Is my anxiety and overthinking self-induced?

Question: “I have been struggling with anxiety with decisions throughout my life. I struggled with it while deciding if I wanted to play college football where I would just not decide because I was so scared of the outcomes or “what if” that other option is better, when I was on my mission I would not want to leave the apartment basically every day because I didn’t want to start talking to people (sunday’s were nice for me because I didn’t have to talk to strangers until later in the day), I had this anxiety in past relationships, I have had this when it has come to worthiness for 8 months I struggled, I have had this when I first moved out to school the first time and I was there alone and depressed (this one was very difficult), and I have also struggled in deciding on a apartment where I got really worked up and couldn’t just commit to an option. This is the most important decision of my life (marriage) and I realize that it’s also the heaviest anxiety I have had in addition with a new job and situation. Her and I get along really well and she is truly a great person. I have realized a lot of my anxiety is self-induced.

I am a 24 year old man who just graduated from an LDS college got a job and moved out to the West Coast where I have no friend nor family nearby. There have been a lot of transitions in just this alone. On top of that I also started dating a girl, before leaving BYU, and she wanted to marry me. I was having a anxiety roller coaster where some days I was super excited about the possibility about marrying her and then the next day I was super scared or dull feelings. Ultimately when I looked at it simply I realized we are very much compatible, we can have fun together, we share very similar beliefs and the gospel is what’s important to us. With this in mind and also the feeling I have the blessing of the Lord I took the step of faith and proposed to her. Fast forward a month and a half and we are getting married in a little over 2 weeks. I still have this roller coaster of anxiety and dull feelings (depersonalisation?) Then I also have those great days occasionally with her. What has also added to this anxiety is the fact that we having been doing long distance since leaving Utah. Besides a 2.5 weeks visit we have been apart. As for the anxiety itself. I have noticed a rather interesting cycle. One day it might be on matters of worthiness (I have a perfectionism mentality sometimes). After that’s resolved in my brain it may move onto my anxiety of intimacy (most of my life I have felt like it’s bad and to avoid or I get excited for it and seem like I may be sinning), if it’s not that sometimes I wonder if I am making the right decision or if I love her or love her enough. With these I have had series of panic attacks that immobile me and make it difficult. I have gone to the temple several times and some times it’s a great experience at the temple and I feel so much peace and love. I also get taught in these moments and feel assured to keep going. Then other times I go to the temple I have moments of anxiety and panic. I also noticed while helping out with sealings that my anxiety lie with the marriage itself primarily. This was also good though because it helped me face my fear of marriage. Either way, I have noticed this cycle. Then on top of this I have noticed a depersonalisation feeling after several panic attacks where I just don’t feel anything. I don’t feel sad nor happy. I’m just there. In these moments I can actually sleep (which has it’s plus side!) but I have found it hard to express my feelings to my fiancee. And this is hard for her, especially when we are around each other because she wants to greet meet and be all romantic and what not (she is more like this often and I compare myself against that sometimes). (what I mean by that is hugging and kissing and all). But I just don’t feel like that and I notice when I talk to her about those things she gets hurt. So half the time I am afraid to bring it up. Consequently I feel sometimes I project these negative feelings on to her and I am sometimes scared to see/talk to her. I also feel these feelings come because of something I have noticed about myself. I don’t understand this nor how to fix it. I have noticed in my life that when is a girl is rather forward abou! t anything in the realm of dating, and relationship topics I get scared and push away. Either way, I have found other sites where they discuss the anxiety in engagement, particularly by Sheryl Paul and I feel I have a lot of those similar feelings. Because then I wonder if I love her and if so how much. This also consequently makes me fearful of intimacy even more because what if I don’t want to. Then on this topic I have noticed my desires are there as well and as a result I over think that too. I sometimes wonder if those desires are ok for me to be having. My bishop and father both say yes and that it is actually a great thing to have that (and would be nervous if I didn’t have those feelings). Either way, I sometimes feel like a emotional wreck. Then I get concerned in that excitement if those are the only reasons I would be getting married. I am often assured by the fact that there are many reasons why I have decided to marry her and those feelings didn’t come strong until after I decided to marry her. The funny thing about this too is I then fear sometimes when I don’t have those desires. Then as a result that makes me question how it’ll be when we get into marriage. These are the things I do know. I know we are compatible and we build off each others strengths and weaknesses. I know I have loved her and I know I will love her (I just get in these weird slumps). I know we are both really good people. I know she is a great woman with so much potential. I know I have wanted to marry her. I also know I would be acting very similar now as I probably would with anyone else. I have had anxiety in past relationships I just didn’t realize that until this one. I also know this is the best decision I could make and one of the best women I have ever met. I also know that the Lord has helped me so many different times in this direction (given I know it’s my decision but I have just seen the hand of the Lord). Either way, I just want to get out of this cycle. I know we will make a great team and I just need help. I mean I have had moments where I have been like, “why are we not getting married sooner?!” Then other moments of being all twitterpated. So it’s just interesting. I have noticed I feel like I am basing a lot of what I understand about marriage on the few things I have heard about it. Which makes me feel like I have expectations with it that isn’t the case. You’re help will be greatly appreciated.”

