Do I Have Cold Feet or a Chemical Imbalance?


AAPW: How can I tell if my axiety's normal?

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

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.

That’s the extent of my knowledge about this stuff. So, I reached out to APW’s resident psychologist, the smart Dr. Shara Brofman. She offered this for you to consider:

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.

If you would like to ask APW a question please don’t be shy! You can email: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Kris

    I’m so glad someone asked about this. I’ve been dealing with anxiety for most of my engagement too. I thought it was the pressure of planning, dealing with a change in identity, a little bit of “this guy? forever?”. I also started looking for a new job and we’re talking about selling our house. So, stress all around.

    But I JUST realized that the anxiety got really bad after I switched BC earlier this year. It’s one of those 3 month pills so I just had my first “off” week and immediately felt SO MUCH BETTER. The combination of big life events + new chemicals really did a number on my brain chemistry. Thankfully my partner’s been supportive, even if he’s not sure what to do.

    Don’t let yourself feel guilty for not feeling so! happy! all the time. I had a hard time letting go of the notion that engagement = ecstatic. I hope you find a way to manage the anxiety you’re feeling!

    • Christy

      Thats exactly why I went off hormonal BC. I could not stand the effects of the hormones in my body, and I decided the positives weren’t worth the drawbacks. (I’m also gay, so I don’t have a pregnancy risk.)

    • Angela Howard

      Re: birth control – I’ll put in a plug for the Paraguard non-hormonal IUD. I love mine! It’s been 100% effective for me and my spouse. I did have the stated side effects of increased cramping and heavier flows but those fade over time (much faster with my second IUD than my first).

      • Sarah E

        Seconded. It took about three months to realize my wild mood swings and general dark cloud was due to the pill. Changed the type, which helped. Changed pharmacies, and the pharmacist decides a different brand is fine– back to messed up brain. No fucking thank you. The Paraguard is my savior for reliable birth control.

        • Shannon W

          THIRD. Was on hormonal bc pill for 10 years. Started questioning what it was doing to my brain/hormones/emotions/body/relationship/EVERYTHING so I took a chance and got Paraguard. I can’t even begin to describe how different, how much BETTER I feel in general. I feel like a different person. SO worth it.

    • Meg Keene

      Oh yeah! I, and a few other folks mentioned this in yesterday’s conversation about the Glow app and period tracking. It took me something like a decade to realize that the pill was pretty directly causing some serious depression and anxiety for me. I’m still kind of PISSED at the medical world for putting me on the pill at 17 “because it evens out your cycles,” and never letting me know that shit can cause some serious depression.

      I’m sensitive enough to it that I will never again go on hormonal birth control. Even the low dosage stuff does not work for me. I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but I just can’t. And I wish someone, anyone, had told me years ago that could be causing depression and anxiety.

      • Kris

        My previous pill I had been on for 10+ years, since I was a teenager, and I never experienced any negative side effects. That was my second pill – the first prescription I had before THAT gave me terrible mood swings and migraines. Props to my 16 or 17 year old self for feeling empowered enough to say NOPE and go to the doctor until I found the right one!

      • THIS. This makes me so angry. I tried the pill a couple of times and each time I was a total emotional wreck which culminated in a SEVERE depression. The amount of people I know personally who have had severe emotional or physical side effects is huge. And sure, it’s all in the small print but I also know that every time I’ve gone in to talk to a doctor about birth control options, I’ve been handed the pill and given zero information about it. The last time I went in a said I need an option that wasn’t the pill because of the depression side-effects, I was told to just try more pills until I got the right one.

        Yeaaaah, how about instead I don’t risk my mental health and we just give me the non-hormonal IUD that I had to research myself on the internet. SMH.

    • mssolo

      I know this is a year old, but the mention of BC had me flailing, because a couple of years ago I changed BC and started having anxiety attacks out of the blue. The worst thing was, I hadn’t been worrying about anything previously, so my brain started attaching things to the attacks that went on to become triggers and it all became a vicious circle, until I had a lightbulb moment and stopped taking the pills.

      if you ever read this, how are you doing a year later? I’ve found even with swapping BC, I still have anxiety now. I don’t get the attacks any more, but sometimes I’ll spend a couple of days feeling really shitty and then realise I’m not getting ill, I’m getting anxious.

  • OhNoThereGoesTokyo

    I was SO anxious from the day we got engaged right up until the end of our honeymoon and I don’t historically have anxiety issues. It was tough and so out of character for me. In hindsight, I should have communicated that better to loved ones and I should have gone to more therapy sessions. When I’m anxious, I pass a lot of bowel movements. That gut, it’s instinct goes on over-kill sometimes. Best of luck to the letter writer as they seem to have a great partner in “B” and might just need to sign up a few other members for a great support team (friends, family, healthcare professionals).

