It’s all in your head

Removing mental barriers to intimacy

Written by Jennifer Hanson
Getting in the right headspace for intimacy can sometimes feel like an impossible task. Having a bad week, starting a new medication, or experiencing a traumatic event can color your mindset in ways that leave you feeling nowhere near the right mood. Although they aren’t always easy to solve, there are a few ways to deal with these issues and work towards being more emotionally connected with your partner. And, unsurprisingly, most of them start with communication.

Self-analyze first

Even if the time frame isn’t clear, it will benefit you to learn what tools you can employ to take care of your mental health. Both temporary and long-term mental health issues require solutions that revolve around altering your reactions.
Take a look at your mindset, whether it’s about your life as a whole or a one-off issue. When you see this issue materialize, how do you react? Chances are, you get upset, angry or sad. Focusing on this moment is important because it’s usually when you say or do something reactive that could potentially make your problem worse.
Notice that moment when it occurs and understand when your mind wants to react quickly. If you focus on learning how to handle yourself when you’re upset, you’re more likely to recognize these times in the future.
Emotional control isn’t always the most difficult aspect of mindset shifting to conquer. Sometimes, the medications that are supposed to help these issues hinder your sex drive. While this can cause problems, it’s important to remember that this issue is normal and there are concrete ways to navigate around it.
Sex and mental health are inherently intertwined. It’s hard to be truly in the mood while you’re in a negative headspace. The more you focus on feeling better and changing your reactions, the more present and open for connection you will be.

Talk to your partner

While mental health can be an uncomfortable subject to discuss, your partner should be the first person to support you through these struggles. Set aside some time to have a chat about your mental health. Communication dysfunction is one of the most difficult issues to treat within couples, so do your best to be honest right off the bat. Your partner probably has similar concerns, and these discussions can ultimately lead to higher sexual satisfaction for both parties.
Open up and tell them what’s been on your mind. Maybe depression is something you struggle with often, or maybe you’ve recently had a falling out with a friend. Tell them how it makes you feel and how you tend to react when faced with these situations. Your partner needs to understand in order to know how to help you in these moments. This process also facilitates bonding and reassures them that your issues with sex aren’t specific to them.
One thing to remember: it’s okay to try different approaches! Both parties should understand that one of the most difficult parts of taking care of your mental health is trying new things until one of them helps. There will inevitably be some speed bumps first, but eventually you’ll find strategies that help pull you out of your funk. Your partner isn’t perfect either, and it’s important that you be there for them in the same capacity that you’re asking from them. Get it all on the table, figure out what might work to change these patterns, and forge ahead. Your sex life is worth it!

Change positively

Life feels overwhelming at times, and sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back to keep your cool. Feel yourself descending into a shame spiral? Redirect your focus by distracting yourself with an activity you love. Feel yourself about to scream at someone for something trivial? Splash some water on your face to cool off in both ways.
Over time, changing these underlying cycles can result in massive changes. Start by examining your day-to-day. Do you eat a healthy, regular diet? Do you drink a lot of sugary drinks, or mostly water? Do you exercise at least a few times a week? These daily habits are a good place to start. If you’re not giving your body a fair shot with good nutrients and movement, there’s no guarantee you’ll get great things back in return.
But hold on, attempting all of these things at once isn’t the way to go. You’ll be trying to change too much too fast. Start by selecting one of these habits to change first. Make it your goal to drink 64oz of water a day, avoid fast food for a week or work out twice per week. These goals should be small so that you ease into change without feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes you have to trick yourself into getting a habit down first before the rest falls into place.
If these positive changes are already in effect and you’re still charged up, try to go back to that moment of recognition. Ask yourself how you can react differently in the moment. Implementing these strategies is tough at first, and you might still fail the first few times you try. That’s going to happen if these reactions are particularly ingrained in you, and that’s okay. Being mindful and acknowledging these moments is the first step to changing your behavior.
This practice of mindfulness does wonders for your mental health. Mindfulness is key for staying present and having an open attitude, as well as mitigating relationship stress. Gratitude is a powerful tool as well, as acknowledging and being more conscious of the good things in your life helps remind you that it’s not all bad. Gratitude has been shown to heighten social support while decreasing the likelihood of depression and stress. Emotional stability is associated with greater well-being, and this mindset produces a better environment for sex.
There’s no shame in admitting you need help, either. This can mean seeing a professional or opening up to a close friend about your issues. Reaching out is one of the most powerful tools in your mental health toolbox. Your partner or friend may have some helpful advice if they’ve dealt with something similar. Social support networks ease stress, so now is a great time to have this talk.
Medication presents a unique challenge: it’s supposed to help your mental health, but it can also hinder your sex life. Make sure to consider whether or not you’re having more sex now rather than before you were medicated. You might not be doing it day and night, but are you more sexually active than when you were depressed? If the answer is still no, it may be time to chat with your doctor. There are alternative medications that exist that could work better for your body and sex life.

Improvements = better sex

It’s no surprise that great sex leads to happier relationships. Having sex usually begins with both partners in a good mood, but sex can also puts you in a good mood. It isn’t just a myth: one study cited better mood, more meaning in life and more productivity the day after sex, as well as lower blood pressure.
Even if committing to sex is difficult in your current mental state, aim to be close to your partner more often. Small touches and cuddling stimulate oxytocin production, which will help build trust between the two of you. As far as sex, aim for once per week. Studies have shown that having sex once per week improves overall happiness.
Consciously learning how to deal with your mental health is a constant process. Things may not automatically ramp up in your sex life, but the first step is learning how to work on these issues. Remind yourself that even when sex feels like a challenge, it’s actually helping bring you out of that funk.
There will inevitably be times when mental health gets in the way of sex, but taking care of yourself, talking to your partner and being mindful in the moment will help you be more conscious of how to react and change things for the better.

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