Most of us are familiar with the hormonal rush and exhilaration of a new relationship—the magnetic attraction and new-found intimacy make for a thrilling beginning. But as a relationship grows and matures, this “honeymoon period” wanes and, as a life is built together, careers, families and other responsibilities can push sex to the back seat (figuratively). Add a struggle with anxiety to the mix and enjoying intimacy might feel impossible. (But, these ways to improve your sex life may help.)
Nothing is worse for the libido than the panic and worry that accompany this mental health struggle. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to keep anxious feelings at bay and recapture some of the passion of your carefree early days. (Here’s what it’s like to be a parent with anxiety.)
We reached out to educator Elizabeth Wiener and clinical psychotherapist Lisa Brookman of Wise Women Canada for their advice.
I’ve lived with generalized anxiety disorder my whole life, and one of its most annoying characteristics is the toll it takes on my ability to focus. When I’m feeling anxious, I tend to ruminate. It often feels like my thoughts are on a treadmill and I’m unable to control the speed. Given its intensity, anxious thinking is incredibly distracting, and it can be difficult to concentrate on anything else—sex included. How can you feel romantic when you’re consumed with panic and worry?
Through my psychotherapy sessions, I’ve learned that the hallmark of anxiety is negative thinking about the future. A great way to moderate these thoughts is to ground yourself in the present. When my partner and I are in the mood and I’m feeling anxious, there are a few tricks I use to help me be in the moment. I like to play music that triggers memories of good times in our relationship, including songs from the early days of our courtship, when we’d have hot and heavy make-out sessions in the car. I also like to practice guided mindfulness with an app on my phone before we get between the sheets. It helps regulate my breathing and keeps me in the present, which takes some of the power away from those anxious thoughts. Finally, watching a sexy movie can be a great distraction that helps shift the focus from anguish to arousal.
In my psychotherapy practice, I’ve seen the toll that anxiety, whether situational or chronic, takes on my clients’ lives. The relentless feelings of panic and worry and their related physical and psychological symptoms can negatively impact their careers, social lives and relationships, particularly those with their romantic partners. I often hear clients express concern that the ruminations, fatigue and feelings of distress associated with anxiety are a roadblock to intimacy.
The problem here is the equation of intimacy to sex. The fact is, intimacy in a relationship comprises so much more than time spent between the sheets. It is affection, closeness, trust and understanding, and it’s more about an emotional connection with your partner than a physical one. I tell my clients who experience anxiety to take the pressure off. If they’re feeling vulnerable mentally, their focus is best spent on developing open and honest communication rather than getting it on. Gentle physical affection, such as hugging and holding hands, can be soothing and actually raise levels of serotonin and dopamine—two feel-good neurotransmitters that can boost mood and reduce stress. Not only that, but the combination of communication, validation and affection can be a great aphrodisiac.
Next, read about the super common thing that happens when a couple stops having sex.
Elizabeth Wiener is an educator who lives with depression and anxiety. Lisa Brookman is a clinical psychotherapist based in Montreal. Together, they form WiseWomenCanada.com. Follow them at @wisewomencanada.