  • Lauren

    I had so much anxiety leading up to our engagement! We had been talking about getting engaged for a long time, then ended up doing long distance for the year before getting engaged and the LDR was so rough and brought up so many questions for me. One of the most helpful conversations I had during that time was with my pastor who asked me if I felt that the confusion and anxiety was pointing me in a productive direction or just bogging me down. Was it directing my attention toward issues that needed to be resolved? Was I learning anything from it? And no, I wasn’t really. I was just stuck in it. I was holding on to my “ghost ship” of what my life would have been without him, the things I would have done and the relationships that might have been… but at the same time I was also really, really happy with him. For me it was important to realize that it was okay to be sad about that alternate life that I wasn’t going to have. I could be sad about that and embrace the life that I do have with him at the same time. The anxiety mostly subsided once I made the decision for myself to go ahead with my life with him and we actually got engaged.

  • emmers

    I was anxious after we got engaged. There was a lot going on, from wedding planning, talking about moving in together, and oh, work was crazy. I found counseling helpful during that time to get back on track. Change can be hard, and it’s OK to seek help.

  • Lisa

    I’m generally a pretty anxious person/worrywart though I’ve never spoken to a professional about it, and I had SO MUCH anxiety during our engagement. I have a very difficult time making any kind of transition or major commitment without allowing myself some kind of loophole or escape route in case I don’t like what’s going on, and marriage to me is one of the few places where the decision is FOREVER without escape clause.

    I thought I was completely alone in my feelings during my engagement because all I’d ever heard that engagements are happy fun times with possibly some stress over invitations thrown in. One of the commenters here recommended that I read The Conscious Bride, and it was a total game changer for me. It allowed me to see my feelings of anxiety as natural and included stories of others who went through the same emotional shifts with which I was dealing. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who is feeling overwhelmed during his or her engagement because it does a great job of normalizing feelings that aren’t discussed or don’t seem to have a place in how we process marriage and wedding traditions in our modern society.

    • Rachel102712

      Yes, yes, yes! I want to “exactly” this, like we did in the old days of APW. I also wanted to hop on here to recommend The Conscious Bride and “The Ghost Ship” by Dear Sugar, but you beat me to it! I was also an anxious bride-to-be who was more stressed out than excited by wedding planning and making this forever decision without an escape clause, like you said. However, 2 and 1/2 years of marriage later, I find that the longer I am married to my husband, the more confident I feel that marrying him was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

  • CH

    My year-long engagement sucked. I felt anxious and afraid and nervous pretty much the entire time. I’d been married once before and I didn’t want to get it wrong yet again. I even designated a friend to be my “getaway” car in case I decided to bolt on the wedding day.

    I got therapy, which helped. I really dug into the reasons why my first marriage failed and was able to understand how my current relationship was different. I can’t say that therapy was the magic solution, but it helped — and on my wedding day, I felt completely calm and at ease, and getting married felt like the most natural thing in the world.

    Hugs to the letter-writer. It sucks to not feel delighted at a time that everyone thinks you’re supposed to be a glowing bride. I hope you feel better soon.

  • Kristen P

    I found my anxiety increasing as I got closer to moving in with my boyfriend of over two years. It had been something I was looking forward to for a while and would have wanted to move in with him even sooner if we didn’t have the logistics of owning two homes in different states to deal with. The anxiety continued once we moved it together. I too began to have panic attacks that I hadn’t had for several years. The important thing to remember is that this is a big transition. You have to give yourself the time and space to adjust to it. When I would get especially anxious I would remember discussions I had had with friends who were newly married and living with their spouse for the first time. They admitted that the first year of living together is hard and it takes some work. This has helped me tremendously. Also admitting aloud that is a transition helped me too. I have been living with my boyfriend for nine months now and in the last four months I have found that my anxiety is down and I am enjoying myself and my partner again.

  • Mary Jo TC

    I personally wasn’t particularly anxious during my engagement, but I’ve been anxious around other parts of my life before, so I sympathize. I think one question to ask yourself is whether the fundamentals of the relationship–friendship, respect, teamwork, attraction, mutual goals and values–are sound. And if they are, then chances are the anxiety is baseless and not a warning sign to get out now.

    Another resource I wanted to share is Sheryl Paul’s blog Conscious Transitions. She has an e-course on weddings and lots of articles about dealing with relationship anxiety. http://conscious-transitions.com/

  • Nell

    I could have written this letter.

    Being engaged is stressful on so very many fronts. I don’t even know where to begin. Even if you 100% know you want to marry someone, it can be an incredibly stressful time.

    I felt the same way, though, at the beginning of new relationships. When I was dating a new person, people in long-term relationships would say to me “oooh isn’t it so new and exciting? aren’t you so thrilled?” I was not thrilled. I was freaked out all the time. I wanted to feel settled. I bet those same people who thrive on new relationships also like being engaged.

    Being engaged means being in transition, and depending on how long your engagement is, that could be a VERY long transition. It sounds like the LW just went through a whole bunch of transitions recently, and newness might just feel. . . crappy. And that’s okay! You don’t have to enjoy being engaged just because people tell you to!

    • I could have written this letter, and I could have written this reply. Always hated new relationships, stressed out to the max about being engaged (thank goodness it was only a year, and it’ll be over in 3 weeks), and I cannot WAIT to be settled into our marriage.

  • MABie

    LW, is your anxiety focused on (1) getting married, (2) having a wedding, or (3) both? I would urge you to try to isolate the source of your anxiety.

