In the excellent article "Why Anxiety is Good for You," page 55-65 in Time Magazine (December 5, 2011), Serge Bloch proposes that anxiety can help you move faster or it can paralyze you.

The upside of anxiety is that the hormones that trigger it can be powerful stimulants arousing the senses to peak performance. Unlike the famous quote "Too much of a good thing is wonderful" by May West," too much anxiety is clearly not wonderful at all. Indeed, too much anxiety can lead to paralyzing fear as in the case of phobias and other anxiety disorders.

The question then is what is the role of anxiety in our love lives? Let us turn to a snippet of a session where anxiety was wonderful for Lauren's love life.

Auburn curls framed Lauren's smiling face. "He looked interesting, age appropriate, and he lived close to me." She said and continued. "Then something uncanny happened. I was sending him an email at the same time that he was sending me one."

"A cyberspace connection?" I asked.

Delight danced in her green eyes. "Yeah, but that was just the beginning. We spoke, and I felt the connection on the phone. We made a date for the next day and we've seen each other every day since. We've fallen in love with each other and I'm on cloud nine".

"You always told me you'd find your soul mate, but lately I thought you had a change of mind," I remarked.

Frowning slightly, Lauren said, "I dated a lot of men, but that special connection was missing and I got worried that it would never happen." Suddenly her smile returned and her curls seemed to bounce. "But it did," she said.

I suggested, "When you were confident that you'd find love, you didn't and when you got anxious about it, you did. Perhaps anxiety had a part in it."

Lauren's eyes widened as she asked, "How's that?"

"Anxiety can spur us into action and can help solve problems. Perhaps your behavior changed when you got anxious," I interpreted.

"Come to think of it, I was on a popular online dating site where tons of men wanted to meet me; so I kind of sat back and let them come to me. I didn't have to do much work. But they weren't for me, or I wasn't for them. And so I got anxious and worried." Lauren explained.

I inquired, "What did you do then?"

"I signed up for a new dating site and this time I put effort into it and emailed a man." Lauren sat up straight in her chair as though she was steeling herself.

I concluded, "So your anxiety propelled you into action."

That was Lauren and one facet of how anxiety affects our love lives. There are, however, other less sanguine ways that anxiety affects our love lives. For example, many people say they want to find love, but do not act on their wishes. And that's because the anxiety of these would-be lovers has exponentially grown into abject fears, or phobias.

Paralyzing fear prevents you from action. The good news is that if you fear you will get hurt acting on your wishes and desires, there is help. The treatment of choice is known as "exposure." That means you face your fears, expose yourself to them, and don't run away. In time, habituation takes place, and the fear subsides.

The worst that can happen is that you don't connect with your soul mate, but even that has a sunny side: you have combated your inner demons and can try again.

But then again, you may well be successful in your quest. A suitable partner is sometimes only a few clicks away. Like all good things, it takes work. In this case, the work begins with you.

Take a journey into your inner self so that you can savor your strengths and face your frailties. My new book The New Science of Love: How Understanding the Brain's Wiring Can Help Rekindle Your Relationship (Sourcebooks, Casablanca, 2011) shows you exactly how to empower yourself, to visit the past to make sure old ghosts are no longer haunting you, to communicate and to stir empathy from a partner .

You are then ready to go for it. Be buoyed that some three million readers are on internet dating sites and 20% do find love. If you act now you can very well be one of the 20% to find love.

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About the Author

Frances Cohen Praver, Ph.D.

Frances Cohen Praver, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and relational psychoanalyst and author.

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