How Relationships Boost Anxiety (and What To Do About It)

relationships, anxiety, stress

Have you ever wondered where your anxiety comes from?

Have you ever thought about what keeps it alive?

Some people think that it occurs in a magical moment, but let’s not forget one important detail – magic isn’t real. Abnormal anxiety doesn’t just appear.

There’s usually a trigger, like a panic attack, in most cases though that’s not enough to animate full blown abnormal anxiety.

What if I told you that your family had something to do with it? Yup, you can even add your friends to the list.

One of the biggest, and most ignored, parts of developing abnormal anxiety is linked to your past and present relationships.

We often talk about our problems as if they’re separate from other people. But nothing could be further from the truth.

What, you haven’t noticed? Well, I’m going to point out why this happens and how you can restore your relationships so that they don’t add insult to injury.

Did Your Family Really Mess You Up?

Although your family loves you to pieces they can still do harm. Here’s why: your mom loves you but she probably said something to you when you were little that screwed up what you think about yourself.

It’s not because she’s evil, it’s because that’s what moms do. Hell, that’s what families do. Family feels comfy, like an old pair of shoes, so it’s easy for family members to abuse that sense of closeness and tear you a new one.

On the other hand, maybe your mom spared you and aimed her vile words at your father, in which case you weren’t spared at all. It’s not just you, either. A lot of children have emotional problems rooted in parental conflict.

What’s eye-opening is that the impact of marital discord follows children into adulthood.

Growing up with miserable parents can affect how much money you make, the quality of your intimate relationships and your psychological well-being way past your 30th birthday. Sucks right?

Then, of course, there’s everybody else. Your sister(s), your brother(s), even your grandparents might have gotten in on the act.

There are a lot of people that may have had a hand in screwing up how you think about yourself and the world, but nobody, and I mean nobody, does it like family.

They know almost everything about you, they know how to press your buttons, and unless you move far, far away, they’re always around criticizing, judging or tying you up in their drama.

Yes, we love family, but the fact is that they can do a lot to build the basis of our guilt, shame, stress and poor self-worth.

But you don’t have to let your family turn your life into a hot mess.

You can fight back.

Why You Should Open Up That Can of Worms

Yes, I’m going to go there, so you better not chicken out.

You need to talk to your family.

You can decide how much of that can of worms you want to open, but I think it’s vital that you chop up issues you all know exist.

Reminds me of what my older sister once told me. She said “If we all got in a room and talked about some of the things that happened to us as kids I think we’d all probably fall apart.”

My question is: What’s so bad about that? We were all wounded in the same way. It’s not like my sister saw something different.

She watched my dad walk down the same street, with the same old Navy duffel bag slung across his shoulders when he abandoned our family just like I did.

It was painful.

And guess what? We never uttered a word about it.

But talking about our parent’s divorce wouldn’t destroy us or create a crisis. It would give us a chance to share our perspectives and offer support for each other.

Instead, we started talking around important topics while we looked each other in the eye with the understanding that things weren’t okay.

The reality is that there are probably a lot of family members that want to tell you about not just what happened back in the day, but how they were affected by it as well.

So don’t be afraid to ask tough questions, even if that means pulling off old scabs.

If diving into the past seems too risky though, then you can discuss something more basic, like the fact that you all don’t talk enough and how that affects you.

There’s always something happening between family members that you guys have agreed to not talk about, so there’s something to talk about.

The code of silence that exists in most families is stronger than it is in most police departments. It’s stupid.

If you’re okay with that then you better be ready for more feelings of isolation.

Maybe you think it’s not worth dealing with your family because they’re crazy. Okay, so your family is dysfunctional, whose isn’t? The question is why are you okay with letting things stay that way?

There’s a distinct connection between you and your family. That connection matters. If you feel loved and supported by family then all the crappy things that happen in life aren’t as crappy.

There’s no doubt that family is a double-edged sword. They can be your best friend or your worst enemy. But if they’re the latter, most likely it’s due to bad communication, pride, and impatience.

People often get distracted by the behavior of others and rarely take the time to ask: Why? Why did my sister do that to me? Or why did my father say that to me?

If you sat down with someone, like your mom for example, and tried to understand her motivation for something you didn’t take kindly to, you’d be surprised at what you might find.