    I have struggled with serious anxiety, panic attacks, etc. for as long as I can remember — like, since I was in elementary school. The beginning of my engagement was ROUGH. It took me WAY too long to realize that I wasn’t actually that anxious about getting married, but I was (and am) extremely anxious about having a wedding. (There are a lot of complicated and personal reasons that we have decided to go forward with the wedding in spite of my anxiety, but I still wonder if it’s the right thing.) Ask yourself if any of your anxiety dissipates when you, for example, imagine yourself in a lovely dress with just your fiance and officiant on a beach somewhere. If that doesn’t make a difference to you, then you’ll know that you need to focus on some of the relationship/personal stuff.

    Above all, please know that you are not alone. My fiancee is the most incredible person I have ever known, and I knew that it was the right decision to get married. But I suffered from a lot of serious anxiety right after we got engaged. I did the Sheryl Paul thing, and it did not help me at all. I read “The Conscious Bride,” and that didn’t help, either. The only thing that helped was time. It took me a lot of time to figure out what was going on.

    In the meantime, I listened to my HEAD. I knew I should not walk away from my relationship, no matter what my “gut” was saying, because I knew that my gut was nothing but the mouthpiece of my anxiety, and it was just plain wrong. And we got through that time. It took about six months, but we worked through it, and I am doing so much better with managing my anxiety now.

    Good luck!! Big hugs.

  • MK

    When my husband and I talked about getting engaged for the first time, my anxiety spiraled out of control. (Those feelings of guilt! I completely identify with that.) I privately wondered if I should even go through with it. A few things helped me get through it:

    1) The realization that I’m not alone: other women go through this, I’m not a freak, and it doesn’t mean that something is fundamentally wrong with my relationship. In particular, Sheryl Paul’s website helped tremendously with this (http://conscious-transitions.com/)
    2) Staring my fear in the face: I already see a therapist, so I admitted to her what had been going on (a huge relief), and together we explored where my feelings of anxiety were coming from. I am very sensitive and have never been great with big life changes, and it turned out that was a big factor.

    Everyone is different, but I can tell you that once I acknowledged my fears and talked through them, it opened up emotional space for me to feel over-the-moon giddy- all those feelings that I hoped I would feel. It just took some time. Also, there was internal shift for me when I fully decided- yes, I will marry him. There is peace when that decision is made. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have doubts every now and then (even now that I’m married!), but I just take them as they come and they quiet down eventually. I realize TENSE is already engaged, but she is probably wrestling with whether her decision was a good one. Once you wrestle with your demons and commit either way- there will be some peace.

    We don’t know the full story, but I have note that I see absolutely zero red flags when the LW talks about her fiance. Of course no relationship is perfect, but this sounds like one worth hanging on to. Good luck, TENSE! Sending you big hugs from someone who has been there. <3

  • AGCourtney

    I love APW – I was just thinking last night, ‘I hope they post something soon about feeling miserable during the engagement’ and like magic, here it is. I’m so relieved to know I’m not alone.

  • emilyg25

    I had to go to a few sessions with a therapist during wedding planning because it triggered my anxiety. I’ve since learned that I have a really hard time with major life transitions. My therapist said something I love: A big transition like this is like a sandstorm, where you struggle even to see your feet. But eventually it dies down and you regain your footing.

  • anony-nony

    I’ll throw in, as someone who’s dealt with intense anxiety most of her life, that it’s an unpredictable monster. I can go months, even as much as a year with little to no anxiety – and then BOOM something will trigger me and I’ll go through another bout of constant fear and uneasiness, with everything being a sign of impending doom. Your engagement may have been the catalyst for this sudden swing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your gut is trying to tell you something.

    In my case, finding a partner who experiences the same kind of anxiety has helped – we constantly talk to each other about how we’re feeling, and help keep each other centered. Maybe your fiancé doesn’t experience your level of anxiety, but it can still only help to have that conversation with him. One thing I’ve found that helps me most is just talking it through – pinpointing the things that are really worth worrying about (which is usually a small to none number) and refuting the stuff that’s just noise.

  • Kayla

    “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.”

    This was the best thing I read all week, and it will live on forever in my sage advice brain file.

  • Sarah E

    “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.”

    Spot, on. And that goes for just about anything else in life, too. Just like the chat about period trackers yesterday– some things aren’t in the textbooks, but if you know how *your* body works, you have so much more information to go on. True for emotions, food, repro health, relationships, work style, and on and on.

  • Angela

    I’m a (mostly) recovered anxiety sufferer, and this sounds to me exactly how my anxiety would play out in the past. Anxiety to me is really kicked up by analysis and my brain running wild, and new situations trigger that for sure. I’ve learned that when I really ground myself and learn to quiet my brain, I’m WAY more in touch with my gut. I trust how I FEEL in those situations, not what I’m thinking about those situations, and when you say you felt really happy in the relationship, that jumped out at me for sure. If I were in your situation, I’d put the idea of the marriage out of the picture for a second and focus on taking care of your anxiety. There’s no rush, and mental health takes priority. See a counselor, meditate, let yourself adjust, ground yourself with exercise and good food…whatever it takes to get out of your head for a bit. Then you can see how you’re feeling when you’re grounded in reality…your mind will be so much clearer and you’ll be better able to work through the situation.

