The Worrying Effect of Anxiety on Relationships


If you have experienced severe, prolonged anxiety, you likely recognize it detracts from your personal enjoyment of life. Not to add another worry, but how does it affect those around you? Anxiety interferes with physical health, mental health, and social relationships. Untreated, it may lead to a downward spiral.

Up to 33.7 percent of the U.S. population experiences an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed as men. Still, the number of men is significant. Over ten million American men are diagnosed an anxiety disorder, and that may be an under-representation of actual incidence. Men may be less likely to seek treatment for anxiety and more likely to mask anxiety with aggression and alcohol abuse.

Here are just some of the ways symptoms of pervasive anxiety damage relationships:

Worry. The worry brims over to the people around the worrier. Worries are not fun to be around.

Fear. Fearfulness causes people to withdraw or attack. Neither are good for relationships!

Poor communication. Anxiety causes one to second guess or misinterpret statements from others. Conversely, it disrupts genuine self expression with worry that others will misinterpret or reject such expression.

Controlling and self-centered behaviors. In attempts to relieve anxiety, many attribute their problems to others and try to control the people and things around them. In many cases, individuals do not recognize their own role in amplifying and maintaining anxiety and often blame the anxiety on external life circumstances or on their partner.

Avoiding social and new experiences. Loved ones find themselves disappointed when an anxious partner refuses to go on a vacation or even out with friends. Often, the anxious person will become worked up days before a special event and complain profusely.

Running away or (the opposite) resisting any change. While an unusual occurrence, anxious people may suddenly move or disappear to flee an anxiety provoking situation, abandoning loved ones in the process. Conversely, they may also smother/prevent loved ones from progressing in life.

Irritability and anger. Anxiety often manifests in a shorter fuse.

Unfortunately, someone suffering from anxiety may need reassurance, connection, and support more than ever but may also perceive friends and loved ones to reject or avoid them when they show anxiety. Anxiety is often labelled by loved ones as ingrained personality flaws, such as Type A, neurotic, etc., and dismissed as just the way a person is wired. However, there are many ways to reduce anxiety.

There is good news to breathe a sigh of relief! Pervasive anxiety in many cases is a treatable condition that may be much improved. Cognitive behavioral psychotherapy, mindfulness practice, and exercise have been shown to reduce anxiety significantly. If you desire a better relationship with a highly anxious loved one or are highly anxious and seek improved coping, then couples or individual psychotherapy may help significantly.

Erika Kao, PhD may be reached 858-472-8959 or visit CA Licensed Psychologist 20112

Disclaimer: In no manner does this column serve to diagnose or treat readers with any psychological disorders or imply a client-provider relationship between Dr. Kao and any reader. No such relationship exists until a client-provider agreement has been signed by client and provider.