If you’re in a long distance relationship and happen to be a natural worrier like me, your anxiety has probably affected your LDR in one way or another.
- Travel anxiety
- Anxiety about challenges you and your partner are facing when you can’t see them (like emergencies or family situations)
- Having to cope with everyday stress / worries without a partner being physically there
- Anxiety about the status of the relationship when you can’t interact spontaneously
I had what could probably be called ‘moderate’ anxiety throughout my early and mid-20s. Throughout the two years my current partner and I were long distance, we faced serious illness, careers/study taking over our lives at various points, and (finally, when we decided to move in together) the difficulty of house-hunting together whilst we were miles apart. Luckily, he’s the most wonderful person and was always there to support me, even when I’d be fretting about things I couldn’t change. We got through it all and I learned plenty about how to manage my own anxiety – so I thought I’d share some of that here.
Now, I’m no expert on mental wellbeing and can only speak from my own experience – yours may be very different, so some of this might not apply to you. Please check out the professional resources at the end of this post for help and advice from qualified people.
That aside, here are the things that helped me and which you might like to try too 🙂
1. Agree on a routine for visits and dates
Spontaneity may be romantic, but always having to make plans on the fly is a recipe for feeling rushed and stressed out.
Decide together on a regular routine for visits, so that you’re not constantly trying to guess how often to visit and so that you can freely make other plans around your chosen dates. It can also be really helpful to schedule in some standing virtual dates throughout the week as well (for example, Friday and Tuesday nights are always date nights) – this way you won’t always be stressing about who is calling who and how often.
If you’re both comfortable sharing your schedules, you could even create a shared calendar using Raft, Google Calendars or any other app that allows for syncing of diaries.
Some people might think this kind of practical planning is hopelessly unromantic, but I disagree. There is a value and comfort to standardising some of the things you do together all the time – it doesn’t make them any less exciting or beautiful!
2. Plan ahead for your travel
Travel anxiety is a whole post in itself, but here are just a few strategies I rely on these days to make things as easy as possible:
- Buy and collect tickets well in advance
I know it’s common sense, but far too many times I’ve been standing at the ticket machine in the train station, worriedly checking the clock whilst waiting for that little slip of paper – avoid, if possible!
- Sort out some distractions
Download your favourite playlists, Netflix shows, games, audiobooks etc. ahead of time (white noise and ASMR have helped me plenty with travel anxiety – I know they’re not for everyone but it could be worth a try!)
- Bring something to eat and drink
Because travel anxiety is way worse when you’re thirsty and your blood sugar levels are all over the place.
- Arrange to check in with your partner during the journey
Whenever I’d struggle with long train rides, there was nothing like a text from my partner to motivate me to keep going. A reminder that soon there’d be good food and Xbox games always made the journey just a bit more bearable!
- Practice your ‘leaving the house routine’ multiple times
If you’re worried that you’re going to leave your passport at home or that you haven’t factored in enough time to get going before your trip, do a trial run multiple times. By the time the real journey rolls around, it’ll be automatic.
Check out the rest of my travel advice here.
3. Be honest with your partner about your anxiety
In a long distance relationship, it’s really easy (and sometimes tempting!) to hide what is going on in your life, including mental health and anxiety. You might think you don’t want to worry your partner or ‘burden’ them with your issues. Or you might have rationalised that you have so little time to spend together during your visits that it makes sense to put on a brave face whenever you’re around them.
In the long run, this is likely to make things more difficult. Hiding something so important can be a lonely experience – plus, if you don’t tell them, you’re removing any possibility of them being able to support you through it.
Let your partner know about your anxiety. Be specific about what situations tend to trigger it and what helps to calm you down when you feel anxious.
4. Don’t isolate yourself because you’re in a LDR
I won’t go on about this for too long, since I have done elsewhere, but if you find yourself doing fewer and fewer things that don’t involve your S.O., brainstorm some ideas for other ways to connect with people in your life (or meet new ones) and interests you could develop.
5. Avoid negative clickbait about LDRs
I believe in being realistic about LDRs: like regular relationships, they don’t always work out and they can be just as vulnerable to serious relationship problems as any other kind of partnership. It’s important to write about these things. But there are also lots of headlines and online forum threads perpetuating myths and stereotypes, e.g. ’10 reasons LDRs never work out in the end’ or ‘why cheating is inevitable for long distance couples’.