  • Rachel102712

    “…for the first time in a long time, everything seemed like an exciting adventure instead of impending catastrophe.” I can so identify with this! As a fellow anxiety sufferer, I too recommend speaking with a professional. It can be so helpful to have an unbiased, outside perspective to help you sort through your emotions. Transition is hard!

  • Meg Keene

    Aw, LIZ. As someone with generalized anxiety disorder (that you know, sometimes is fine and doesn’t impact my life at all, and sometimes is super destructive) the final answer made me tear up. Because it’s so rare for people to acknowledge that having an anxiety disorder is just part of NORMAL for some of us, no shame. And the no shame thing makes it a lot easier to cope with and get help.

    And to the letter writer: when I’m really under stress I assume EVERYTHING is a huge mistake. My first pregnancy was a goddamn disaster because of it (also, by the end of a pregnancy, unlike an engagement, you can’t really call it off, so lack of options makes the whole cycle even worse). Anyway, guess what: having a kid wasn’t a mistake, my brain is just a little miswired. Now, that said, I had panic attacks in a job I needed to leave, so it’s not like they’re always wrong. But I can’t make DECISIONS based on panic attacks. I have to treat them and get it all under control and clear enough space that I can make decisions with my rational mind. My “gut”, so to speak, is sort of a mess in that way.

    AND, for anyone wondering if it’s worth getting treatment for the anxiety they’ve always dealt with and tried to white knuckle through… yeah… it REALLY REALLY IS WORTH IT.

    • Rachel102712

      Thanks for sharing, Meg! You have definitely just given hope to a lot of people who suffer silently because of the stigma attached to getting help.

    • Anony-nony

      Indeed, therapy was a god-send for me, and it wasn’t this scary monolith I had made it out to be. A few months of weekly sessions was enough for me to learn the skills I needed to cope. It didn’t make my anxiety magically disappear, because that’s just who I am, but it taught me how to function happily, and how to decipher “real” anxiety from my disorder.

      • Meg Keene

        Yeah, cognitive behavioral therapy doesn’t do wonders for lots of conditions (say, depression), but it’s totally amazing for anxiety. And, lets be honest, so are meds. Everyone in my household less the children take meds that work on anxiety, and diminished panic attacks and ongoing anxiety issues really contribute to good functioning over here.

        • Caitlin

          CBT is pretty good for depression too! It’s as effective at treating depression as medication, except with a lower chance of relapse. If you mean the success rate is lower than when treating anxiety, then that is accurate. However, it is arguably the most effective way to treat depression. (My fiance is a depression treatment researcher).

          • Violet

            Yes. Also, I think Mayberg’s study in JAMA Psychiatry found some interesting brain biomarkers that indicate some people might do better with meds and others with CBT, depending on which areas of their brain showed specific patterns of activation prior to treatment. http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1696349

          • Jess

            I think it depends on your depression for sure and probably how well it is done.

            CBT was pretty invalidating for me as a teen, and ended up causing a lot of dissociation from all my emotions because I wasn’t allowing myself to feel sadness that came up because it wasn’t “real”, which became a coping mechanism for all feelings all the time. It also compounded the guilt aspect because I felt like I was “doing it wrong” when the coping mechanisms and self talk didn’t help or felt hollow. It also led to me criticizing myself for thinking the “wrong thoughts” when I was in depressive swings.

            Going to acceptance-compassion and allowing myself to sit with the emotion for a period has been a really different experience for me, and has helped a lot in terms of communicating to people around me and in dealing with my feelings of shame and sadness and loneliness.

            This isn’t to say that CBT never works, just my personal story to let people know that it isn’t the end-all-be-all and that if it doesn’t help them, there are lots more options that may, with or without medication.

          • Violet

            I’m so sorry you went through that. Based only on the info you’ve given here, I’d say that this does not even qualify as CBT. CBT is much more than some coping statements and self-talk, and if your therapist ever said or implied your feelings weren’t real, that’s definitely a complete misreading of what the therapy is.
            I’m really glad acceptance and commitment work helped you. But as you’re cautioning people, I’d caution people that if their therapist is saying what you are describing is CBT, that they should get a different practitioner.

          • Jess

            Yeah, I should clarify that the feeling didn’t come from the therapist herself. It was something that my brain hijacked while I was working with her on suicidal thoughts primarily and changing negative thought patterns around self-worth generally.

            I definitely didn’t have a great therapist, but at 13-16, I didn’t really have a lot of say in who I saw, which probably colored my issues with CBT as a whole.

            So yeah, I agree, if you feel like that, definitely either speak up to your therapist or go find a new one!

          • Meg Keene

            In terms of other treatments, I should also add that I’ve found that talk therapy, at the end of the day, probably helps more with the root causes of anxiety than CBT. However, talk therapy is a much longer term (and sometimes much more expensive) process. At least for me, CBT really helped a lot in the short term. Plus, shout out to Kaiser, I was able to take free group classes for it, which was awesome. (And I personally can’t make any progress without meds, which I know still have a stigma, which is crazy, because ILLNESS.)

