I still remember the first time I experienced the physical pain of anxiety. It was back in summer 2014. I had a big crush on someone and, while waiting for his response to one of my late-night texts, my heartbeat started to race and my chest felt strangely tightened. I thought I was about to have a heart attack.
I remember lying in bed unmoving, feeling powerless and insignificant. The chest pain got so serious and foreign to me that, after a short while, I decided to call an ambulance. A medic came and examined my chest. She said physically it was all okay, my heart was functioning well, so it could be psychological.
I was both relieved and worried. After a few more similar episodes, I soon learned that I had severe anxiety specifically related to dating. Suddenly, from being known as confident and assertive, I then had “emotional’ and “sensitive” as part of my identity — I felt ashamed. As I researched further, I also recognised childhood trauma and anxious attachment style in my relationship patterns.
Over time, the anxiety got more and more distinct and started to take control. I felt like I was living on the edge all the time even though my actual life was of a typical twenty-something with a university degree and an average office job. For the most part, I was healthy and normal. But when it came to my love life, it was a real sh*tshow.
Dating was fun and exciting and literally nauseating. In fact, it was painfully addictive. The more euphoric the beginning, the more brutal the comedown and the more paralysing the anxiety. And it was always the same story, the same ending of me going for someone who couldn’t appreciate me for me and berating myself for being too emotional or too anxious.
Last year, I finally read the book “Attached” by Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller, and a lot of my heartbreaks and so-called mistakes instantly made sense. Then I read more books and more lightbulbs started to flash brightly in my head.
At this point, I was in so much pain that I told myself I had to change, this couldn’t be it. I had to reevaluate every aspect of my life and do things differently.
And that was my turnaround.
Within a year, I’ve changed my attachment style from anxious to secure and found myself happily surrounded by healthy, stable, and trusted relationships — both romantic and platonic. I know this because every now and then I did a personality test to record my attachment style changes and I haven’t experienced anxiety for a very long time.
I didn’t believe that this change was possible but it was. The most notable thing about my story is that none of what I did was remarkable; they were simple and straightforward changes that anyone could make. If I could turn my life around, so can you.
Here’s exactly how I became securely attached.
I’m aware that not many people can afford therapy or are able to find a good therapist (more on this in another article.) But if you do have an option, I’d suggest taking it. I didn’t know that free therapy in the UK was possible until I called up a crisis helpline during a panic attack. Even though the waitlist is long, the quality is not bad (I have personally tried it.)
At the time I got rather desperate so I looked into paid services. I found out that I could get private therapy through my company insurance. I immediately did some Google searches and found a highly-reviewed practice in the city. I contacted them and was quickly booked in for a 50-minute consultation.
At the consultation, my self-awareness proved to be useful. After listening to my background story and self-assessment, the therapist was able to summarize my issues and assured me that we could work through them together. I was hopeful.
From then on, I had a therapy session every week. Sometimes if the therapist or I was busy and couldn’t attend our allocated slot, we moved it around or did video call instead. The point is, I showed up. I committed to becoming better and, gradually, over a long year of hard self-work, I saw transformative improvements in my attachment style and how I regulated emotions.
2. Switch from iPhone to an Android Phone
This might be an unusual one but, to me, iPhone WhatsApp and online dating made the perfect dopamine machine that got me hooked like a drug addict. All the swiping and contacting and inviting sent me to a high that was like nothing else.
My heart jumped every time I heard the ding sound and a text preview popped up on the screen, every time I sent a text and saw the “is typing…” status below my date’s name on WhatsApp chat window. Then my palms (literally) sweated when the two ticks remained grey for longer than expected or when someone’s profile picture suddenly disappeared indicating that I had been blocked.
Using WhatsApp on iPhone, my anxiety was going through the roof. I was sensitive to every sound and visual indicator. I was conditioned into expecting the notifications and felt nauseous when nothing came through. I was constantly on high alert. Texting was no longer just exchanging brief information; everything was emotionally charged and had the potential to hurt me.
I knew it was time to break free so I got rid of my iPhone. Just like that. After switching to Android, my device habits changed and I became neutral about text messages and phone calls. I also didn’t have anxiety associated with new notifications. It lifted a huge weight off dating and online communication.
3. Learn about Psychology
In addition to going to therapy, I continued to learn about dating anxiety and attachment styles by reading books, asking about other people’s experiences, or watching explainer videos by famous psychologists. I then discussed notable points with my therapist or self-aware friends. I kept plenty of notes in my phone and highlights in my Kindle. It became a daily activity.
Knowledge made me feel safe. Knowing what was going on with myself gave me a sense of control. It helped me put things into perspective and allowed me to be more compassionate towards myself. Most importantly, it reminded me that it’s not just me, I’m not alone, and there’s a solution to my problems.
4. Write to and for Myself
Writing helped me a lot when my anxiety crept up on me. As I wrote, I was able to process my feelings and thoughts constructively. I also had the opportunity to take the power back in my hands and create a new narrative that had me as the hero.
I could become my own hero and save myself from anything and everything.
I actually recorded my whole self-healing journey in a series of authentic blog posts at https://tinglymind.com throughout 2019 and early this year — it was raw and sometimes depressing but ultimately hopeful. I also wrote letters to my future self. I did this by using a website called Future Me. This is not an ad — I just love it so much that I want to share it with everyone.
Through these writing activities, I was able to nurture my relationship with myself and get into the habit of using a loving, supportive, encouraging inner voice like I was my biggest cheerleader and best friend. It gave me more security than I could ever imagine.
