can say is that this was very detrimental to helping my self trust and it took a LOT of work to be able to self-reference more, instead of seeking approval from outside. I believe a lot of my anxiety about “doing good” or not stems from this. Thank you Sheryl for helping all of us with your compassionate words!
It sounds like you’re making many essential connections, Suzanne, and you’re doing the work. Keep going!
The link of self trust to TV, teens/women magazines, school grades is an interesting connection. I also grew up in that environment (TV always on at meal times, I read a ton of glossy magazines each month, and my parents put me in competitive schools) so I related to this observation so much. Thank you Suzanne for sharing.
You are so on-point Sheryl! I commit all of those screen-time habits except Netflix, which I’m always so tempted to start (but I know myself and I won’t use it responsibly). Since reading your newsletter on Sunday, I tried to be mindful of the effects of my screen time at night and realized it does worsen my anxiety and insomnia. I look at my phone to wind down at night, but I do have trouble stopping and feel the ‘pull’ to keep scrolling.
Can you write about Fear of missing out among young people from the perspective of relationship anxiety..
I recently got engaged about a month ago. I started having all these doubts and worries to the point I can’t even be around my partner. Then the thoughts of what if I’m gay occured and I couldn’t even look myself in the mirror. I know wake up everyday with the anxiety and guilt about her. I know I love her deep down and that something just happened out of no where. I lost my grandmother last year and i was very close to her, after that happened something changed in me. I’ve been scared of life and growing up and any sense of responsibility gives me anxiety. Would the course help me?
You’re describing classic relationship anxiety and the course would absolutely be of benefit to you.
Go for it. I was on the fence of purchasing the relationship anxiety program, and I’m glad I gave it a shot. You could just-as easily spend the same amount on a week/month’s worth (depending on your lifestyle of course) of eating out, video games, clothes, personal vices, etc..
Every now and then it’s a great thing to make an investment solely toward yourself, without all of the externals.
I’m a 26 year old male currently dating the same girl for about a year and a half now. For most of my young-adult life, the thought of settling has always freaked me out. There were one or two girls that I swooned over; but they didn’t feel the same, and life goes on. Long story short, I’ve been with this girl for almost two years. She’s an amazing partner. I know deep down that it’s true, despite my unconscious longing for more, and different girls. The program helps shed a lot of light on these aspects of the self, and a lot more that you may or may not have heard about through your own life and education. I’m about halfway through the program, and I can confidently say it’s well worth the investment.
You’d benefit a lot from the course. Sheryl’s material won’t be found even in the deepest corners of google (trust me, I’ve checked compulsively for years prior to finding it), and neither will any sense of clarity. Relationship anxiety and ROCD are seemingly absent from any *knowledgeable and realistically helpful* areas of the internet. Most of it comes-off as speculations and criticisms.
From one internet acquaintance to another, I just want to say that you can and will handle this. Be patient with both your fiancee, and yourself. Fear can be a very cunning negotiator, so it’s best to learn how it works before allowing it to take you over… t’s not always about solely trusting your gut!
Thank you for this beautifully supportive comment, Alec. I’m so glad the course has been helpful for you.