Q: I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I feel like engagement should be a happy, exciting time, but in the month since my partner, B, proposed, I’ve been anxious, moody, and struggling to feel the joy of this new phase. I know this may sound like one of those “listen to your gut” scenarios, but the weird thing is—I was sure during the year that B and I were dating that we were meant to be because my gut instincts felt so good!
I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life, but the year I met B, my anxiety faded into the background. I had just moved to a new city for a new job when we met, and for the first time in a long time, everything seemed like an exciting adventure instead of impending catastrophe. With B, I felt happy, confident, and at ease. My family and friends remarked on how much happier I seemed, and I was sometimes surprised myself to see how I beamed in photos. I felt like everything—job, partner, adult life, had fallen into place and I was ready to take on the world.
Against this blissful backdrop, B and I decided to get married. He formally proposed a year after our first date and one week before we moved into together. A few days after we moved in to our new apartment, I had my first panic attack in about eighteen months. My anxiety since then has been at the forefront. I can’t even express concrete worries that are bothering me—it’s like I’ve been switched back on to high alert mode, and everything is shadowed by potential troubles. I kept my feelings from B for a while, until he told me how happy and easy he felt our transition to living together was. Then I broke down and told him it has been the opposite of easy for me. He’s been so supportive and wonderful in general, and he’s assured me that he’ll help however he can. I wish I could assure him that this was just brain chemistry gone awry, but I honestly don’t know. I feel guilty because objectively, our lives are good and easy, and there is no reason to walk around like a bundle of nerves.
Is any part of this normal? I love B, and I don’t want to mess this up.
—The Exceedingly Nervous, Stressed Engaged
A: Dear TENSE,
Listening to your gut is good sometimes. But those guts are not infallible. Very often, I can’t tell if mine is making an excellent point, or just getting a little antsy, or getting a little carried away, or has just had a little too much Taco Bell. Emotions aren’t always a fabulous gauge, and that goes for anyone. Folks without a history of anxiety get cold feet sometimes.
Part of that is simply that things don’t always feel the way we expect them to feel. That doesn’t always mean something is off. Just that feelings are unpredictable, and even more so when it comes to the big life stuff. But, when we’re talking about anxiety, that big life stuff has even more potential to muck up the works. Giant life changes, even ones that are happy and positive, can trigger anxiety just by the nature of being changes.
Rather than worrying that you really feel anxious, versus happy, realize that people can have multiple, seemingly contradictory feelings about one thing. It’s okay and normal to feel anxious during the engagement, and in fact, all major life changes, even happy ones, can be very stressful. At the same time, if you feel that your anxiety is causing a significant amount of distress, and is really getting in the way of your enjoying this time, it could be a good idea to seek professional help to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself, to sort through any red flags that this may be bringing up, and to get treatment if necessary.
I’ll ditto Dr. Shara’s last bit there and encourage you to talk to someone. See if there are ways to care for your emotional health so that you can better trust your gut. That might mean medication, it might mean behavioral cognitive therapy, it might mean a few more office visits to check in with a pro. It also might mean pressing pause on your engagement for a minute, while you sort things out.
It definitely should mean that this is the beginning of a conversation with your partner. If you’re getting married and anxiety is a part of your life, it’s also going to be apart of his. Talk about how this kind of spike in anxiety may happen from time to time and, once you figure out what you need to manage it, how he can help you.
So to answer your question, TENSE, yeah. It’s probably normal. But normal with an asterisk and a little side note about understanding what “normal” means for you, how to handle it, and how your partner can support you.
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