5. Stop Dating Altogether
Sitting in therapy, I was shaken by the realisation that I’d never been completely single. Even when I was supposed to be single, I always had someone to talk to, some text messages to respond to, some external factors influencing my emotions and self-esteem.
As it turned out, it was me who had pushed myself off the cliff of a normal, emotionally stable life in the first place.
Of course I’d be constantly anxious if I kept interacting with strangers who had little in common with me, who also saw me as a stranger whom they could dispose of at a touch of a button, who might not be emotionally healthy and could act erratically. Online dating promises fun and instant connections but the reality is that it’s not friendly for anxious people.
So I quit dating cold-turkey. I’ve mentioned this many times in my articles about personal growth and the story is the same: I deleted the dating apps, phone numbers, I stopped responding to messages or invites. No romantic interaction whatsoever. And that’s how I finally stopped exposing myself to constant emotional ups and downs and started getting some peace of mind for once. I desperately needed that clean break.
6. Spend Time with Myself and Follow Routines
After I shut down the romantic department of my life, I focused on myself and only myself. My life became quiet but, luckily, not boring as I picked up new hobbies and made new friends who shared my values and appreciated my writing. I did things that I’d never had enough interest in because I’d been too consumed by my hot and cold love interests — now I was surprised at how much fun I had. I also formed healthy habits and routines that grounded me.
I felt renewed. I was like a child again, curious about little, ordinary things around me every day. On the other hand, the space left behind by all the romantic activities scared me sometimes. I didn’t really know what to do with it. It couldn’t really be filled. The newfound joy I had was very different from that dating excitement that was equally anxiety-inducing. This joy was just nice and good for me. There wasn’t any comedown or withdrawal. Nevertheless, over time, I learned to get used to it.
Eventually, I realised that I didn’t have to do anything with that space. It became less and less important and I was more and more interested in my newly stable life.
7. Set Goals and Make Life Plans
After I managed to introduce stability into my life, it was when I found things to look forward to in my future. The best way to do this is to set goals or make a vision board.
I used Google Docs to make detailed goal lists and life aspirations. I also used Trello to create two boards called “Life Goals” and “Business Plan” with different lists such as “Priorities”, “Passion Projects”, “Who I am” — listing everything I know about myself or anything that can create value, whether big or small.
It was fun. I loved envisioning myself in the next 5 or 10 years and giving my imagination no limits. It gave me hope and clarity over what I should be doing in the present. It reminded me that my future was bright ahead and I could get myself there all by myself.
It instilled in me the confidence that I would be fine whether I’m with a partner or not, though there are plenty of people who would be lucky to be my partner.
8. Focus on Secure Aspects of Myself
On the way to becoming secure, I let go of the narrative of me being an anxious mess and paid all my attention to the secure areas of my life including family, friendships, and work. I leaned on them to get support and strengthen the positive belief that I’m totally capable of building secure relationships. I changed my self-talks completely.
As I stopped dating, I spent more time with my loved ones. I re-learned what a healthy relationship means and that a relationship worth keeping will make me feel good, not cause me anxiety all the time. I trained myself to be open to asking for help and accepting love from others. Then I slowly opened myself up and showed my vulnerability — only this time it was to the people who saw me and loved me for me. It helped remove the negative expectations that vulnerability leads to distance. No, vulnerability leads to closeness — I now know.
9. Be Extremely Selective about Who I Let in
I stopped dating for around six months. After that, as I worked my way through therapy and witnessed real changes in myself, I felt more ready to meet people romantically again. This time, however, I changed my dating approach completely.
I knew what I wanted, I knew who I was, I had many things in my life that I enjoyed, and I was in no rush to get into a relationship. I had a clear goal which was to find someone who had a similar background with me, shared my values and life vision, who had a kind heart and emotional depth. I put all my core qualities very high up the list of my ideal partner such as emotional intelligence and empathy. I had no reservation letting people who didn’t meet my standards go.
As a result, my dating experience took a 180-degree turn in a very positive direction. It didn’t take me long till I found my securely attached match. Having a partner who is highly emotionally intelligent and empathetic, undeniably, had a big role in helping me stay secure.
10. Make Long-term Investments in Myself
Throughout this process, the one thing that was constant is my investment in myself: from going to therapy to educating myself to building secure relationships all around me. I did all those things to create a solid foundation and a safe environment for me to be more myself and expand my best qualities — the very thing that I’d never had growing up for one reason or another.
At this point, I appreciate having a romantic partner but I also understand that it’s part of life and there are other important areas that keep me healthy and happy such as my work, my health, my spiritual life, and so on. They all deserve respect and care and none of them should make my emotions go up and down.
Before all, I’m responsible for my happiness and future. I’m capable of meeting my needs and nurturing healthy, loving relationships — that’s the mindset of a securely attached person I now have.
Over a year, I did many things that disrupted my attachment to toxic relationships and addiction to emotional rollercoasters. I learned what a secure person thought and acted and successfully replicated that in my own life. I leaned onto myself and people who loved me for me. I became attached to myself and my own life, which led to healthy relationships and a balanced lifestyle.
The specifics of these changes might differ from person to person but here’s what they ultimately serve:
Create stability in your life (Examples — Form routines, go to therapy, lean on family relationships)
Cut out anything that causes emotional ups and downs (Examples — Take dating hiatus, change phone habits)
Build the best relationship with yourself and stay aware of your issues (Examples — Take care of yourself, show up for yourself, listen to yourself, read books, talk to people, watch videos)
Keep your inner voice loving and supportive at all times (Examples — Write letters to yourself)
Invest in yourself for evermore (Examples — Learn new things, build trusted relationships with others and yourself, make actionable plans for your future)
Related articles about Attachment Style