How to Overcome Anxiety and Save Your Sex Life
With all the uncertainty that comes with being an adult—especially given the events of the past year or more—it's no surprise that a lot of people experience occasional anxiety. When it goes beyond that, however, it becomes something more.
Anxiety is classified as a disorder when its effects last for more than six months and impact your everyday life. And it doesn't come in just one flavor. There are many types of anxiety disorders, and each one carries its own label and symptoms.
For me, anxiety manifested as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and social anxiety disorder. While at first I thought these disorders had no effect on my sex life, the lasting symptoms of my anxiety, such as feelings of fear, irritability and sleeplessness, made enjoying sex nearly impossible.
Sexual effects of anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common disorders, especially for women, and one of anxiety's most surprising effects is on sexual performance and enjoyment.
In my experience, when the panic hits, I find it impossible to focus on anything other than my anxiety. With regard to sex, I could be in the heat of the moment, and panic would pop up and destroy my sex drive.
Anxiety-induced performance issues can cause vaginal dryness, difficulty getting and staying aroused, and a lack of sexual pleasure. Such issues arise because anxiety is a fight-or-flight response, so it pulls the blood flow to your vital organs for survival and leaves your erogenous zones desensitized for sex.
The worst part of this whole experience? While I was not enjoying sex, my partner thought he was to blame, which created a whole new set of anxieties. At first, I ignored my problems and hoped they would go away as quickly as they had appeared. Unfortunately, that made the situation so much worse.
Talk to your partner
Before I accepted my anxiety, my partner would often ask me if I was OK, if he was doing something wrong or if he was to blame for my performance issues. The truth is, I didn't know what was wrong. It wasn't until I sought the help of a cognitive-behavioral therapist that I realized my anxiety was causing all of these intimacy problems.
Once I was diagnosed, I was able to talk to my partner about my symptoms, their triggers and the causes of my anxiety. I started the conversation by discussing how my anxiety made me feel. He asked questions and was able to better understand how my anxiety was able to ruin our sexual encounters. While this conversation was uncomfortable at first, we were able to clear the air, and I discovered that he was experiencing his own level of anxiety as a result of our sexual issues.
As I continued to work with my counselor, my partner was better able to support me, and with patience and time, our sex life improved. Overcoming my anxiety was a long road, and while talking about it openly helped my partner understand, it was not a quick fix.
Overcome your anxiety
In my case, I was able to treat my anxiety naturally. I started going to counseling twice a week and was able to reduce my visits over the course of a few months. In addition to counseling, however, many other treatments are available that might be necessary.
Many doctors recommend that anxiety sufferers change their diet and reduce their caffeine and alcohol consumption, because these stimulants can increase the frequency and duration of anxiety attacks.
Daily exercise can help reduce physical symptoms, such as feeling jittery, sweating and irritability. Personally, I find exerting energy during my daily workouts is most beneficial, as it gives me an outlet for my irritability and can help me feel like I'm doing something about my panic. Exercise can also help you fall asleep faster and avoid those late-night anxiety sessions.
The medication stigma
For many people, anxiety cannot be treated with natural remedies, and there is no shame in this. Anxiety is a medical condition, and like any other mental disorder, it is often caused by a chemical imbalance that can only be treated with pharmacological intervention.
If you have tried the treatments discussed so far and are still having trouble coping with your anxiety, you need to talk to your doctor and try one of the many medications that can help you cope. Once you overcome your anxiety, it's possible to enjoy sex again, and understanding your mental health will help prevent future sexual problems caused by your anxiety.