If you find yourself going down an internet rabbit hole of negative articles, try to think about things objectively. Are you looking for information because there’s something you want to bring up with your partner? If so, try to talk to them – it’s not easy, but communicating directly is always better than letting the issue sit for ages, creating anxiety. On the other hand, if there isn’t any real reason for it (or not one that you can put your finger on) try to remember that distance makes it easy to catastrophise.
Why do I say this? Well, because our minds tend to fill in the blanks, and there are a lot more ‘blanks’ (i.e. time when you’re not seeing your partner or talking to them) in a LDR.
SANE has a good article on catastrophising and how you can avoid it – check it out here 🙂
6. Expect some things work differently to a regular relationship
Of course you already know that LDRs are different to regular relationships. But it’s surprising the things we tend to overlook.
For example, virtual dates can be wonderful, but they can sometimes feel more awkward than face-to-face dates. In one situation, you’re logging in specifically to talk to one another, where if you were physically together you’d be doing other things – e.g. hanging out, watching Netflix, going for a run in the park…
These are two extremely different types of contact with another person, and yet people often don’t adjust their expectations accordingly. As a result, one common issue for long distance couples is running out of things to talk about during FaceTime or Zoom calls. This normally fills people with doubt about whether the relationship is working – when (in my opinion) there isn’t necessarily any need to jump to that conclusion.
Another example is time zone differences – these are often seen as a big obstacle for long distance couples, but they can also be a great opportunity.
7. Practice self-care
I’m not going to talk about healthy diets, plenty of sleep and getting some exercise here – you already know all that (although I will put in a special word here for cutting out caffeine as much as possible – this has done amazing things for my anxiety).
What I’ve found is that anxiety can be a really physical experience – racing heartbeat, jitters, feeling dizzy/disoriented… At times like this, having your partner there can be very grounding. Sometimes you long for the feeling of arms around you and someone telling you it’s going to be okay.
This is where I find it can be really helpful to get out of my head and focus on physical sensations. For me, this means stimulating the senses with music, different flavours and hot baths. It doesn’t always work 100%, but it definitely helps.
Many people find the sensation of pressure very soothing, so I’d also suggest getting your hands on some kind of weighted blanket. If you’ve never heard of these, they look like a quilt and are filled with beads that distribute weight over the body and they’re known to reduce feelings of anxiety in some people.
The general ‘rule’ for best results is to get one that is 10% of your body weight, give or take 1 or 2 pounds. They can be a bit pricey, so if you can’t afford the real deal, you can improvise to some extent by just piling on several regular blankets (this is what I did when money was tight, although of course this won’t be as effective as a specially-made blanket. You can even make your own blanket if you’re skilled with a sewing machine (here’s a great article that shows you how to do just that).
8. Access some professional resources
I live in the UK, so this section is inevitably slanted towards the UK organisations I know about, but it’s always worth doing a Google for equivalents in your own country (and many of these resources will be useful regardless of location).
Here are three good options for finding advice from qualified people:
- Some UK companies and organisations have a free, confidential 24 hour telephone counselling service as part of their employee benefits. If you’re not sure if your company offers this, it’s worth finding out.
- Online therapy, like Betterhelp, My Online Therapy, etc. – I’ve not used these yet, but I have heard good things about them.
- Mind, SANE and Anxiety UK all have online resources about mental health.
9. Write things down
Whether you favour a bullet journal, a ramble on a word processor (whether or not you delete it afterwards) or even a spreadsheet (useful for tracking your sleep, diet and so on – I’m a total geek for a spreadsheet!), try different things and see what works for you.
What if my long distance partner has anxiety?
I am planning to write a second post aimed at partners of people with anxiety, again based on my own experience and with my suggestions for what you can do to help your partner cope from a distance.
In the meantime, the mental health charities above are great at giving advice to friends, family and partners of people with anxiety – you don’t have to have it yourself to ring or email them for guidance.
I’ve also written a post on being there for a partner with a serious illness, so this might be helpful as well.