All human behavior is goal driven – even if the goal is unknown. Work with them to deal with, think about, what it is they need from you or others.

My dad died in 2002 when I was 22 years old. He never knew I struggled with anxiety and I regret that. Had I told him I could have borrowed from his insight and strength.

I would have felt less alone, vulnerable and probably more hopeful about fixing my abnormal anxiety. Don’t make the same mistake.

The Thin Line Between Love and Hate

You ever wonder why there are so many marriage jokes floating around? Like this one:

Man is incomplete until he is married. Then he is finished.

That joke is messed up but it’s funny because there’s some truth to it. I know my wife drives me nuts, in both senses of the word. She stirs my emotions like no one else because I love her dearly.

Life is fantastic when we’re happy, but the moment one of us feels misunderstood, disrespected, or underappreciated we disconnect momentarily.

That feeling of distance, even if it’s temporary, is agony. Now throw anxiety into the mix; the isolation, the worry, the stress, and what you’re left with is disaster.

Anxiety makes you retreat into yourself which kills any desire to interact or talk about anything else except how crappy you feel, which isn’t exactly sexy.

At the same time you have this person that loves you and just wants you to be “normal.”  You’re both trying to figure out what’s going on while attempting to carry on a relationship. Sounds like drama huh? Well, it is.

So while your heart is racing between love and hate what might be happening to your stress level? You bet – it’s sky high. But all is not lost.

The Truth About How to Save Your Relationship

The key to all good relationships is communication. But what should you be communicating about? Clearly, it shouldn’t be the finer points of anxiety symptoms. If you want to smash your relationship into little pieces keep doing that.

If you want your relationship to survive though, you need to identify the feelings causing all those dirty looks you keep shooting at each other.

Here’s how to do that.

Step 1.

Start by saying “I feel” when describing things that upset you. If you were to say “I hate when you ignore me” that’s too vague. But if you said “I feel angry and hurt when you ignore me,” well now you’re talking.

Step 2.

Repeat step 1. You need to connect on an emotional level and work towards showing empathy for each other. If you’re both empathic you will increase your capacity to think clearly and problem solve.

Step 3.

If you don’t already have goals for healing your anxiety make them now. Next, create goals for your relationship.

I’d start off with short-term goals that are easy to achieve, like this one: Don’t give me dirty looks when you’re mad. Tell me how you feel and what you need instead.

The important piece is to never retreat into your respective corners . Instead, keep an open line of communication and listen to each other.

Don’t just wait to talk again, either. You need to sit up, lean forward, and actively tune in. As long as that’s happening you have a shot.

Why You Need to Get Rid of Your Frenemies

Let me guess. Your friends are always there for you? They don’t disappoint you and they understand this whole “I’m anxious” thing. Yeah right!

No, the truth is that friends add to your stress levels just like family does. Much of the drama friends add to life is subtle and sprinkled on you over time but it stings nonetheless – especially if you’re a dude.

Men don’t like to talk about feelings. What can I say? It’s awkward. Spilling guts to a male friend can make you feel like your worst fear is true and you are in fact a girly man. What makes it worse is that this all happens like it does in families, namely in silence.

You’re left with your own thoughts about whether or not you should have spoken up about how bad you feel because the moment you do – nothing. You get no support, direction, or sense that they even care like you think they should.

What’s more likely to happen though is that you won’t say a word about how you feel, which leaves you with an even bigger weight to carry around.

If you’re a woman, then you’re far more likely to gain a sympathetic ear but even then it may not be safe to share your inner most fears – or so you tell yourself.

Maybe your friend will use this information against you? Or maybe your BFF just doesn’t know what to say so they offer a limp hug instead of something you can hang on to. It’s well intentioned and all that, but you crave more than that.

This is why people feel alone in their anxiety. Friends are the ones you think will understand you no matter what and when they don’t – then what?

Well, I’ll tell you what. Get rid of them! Surround yourself with people that will understand. You’ll thank me later.

Don’t Be Afraid to Spill Your Guts

If I were you I wouldn’t go into a crowded place to declare that I have a stress issue. That would be weird. The bottom-line is that you don’t have tell everyone what’s going on.

The fact is, most of us have at least one friend that will understand – you probably know who that is already. If you’ve never explored your anxiety openly with them give it a try.

I know you probably walk around with your dukes up to prevent the release of harsh truths, but it’s not healthy to carry the weight of suffering alone.