            Also: what you’re describing doesn’t sound like CBT to me, though I’m obviously not a professional. I learned skills like: walking in a circle and counting. Learning how to write lists of tasks in a way that prioritized and de-stressed me, etc. Just SUPER concrete things to get you through the day.

          • Meg Keene

            I personally haven’t found it effective at all for depression, but it’s good to know it works for some people. Anxiety on the other hand, is more directly tied to behaviors, at least for me, so it’s super helpful.

          • Violet

            I’ve seen CBT be really helpful for people whose depression actually does have a large behavioral component. Many people, when depressed, find it really hard to do things. The depression makes them pull back on things (i.e., behaviors) they once enjoyed or got self-efficacy from. The behavioral activation in CBT can go a long way to help people reclaim their lives, while acknowledging, “Woah, it’s really hard to go outside to the deli when you’re depressed, so you should get some acknowledgment for that.” If that’s not how you experience depression, then I can see how it might be less helpful.

  • Sarah

    I have generalized anxiety, ocd, and developed panic disorder in the lead up to our wedding. I was having panic attacks more than twice a week. We were going through A LOT of changes. Getting married, moving to a different city, applying to law school, law school looming ahead, etc. I feel like my anxiety doesn’t have very much to do with my “real life.” I was having panic attacks about things my brain concocted, that weren’t actually real in the strictest sense.

    The questions you have are definitely ones you need to answer for yourself (and I definitely recommend professional help. I am now on medication, got some therapy before we moved/got married, and I’m only having the occasional panic attack now).

    Definitely communicate with your partner about your reality. When my panic attacks started we both had to learn how to cope with them. For my part, deep breathing techniques, and for him, hugging and wrapping me in a blanket, reminding me to breath, if we were in the middle of a fight pausing the conflict for later, and grabbing my xanax. After, I always reassure him that its not him, its me.

    I never really wondered if it was because of cold feet, but I know how it feels when you feel so much anxiety and are searching for an explanation. Sometimes there is NO explanation.

    Good luck on your journey <3

  • Sarah

    Oh yeah, one other thing. My husband’s acceptance, support, and help with my multiple anxiety diagnoses really confirmed the rightness of my choice to marry him. Keep communicating and exploring with him. Involve him. We have learned so much about each other even during our engagement and honeymoon.

    • macrain

      Aw Sarah, this warms my heart. I also think part of communicating and exploring is: being specific with your partner about what is helpful and what is not helpful when anxiety rears it’s head. Sometimes you don’t even know what you need until you try a few different things, so it’s a process.

      • Sarah

        :)

        Yes, it has certainly been a process. He has his own feelings and reactions to my anxiety too. A couple times a fight has triggered my catastrophic thought patterns, and he has been bewildered by my outsized reactions to conflicts he thinks of as minor. So we have been learning together about how to manage both of our feelings when this happens. I learned that its important for me to communicate that I do not blame him at all if a fight triggers me, and I am frustrated when I cant handle things with less, erm, drama (and hyperventilating). Now we know better how to handle it when it happens, but you really really have to talk about it. A lot.

  • Anna

    Just stopped by to say the boon Emotionally Engaged really helped me to feel the various “negative” emotions I had during my engagement without judging myself. I’d definitely recommend it!

  • Emily Hill

    I had so much anxiety throughout my engagement about whether I was making the right choice. We’d been together for 6 years. I never went to therapy–probably should have and I would recommend it. What calmed me was asking myself, “If we weren’t engaged, would I be calling the relationship off? Would I be changing anything about the relationship?” The answer was always no, so I was able to calm myself and recognize that it was just my normal anxiety/questioning and overthinking every move I make/typical indecisiveness taking over. Around 2 months before the wedding I became more relaxed and the anxiety started going away (maybe because I felt like we couldn’t back out now?), and after the big day all my anxiety and fears have gone away. THANK GOD I didn’t listen to people who said “if you have doubts, you shouldn’t do it” because I couldn’t be happier now. I guess the point is that anxiety/doubts about this huge life change are normal.

    • Jess

      The biggest thing I ask myself surrounding large decisions, since I struggle with a lot of self-doubt and fear, is: “Am I truly doubting this choice for reasons I can put into words, or am I feeling generally nervous because it’s a big thing I’m doing?”

      Which is pretty much what you did by asking yourself whether or not you would be ending the relationship if you weren’t engaged.

      Usually when I’m nervous or anxious I can name a lot of reasons that sound very very silly when I put them into words. When I’m on the edge of making the wrong choice for me, I hear the reasons I’m anxious and if I were hearing them from a friend, I would be worried.

  • Paige

    One thing that jumped out at me was that not only did you just get engaged, but you had just moved in with your partner when the panic attacks started. I know that mine are triggered by stress, and moving is hugely stressful under even the best circumstances, let alone all the concerns that come with living with someone for the first time. You say you’ve been together for a year—why not give yourself the option of a long engagement? Sometimes when I feel under pressure, reminding myself that I don’t *have* to do anything helps a lot. I’d also echo others who recommend checking in with a therapist. I know how disappointing it can be when anxiety rears its ugly head after a long period of hibernation, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything about your life choices. You can get through this!

