About 7.5 million unmarried couples — roughly 15 million Americans — made the decision to live together in the same home in 2009, according to the US Census Bureau. If you’re considering moving in with a girlfriend, boyfriend, partner or spouse, but are cautious because of your anxiety, you’re not alone.
More than 40 million adults in the United States battle a diagnosed anxiety disorder. That’s a little over 18 percent of the population. While this mental illness is one of the most treatable, especially if treatment begins early on, it also means that typical life changes can be more stressful and emotionally taxing. From starting a new job to a new relationship, managing anxiety during major life changes requires a very specific and intentional state of mind. This couldn’t be more true for one of the biggest life changes almost everyone faces at one time or another — moving in with a significant other.
If you deal with an anxiety disorder, from social to obsessive compulsive to panic, you’ll want to be very mindful about the moving in process so that you can maintain a calm, smooth level as often as you can.
Big life changes can be incredibly stressful, but also simple and wonderful — and they can often be both. If you’re concerned about managing your anxiety while moving in with your significant other, this guide gives you a few scenarios to consider, along with four coping techniques to get you through the roughest parts.
1. Plan, Plan, Plan
First things first, it’s important to recognize why you two are moving in together, and having more than one reason is a good sign. It shouldn’t be solely a financial decision — that level of dependence often isn’t healthy even for some marriages — but it also shouldn’t be purely emotional, either. When you have a clear understanding of why you’re encouraged to take this next step, you’ll have a better grasp of how to plan the move and establish realistic expectations.
A lot of anxiety comes from facing the unknown — and few things are more uncertain than love. Talk to your partner to decide, together, what you need to be on the same page about. Brainstorm some ways to give some certainty to the unknown by:
- Developing a realistic time frame for the move that you are both comfortable with.
- Sharing a list of common triggers that can rattle your anxiety and how to deal with them — together.
- Deciding on places and areas you both want to live in and can afford.
- Determining how much space you need and creating a list of items that you want to take and what you’re willing to purge.
- Making a fair budget for the move and living together. Finances are a major reason couples argue and split up. Talking about it before you even start packing is a smart choice to ease anxiety.
- Understanding what this possibly means for your future — even if there is no rush to any sort of finish line.
2. Cultivate with the Right Attitude
Now that you have a plan drawn out, it’s not a guarantee that things are going to go smoothly from here to the end of time. You are going to have to come to terms with the fact that part of this will be out of your control, and even out of your partner’s control. When you feel bombarded by all of the things that could go wrong, think about the things that could go right. For each negative thought, consider the opposite scenario — what would it be like if this didn’t happen, but a completely wonderful thing happened instead? You can pull yourself out of an anxious spiral when you begin to get excited for the good times to come.
Some glitches are likely going to happen. Your partner might hate your couch or have too many books to fit into a space you both can afford. The movers might show up late, or the house you love gets taken just as you were writing the check for the deposit. Remind yourself that these aren’t deal breakers. A couch is just a material possession, and a new one is an excuse for some fun housewarming shopping. And if you just accept from the beginning that moving day will have a few mishaps, you’ll have taken one step toward facing anxiety with a positive attitude.
3. Fill Your Anxiety Arsenal with the Right Tools
No one knows your struggle with anxiety better than you. That also means you are the perfect person to plan for triggers and prepare your partner — and yourself — for how to handle them. Coming up with a list of positive coping mechanisms, maybe even some the two of you can do together, can actually be a way to deal with anxiety in and of itself. When you start to feel anxiety coming on, remember you can:
- Practice mindful breathing to help lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Easing the physical symptoms of anxiety can also help calm your mind.
- Unwind your mind with a relaxing massage, facial or yoga class. Do something that encourages you to take it easy and rest your thoughts.
- Exercise the jitters away. Plus, exercising gives you a solid boost of endorphins, which elevate your levels of happiness and pleasure. Tackling anxiety with exercise can help you not only purge anxious thoughts, but walk away with happier ones.
- Reflect on hard times that you’ve gotten through, whether as a couple or an individual. Build up your confidence and tell yourself that you are strong enough to handle anything.
- Talk with your therapist or counselor. Sometimes, just saying the words aloud that express your feelings can settle anxiety. If you know this transition could upset your sense of balance, you might want to schedule more frequent sessions or start seeing a mental health professional, if you weren’t already.
- Be proactive about problem-solving. Every problem has a solution. Meld minds with your partner to tackle any anxiety-inducing situations together. And if you can’t solve it, don’t hold on to it. Give yourself permission to let some things go.
4. Communicate Openly and Honestly
Keep a running list of the things you feel anxious about, and take time and space to think about the reasons why they bother you. Just keep asking yourself, “Why am I afraid of this?” or “Why do I think this will happen?” Share your list with your partner, and even encourage him or her to contribute to it. Even if they don’t have anxiety disorder, they will still likely have a few things they, too, are nervous about. You might find it comforting to know if you are anxious about similar things.
Don’t bottle up your emotions. Don’t convince yourself to deal with them on your own, as that could fuel them to fester and grow. Be honest about how you’re feeling, but also listen to your partner’s responses. Together, you’ll need to come up with a way to communicate that allows you both to feel positively about the results.
Major life changes, like moving in with a partner, are stressful no matter what. There are many common experiences you can plan for, but your anxiety adds a different dimension to the situation. Just remember that you’re not alone. Be open and honest with your partner about your experiences so you can work together to create a positive support system.