Answer: Thank you so much for writing in, I can tell you put a lot of time and energy into explaining your situation which was helpful. It is pretty evident from the details and circumstances that you mentioned in your question that you were battling anxiety. Anxiety comes in many forms, some of what you were dealing with is obsessive worry and obsessive thinking. When you’re thinking of things you tend to ruminate meaning that you think over and over about the same things in the brain continues to question itself wondering if you’re making the right decision and in that wonderment becoming more and more doubtful unless sure. This kind of obsessive thinking can be really destructive with respect to decision-making thus the struggle you’re having making decisions about leaving college dating and possibly marriage. Individuals that struggle with anxiety often have very rigid modes of thinking meaning that their minds are not that flexible or do not tend operate that way just perfectionism and things needing to be a certain way becomes a significant issue. One of the most significant things you could do right now would be to begin allowing your mind to be much more flexible. Flexibility means giving yourself permission for things to not always need to be a certain way in order for you to feel comfortable that there can be and often is a variety of outcomes many of which will work. You mentioned the possibility of your becoming married soon. I think it’s important that you talk about this particular struggle with your fiancĂ© as she needs to be aware of the struggle as well as the role that she might have been supporting you in it. It’s important for you to be upfront candid and honest so that she is aware that this is a battle for you. Also, I’m not sure from your question how long you dated but I think it’s significant that you not only engage in courtship but that you have honest candid conversations and get to know each other, something which often does not happen with Lds individuals who live in a culture within which marriage often happens quickly and before they really come to know each other very well. The divorce rate among LDS and non-LDS individuals is about the same, 50% so just because you might be getting married in the temple that does not necessarily guarantee you a happy, stable, and successful marriage. It’s important that you get to know one another normally the family history and background but the strengths weaknesses and talents each one of you has.

I think it’s important that you begin doing some reading to better understand the obsessive thinking and your struggle with trusting yourself. If you are more fully able to trust yourself or the brain was able to trust itself you wouldn’t worry and perseverate around the questions that you have been with respect to marriage and other things. Anxiety is essentially fear of the future, your mind often ends up upsetting and thinking over and over about things that you may not know that could happen. Have a couple different options some of which is simply learning to not worry so much by reading a book called, The Worry Trap … You can go ahead and Google it and look it up online it would be a good read and very helpful for you and not worrying so much about the decisions you make. Some of what’s happening here is called OCD. Obsessive compulsive order is not necessarily just compulsive handwashing or fear of germs or checking doors and locks, the obsession you’re dealing with is a constant questioning of your ability to make choices and stick with them because you’re fearful of the outcome I don’t trust the decisions you make will be what you really want. It’s session that you consistently appear to be wrapped up in his worry about whether or not you made the right decision, and the compulsion that meets that obsession is your thinking about it over and over with the belief that by thinking just a little bit more your brain will be able to sort it out when in reality the very brain that created the question often without the right tools will not find the answer. Doing some reading as well within texts that you can find on Amazon about excessive thinking would be very helpful in learning the patterns that your brain has become entrenched in which almost feel involuntary because there so automatic to you.

It might be really helpful for you to find an individual counselor in your area that you can speak with about anxiety, which is fear of the future and the obsessive thinking that you’ve been engaged in for sometime now. This would help you sort out fact from fiction and allow you to for your mind up to less worry so that has more time to feel anxiety-free and able to move and live more authentically and fully within all of your relationships.