  • Sarah Richards Graba

    I don’t comment often, but when I do, it’s because something in the post really spoke to me. As I read the letter from TENSE, I just kept nodding my head and saying, “Yep. Yep. Yep.” I don’t suffer from anxiety, but I do have depression–I know they are very different, but the thing that I think was hitting home for me was this overwhelming feeling you were naming, of “THIS IS SO WRONG” when there is no logical reason for that feeling to exist. That “objectively, everything is good and easy” but that the “high alert” mode still exists, and when it’s activated, it’s what feels the most real, no matter what the “objective” outlook is. I really identified with that with my own struggles with my engagement and now with the process of trying (kind of?) to have a child. Should be happy about these things right? But I wasn’t/I’m just not.

    So, this comment is two-fold:

    1) I agree that seeing a professional can be really helpful. I found that I had to find the “right” professional, who veers a little on the alternative side of mental health, but once I found her, I really feel that I’ve been making progress with root issues, rather than maintaining composure over symptoms. This is helping me to trust my own gut feelings more and more, because I’m learning how to distinguish true intuition versus the harmful self-talk that’s been ingrained in me over the years. (Still working on this, but getting better!)

    2) I want to chime in with the voices here that you are not alone in dealing with this–which, to answer your question, means YES, this is fundamentally normal. But I think the bigger, underlying question you’ve posed is not only whether your feelings are normal, but if they are right. That is going to take a lot more exploration on your part to figure out what is causing your anxiety; this exploration might include, as others have said, talking to a professional and talking to your partner. It could also mean talking to trusted friends or family; it could mean some journaling or other self-communication; it could mean artistic or athletic expression. I would encourage any and all of these methods, with you setting your own intentions around this very, very difficult self-work. And it is difficult. It’s a tough bitch to have to dive into yourself this way. But we (AWP, and people with mental/behavioral disorders) are with you. We go into battle together! So I hope you are able to receive some of that support, in some way. Good luck, and much love.

  • Raissomat

    I love these honest discussions. I suffer from anxiety and fear in general when premestrual, so a week every month. I re live traumatic experiences and feelings, and doubting all the good ever. I’m paralized and struggle breathing. Also I had a depressive episode after my mum died, and sat at home for 6 months or so. I did speak to my (then) boyfriend about my feelings, and it was the key to peace. He incouraged me to take care of myself where he couldn’t. Now we are engaged, and I was VERY anxious about being sick at the wedding day (also have some phisical issues), and i could NOT have overcome them whithout professional assistance. He knows “what he’s getting into”, and where we’re at. He’s not a worrier, but is a natural at taking loving care and completes me very well, in that too! Find your balance, and respond to your body and minds call for attention. I like the idea of “Marrying myself” before I Marry him: I accept and love me as i am in this very moment, with all the flaws, Wow to not betray, and to take good care of me. All the best.

  • egerth

    Just want to say a big ME TOO! In my case, I had never struggled with anxiety, although it’s something my parents had both had issues with, but about a month after our engagement (to my partner of 5+ years, who I already been living with for a year and half), I made a decision to try hormonal birth control. That, combined with the engagement and whatever else was going on, kicked off a severe anxiety spiral that included panic attacks and insomnia. With meds, some therapy, some meditation, massage, and just time, I slowly began to feel like myself again. By the time the wedding came around 14 months later, the only anxiety I had was just pre-wedding jitters that melted the second the ceremony started. And in the two months post-wedding, I’ve been so happy.

    Because of the timing, I wondered on some level whether it was cold feet. But I knew in my gut that it wasn’t that; what I was experiencing wasn’t logical, it was deeper and much less specific. Maybe it was just about growing up (plus hormones). I’m not sure I’ll ever understand it fully. So I want to add that just because other transitions have gone well and this one hasn’t, doesn’t mean it’s the wrong one.

    I want to echo that your partner can (and I hope will) be a huge support. For me, having him support me through that period and seeing that we could weather that stress together was maybe the only good thing that came out of all that anxiety.

  • anon

    I had never felt anything that I would call anxiety until I moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) and suddenly became convinced that something horrible was going to happen–one or both of us was going to develop cancer, the house was going to burn down, or I was going to find out a terrible dark secret of his. Every time one of us left in the car I was certain a fatal accident was imminent. I finally talked with a therapist who suggested that making it real–moving in together–was a really big step and said that many people experienced this kind of thing. I did finally settle down, although it took longer than I expected. Hang in there and take care of yourself.

  • God Hand

    Weird

  • MTM

    I can’t figure out how to send this is but there’s a typo in the heading:
    “AAPW: How can I tell if my axiety’s normal?”

    • Violet

      Do you mean the double “A”? I think it’s Ask A Practical Wedding, or, AAPW.

      • MTM

        The missing n in anxiety.

        • Violet

          hahaha, gotcha!

    • MTM

      And, of course, I type is instead of in.