Now before you go off and try this out I would tell this friend of yours what you need from them.

Usually, that means you want someone to listen, offer advice, or both. Make it clear which one you need.

Look; at the end of the day no one wants people to think they’re some kind of cockeyed-freak, but if you have a real friend this won’t happen.

Educate your friend about what you’re facing and let them help you. Give them permission to hold up the weight of your pain even if it’s just for the duration of your talk.

Don’t be a jerk and use them as a dumping ground for your problems though. You definitely want to share in this equally.

Remember that a lot of your feelings of loneliness are self-inflicted. You have control over how much support you get or don’t get.

Don’t Ignore the 800 Pound Gorilla

When it comes to relationship problems most people suffer in silence because it seems risky to confront someone they care about. Okay, I get why, but does avoidance work any better?

Imagine what happens when you keep secrets about how you feel? It truly is a destructive force that heightens stress and turns manageable problems into monsters.

It’s not wrong to tell someone you care about that they’re annoying you or stressing you out. It’s not a crime to express your concerns and share your needs with people that you value.

Remember that it’s not what you say, but how you say it that makes all the difference.

In the end, relationships are hard work. There’s no doubt about that.

But you can make your anxiety, and your life, a hell of a lot more painful if you don’t nurture your relationships.

If you have a question regarding this article, post it in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to help you.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Arturo J. Porres says

    Paul,

    Unbelievable post (and perfect timing). Tomorrow, I fly up to Washingtonto see my cousin, whom I haven’t seen in 5 years. We grew up together like brothers. But, since I came down with anxiety, our relationship drifted apart a little. Not sure the cause but I do have to say that his wife (back in the day) was not a popular figure. Don’t get me wrong, she’s clean as a whistle. The problem is it came to the forefront about 5 years ago that the reason they left California was because she wanted to get my cousin away from his family, specifically his mom. Mama’s boy? Sure, but nothing out of the ordinary. Also, they got married at City Hall, which is cool, but it really hurt the family. I for one didn’t care, but I think I did subconsciously because he denied the family a beautiful thing (just an opinion.) As a sidenote, he’s my Best Man for my wedding in 2015 so go figure!

    Anyways, I’m flying up there and looking forward to seeing him and his family. Although I sent him an email, as well as I spoke to him over the phone, regarding my anxiety earlier in the year, I’m going to use this opportunity to explain what I was experiencing, and let them know that it was my fault the relationship grew apart..

    Opening up to my family and friends about my anxiety was liberating, and I hope I can inspire just one person to do the same. I’m as prideful as one can get, but my pride is still intact, if not better. I’m not ashamed of it (but it still sucks having GAD!)

    Keep up the good work Paul. I look forward to the next post..

    Arturo

  2. says

    Hey Brian,

    Sorry to hear about your mom’s reaction. I think that a parent’s reaction to when something happens is so important. It can really take a negative toll on a kid when a parent decides to use guilt or anger as means of dealing with a situation.

  3. Lydia says

    Your contents and message are awesome! It really explains the solution to come out of stress and anxiety. My husband does not understand my inner feeling and does not take time to think what is needed for me, which increases my stress level and at times lead to anxiety. I feel his care for me is very meager. how could I solve this?

  4. says

    Hi Lydia,
    If you guys have a chance to talk about this I would recommend that you not bring up your stress and anxiety just yet.

    First, focus on how you feel about being ignored and uncared for. then explore what he thinks about that.

    Next, discuss his needs. How’s he feeling?

    That should be enough to get an important discussion under way. The rest happens naturally.

    Paul

  5. Bill Walker says

    Very insightful post, thanks a lot!
    You are right; we have to do something to break that code of silence. As we get older, our parents grow older too, so we should unresolved issues while we still got the time…

  6. James White says

    I think a part of this comes from our education. Family, for many, is made up from people who know better – parents, grandparents, older relatives. If they do things in a certain way, we are supposed to do them that way. Maybe sometimes it is easier to start with the friends and siblings, since they are not our “superiors”.

  7. says

    Thank you for sharing this post. Your insights are very interesting and will certainly open up minds about how our relationships boost anxiety. However, I do think that the impact of how our relationships create anxiety in the future somehow depends on how we deal and accept the imperfections of human relationships. Anyhow, this post is very useful!

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