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How anxiety affects personal relationships and how we can support a loved one with anxiety.

How anxiety affects personal relationships

We live in times where our body image seems to be of more importance than our mental wellbeing. We are surrounded by magazines and television programs promoting the importance of physical fitness, while crucially the subject of mental health is often ignored. The risk here lies in the possibility of overlooking important symptoms of a mental disorder and assuming they are caused simply by stress or bad mood. Unfortunately, over time, unnoticed conditions tend to worsen and gradually take toll on our relationships. Anxiety, in particular, can impact on our personal relationships in a number of ways, here are some examples: Worry and suspicion The worry that usually comes with anxiety is often unsubstantiated, nevertheless sufferers cannot stop themselves from thinking that way. This can affect a relationship in a number of ways i.e. it can lead to jealousy or suspicion, where although you know that your partner loves you, but may continue to wonder what would happen if he or she were not faithful. Such thoughts can easily lead to arguments and unnecessary ‘interrogations’ with both sides feeling frustrated and angry. Limited patience Impatience often goes hand in hand with anxiety, affecting the person’s mental state and making them search for ‘immediate’ solutions in stressful situations. Sufferers often struggle to maintain the harmony in their relationships, especially when it comes to finding the life- work balance. An extensive need for reassurance With increased worry in their day-to-day life, anxiety sufferers tend to require constant reassurance from loved ones, asking for more attention and more time together. This may make people feel burdened, as a physical and an emotional space is a basic human need. Such intense expectations are very likely to lead to a disappointment and ultimately a failure of the relationship. Magnified reactions Anxiety sufferers often find themselves in situations whereby their general sense of insecurity, coupled with temper issues, can take over their usual ‘self’ and lead to overreaction and anger. This can make them feel out of control and so overwhelmed by powerful emotions that they react in the heat of the moment, not thinking of the destructive consequences it can have on relationships. The partner at the receiving end, who may not be aware of the existence of a mental disorder, may simply feel too hurt to forgive and forget. Observing yet ignoring the above symptoms usually leads to a gradual breakdown of the relationship. Understanding the condition and receiving support from friends and loved ones is absolutely crucial for the recovery of the person with an anxiety disorder.

Supporting a loved one with anxiety

Almost all of us experience nervousness or a sense of sadness from time to time. Anxiety is in fact a natural and important part of our system, it serves to enhance vigilance and increase motivation. However, ongoing ‘chronic’ anxiety can be harmful if not attended to. Those who suffer from it on a daily basis find themselves unable to deal with stress, learn or make decisions. As hard as anxiety is for the sufferer it is almost equally as painful for their family and friends. If someone close to you is struggling with anxiety you may feel confused, tense and distraught yourself. Maybe you have found yourself walking on eggshells because you are constantly afraid of causing even more upset. Or maybe the stress, tension and the feeling of being stuck have caused you to disengage from the relationship altogether? Keep in mind that your support is crucial and there are steps you can take to help them feel better. Educate yourself - Gaining more understanding about anxiety and its symptoms, causes and treatments can be a great starting point. This will help you better understand what your loved one is going through. It will also assist you in identifying for yourself the best ways of coping with it. Become an active listener – instead of trying to suggest solutions or advise, the best approach may be offering some neutral responses such as “I can see how that would upset you..”, and let the other person feel heard and supported. Don’t judge – help them recognise that they can talk about their feelings openly, without any fear of judgment. Set boundaries – your loved one may continue to ask for accommodations such as having you drive them to places, staying at home with them or wanting to talk to you frequently on the phone while you are at work. While it is vital to provide them with as much comfort as you can to limit their feelings of being lost and alone, you should also remember that you can do things independently. When responding to such requests remain loving and empathetic, but at the same time make an effort to protect your boundaries. Sometimes helping can be stopping helping. Get active outdoors together - try to spend more time outdoors being active. Regular exercise is a well- known remedy for anxiety, as well as a great way of soothing built-up angst, nervousness and low mood.



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