  • InHK

    I got engaged a couple weeks before my now-husband moved to Hong Kong. He was gone and I was living with my parents. I felt like something wonderful (us getting married) being right around the corner was the perfect opportunity for ill fate to strike. I worried he would die – a lot. It literally kept me up at night. When he came home before the wedding, I straight up couldn’t fall asleep unless he was next to me. We hadn’t planned to, but we spent the night before the wedding together. I couldn’t sleep otherwise and didn’t want to be tired on our wedding day. (10/10 would do again. Waking up and saying, “We’re getting married today!” was awesome.)

    The day we got married was the day my anxiety quit.

  • LucyPirates

    This is your anxiety speaking – not your gut.

    My cousin moved into a perfect house with her perfect boyfriend a week before Christmas some years ago and against this backdrop of Disney-esque proportions (I must add she is also stunningly beautiful) she then proceeded to start asking odd questions and having little panic attacks that then escalated into full blown.
    She felt she had no feelings towards her guy, she had made a mistake, what if she wasn’t really in love and it was all a mistake? etc. She didn’t feel relaxed in the house that she had chosen and was so excited to move into etc. And the worse part was that from the outside, no one could understand why she of all people should be anxious with her ‘perfect life.’ However just because she seemed to have everything, didn’t mean that my cousin didn’t feel the way she did.

    In the end, a combination of talking, a chat to a therapist and various other things seemed to calm her after a while, but she especially needed time and patience from her family and boyfriend – It was just as bad for her bf because he did not understand and was blaming himself.
    Normally I wouldn’t have shared her story but your story was ringing so many bells and it was a big ‘life event’ for her that really triggered it (First house bought / going home to live with close knit family first that she loves = permanent ‘OMG this is forever I will be stuck with him and this house for the rest of my life…’)

    You will be fine – talk to someone and do what you need to do to get yourself and your guy to understand this is a blip in your way of thinking, triggered by something and you can work through it. X

  • two words – http://www.conscious-transitions.com. This is so so so so (x100) normal. Seriously. I experienced the same and I have researched this, along with met countless others who experience the same. The work of Sheryl Paul saved me. She is a pioneer in transition anxiety/ wedding anxiety/etc. She was actually featured on this site years ago. She has a book called The Conscious Bride as well. Seriously. Just know this is so normal, you are not alone, and that the fear emerges when we’re safe enough to face it head on; it’s a call to heal wounds and address ingrained false beliefs that we can transition not only from single to married, but from a place of being fear’s victim, to being fully committed to showing up for ourselves and taking the reigns of your life. Weddings are deep existential things. Expect shit to come up. :)

  • I struggle with anxiety as well and usually if I get to a place where I’m sort of panicking and can’t really tell if I’m making the right choice, I just take a breather for a bit and make sure I’m taking care of myself. I also talk to my partner, because it’s easier on our relationship for him to know what’s going on and that I’m working on it by doing X or Y. And I make a conscious effort not to make any big choices and to cut myself some slack while I’m going through it.

  • liquorandice

    As someone who gets major anxiety with changes in circumstances (changing jobs, moving city and moving house are unbelievably sickeningly stressful – and hats off to the LW for doing all this in one year!) I can empathise with your situation. I also think from the way you describe your fiance, you love him, he loves you, and you are happy together.

    I might be totally off here, but can I share my own experience of love and anxiety? For me, I knew pretty quickly that I loved my now-husband; and I could imagine us getting married. BUT the actual prospect of making that commitment would cause me so much anxiety that I would shy away from it. I knew that he wanted to propose, and he knew I wasn’t ready. Every birthday, Christmas, and anniversary for the first year or two I would have anxiety beforehand thinking that he might propose… and I’d feel disappointed when he didn’t, but also quite relieved. At one point I felt so sure he was about to, that I even asked him not to.

    And then one day, I realised I no longer felt anxious about it. And that feeling stayed with me. And so I started a conversation with him, and a few weeks later he formally proposed. From proposal to wedding was just 8 months, and I’ve never felt happier or more certain about anything.

    So if it’s just a year since you met, maybe it’s not him, maybe it’s not your brain chemistry, maybe it’s just the pace of change is overwhelming right now? That would be normal* for me, anyway.

    I also wonder what does the engagement mean to you guys? For us, engagement would have (and did) mean immediately starting wedding planning, setting a date, introducing our parents to each other… and this I could not have done until the time we did it. For some of my friends, engagement can mean a promise to be married, but no immediacy to make plans.

    The reason I’m wondering is – can you slow things down a little, and give yourself time to adjust to living together, and just being you and him, enjoying being together? That, and time, is what helped me have the confidence to trust in the day by day miracle of loving, and being loved, by the most amazing man in my world. And in the end, that’s all that really counts.

  • Off-topic, but in the tagline, the n is missing from anxiety.

    Also, I was so glad to see this because this is exactly what I have been worrying about and I’ve read it and read the comments again and again and again over the past few days many multiple times to reassure me that I am ok and it will be ok. My fear of change is battling my love of commitment and my love of my partner and it’s a very close fight. So thank you for reassurance. Thank you thank you thank you.

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  • alicemk

    I totally could have written this letter… there is nothing wrong with you. My engagement also sent me into what seemed like a constant string of anxiety attacks. Being engaged is happy but it also marks a major life transition, and transitions can be terrifying. I highly recommend the Emotionally Engaged website (www.emotionallyengaged.com)— that really helped to normalize things for me. I always knew deep down that the anxiety wasn’t about my fiance, it was about this huge change occurring in my life. Deep breaths, honey.

  • I realize I might be late to this party, but I can completely sympathize with the letter writer. I, too, got surprised with an engagement 2 weeks after we moved in together, and let me tell you, the results were.. disappointing. I knew I wanted to marry this man, but overcoming the OH SH*T I JUST DID THIS was a bit daunting. I was endlessly anxious, excited, and sick to my stomach all at once. Although we had been talking about marriage, I wasn’t expecting the proposal so soon, and I immediately had all the “but my independence?!” thoughts. One year later (and still 16 months to go until our wedding) I’m on a much more solid foundation. Fiance and I have talked endlessly about our future, and knowing that he stuck beside me for all of my worry and indecision made me that much more sure of our future together. (Long engagement definitely helped.)

    Good luck! Anxiety is a beast to overcome, but there is a light at the end of this particular tunnel.

  • Lana

    I’ve had issues with anxiety throughout my life. As is common, they worsened during my teenage years, stuck around during my college years, and I finally started seeing a therapist and taking medication in my mid-20s, which helped, but very, very slowly. I’ve been engaged for over a year and a half, and our wedding is in three days. A few months after our engagement, I developed thoughts that are symptomatic of relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder – constantly doubting your feelings for your partner and having fears that you have or will fall out of love. I have struggled with these thoughts and feelings on and off for over a year now. At first they were extremely scary and intense. Then they would disappear, only to come back and leave yet again. With the wedding so close, I have been struggling with these feelings again for the last couple of weeks. Of course thinking that this should be one of the happiest and most exciting times in my life doesn’t help. I feel a bit anxious and a bit depressed. I have absolutely no intentions of calling the wedding off, and logically, I know that going ahead with the marriage is the right decision. I also feel like it’s the right decision…Basically I feel AND think that I’m in love with my husband-to-be and want to marry him, but this little voice in my head keeps asking, “Are you sure your thoughts are correct? Are you sure your feelings are correct?” It’s crazy. I think about getting back on medication sometimes, but right now would like to tough it out. It’s bee a long road, and I don’t see it ending any time soon, all that I hope is that I’ll make the best of it.

  • Jennifer

    I feel you…I was a hot mess for the first month of engagement. Like, let me go ugly cry in the bathroom at work right now. So, even for someone who doesn’t have an anxiety disorder it’s a very stressful time and it comes out unexpectedly sometimes. For me, I figured out that a lot of my anxiousness about it was that I had a gripping fear about how to go about telling my ex that I was now engaged to someone else. It was a very tough conversation to have but I did it…That was a couple months ago now and I have noticed that any anxiety I was having before has dissipated. I think part of myself was also afraid of making the wrong decision or what if we end up getting divorced, etc. My brother helped talk me through that by just reminding me that whatever happens down the road is okay. If you make a decision today that you want to undo at some later date you have to allow yourself that freedom. This sounds terrible on a wedding website, but honestly the idea of divorce is an elephant in the room and it is a legit fear. Everyone wants to do this once and do it right! But, for me, just having someone I really care about say to me that whatever happens it’s going to be okay–that really helped take some of the PRESSURE OFF. I’m no therapist but, for me, making an honest effort to get to the bottom of my feelings definitely helped me sort out what was real and needed to be addressed and what I just needed to tweak my perspective about. Talking it out followed by giving myself some space from it was a combo which worked well for me. I know I’m late to this post so I’m hoping you’re sorted it all out already :) All of commenters before have so much valuable insight. I didn’t realize other people had anxiety about their engagements until I saw your post…I guess I should have realized that it must be somewhat normal to feel this way heading into milestone life events.

  • Sarah

    2 years later…thank you. Thank you, thank you. For the original post, and for all the comments. I am 2 months away from my wedding with a 2-year engagement under my belt, and it has been a rollercoatser ride. I’ve wrestled with anxiety and depression for years, plus low self-esteem, codependency with my family, etc., all of which has made it hard to make this decision and transition. I identify with the person who was proposed to sooner than expected–that happened to me, and it was enormously stressful because I just wasn’t ready. My situation is complicated by the fact that my fiancé is a recovering addict and has relapsed twice in the 4.5 years I’ve known him (the last time a few months after we got engaged), and I’ve had to acknowledge the real role that plays in my anxiety while separating that out from the constant questioning and uncertainty that doesn’t seem to be grounded in reality. I don’t trust myself to make such a big decision as getting married–I’ve always struggled with self-confidence around such choices, whether taking a job, moving, starting or stopping a hobby, even little things–and I have to remind myself that’s not unique to marriage; it’s every choice and transition I’ve ever made. It means so much to be able to read about others’ experiences, because it’s so hard to talk about this with anyone. It’s hard to find anyone who understands and isn’t going to tell me to call it off (not that I wouldn’t if it were the right thing to do, but that’s not what I want), and although my fiancé and I talk about it some, it’s hard on him for obvious reasons. Anyway, thank you for letting me know I’m not alone. ❤️