Study: Relationship Worries Could Make You Sick—7 Tips to Help You Relax

Monday Jul 15 | BY |
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Relationship Worries

A new study suggests that feeling anxious about your relationship can lower your resistance to disease.

We all know that stress is bad for us, but a recent study indicates that stress related to our relationships can be especially harmful to our health.

Researchers from Ohio State found people who felt insecure and frequently anxious about their romantic relationships could suffer from a compromised immune system, leaving them open to infections and other health issues.

On the other hand, happily married people seem to reap the health benefits. A study published in the Journal of Family Psychology noted that people who have happy marriages are more likely to rate their health as better as they age.

Here’s more on what the research found, and how you may be able to reduce worry and anxiety in your relationship.

Study Shows Relationship Anxiety Affects Health

For the study, researchers studied 85 couples, all married for an average of more than 12 years. The average age was 39, and all couples were generally healthy. All partners answered questions about their marriage, sleep quality, and general levels and symptoms of anxiety. The researchers also gathered saliva samples over three days and blood samples twice, and performed testing on these samples to determine levels of the stress hormone cortisol and the level of infection-fighting T-cells.

Results showed:

  • Participants with higher levels of anxiety about the marriage produced about 11 percent more cortisol than those with lower anxiety levels.
  • Those who had higher anxiety levels had 11-22 percent lower levels of T-cells than those with less anxiety.
  • Researchers noted that these two findings are linked, because cortisol can slow down the production of T-cells.

In other words, researchers found that those people who reported more anxiety associated with their relationship had weaker immune systems—which could lead to more serious health problems.

“A lot of the negative consequences of high cortisol are beyond the common flu,” said lead author Lisa Jaremka, adding that high levels of the stress hormone had been linked with heart problems, sleep issues, depression, and other conditions.

It’s About Your Attachment Style

Though a number of things can cause anxiety in marriages—including financial concerns, childrearing difficulties, and more—this study seemed to be focusing more on the attachment styles of the partners.

Digging deeper into the results, we find that the researchers described the spouses who were more anxious as more “anxiously attached.” They were more likely to be concerned about being rejected, and wanted constant assurance that they were loved. They were also more likely to interpret an event with their partner as negative, even when it may not have been.

“Everyone has these types of concerns now and again in their relationships, but a high level of attachment anxiety refers to people who have these worries fairly constantly in most of their relationships,” said Jaremka.

Where does “attachment anxiety” come from? Researchers theorize that it may be traced to inconsistent care during one’s infancy.

What Is Attachment Anxiety?

Also called “separation” anxiety, attachment anxiety occurs when children or adults feel anxious when separated from someone they love. Symptoms of attachment anxiety in adults include:

  • Excessive worry about the well-being of a spouse or romantic partner
  • Difficulty sleeping without the loved one nearby
  • Anxious “worst case scenario” thinking about separation (“something terrible is going to happen to him/her”)
  • Nightmares about losing the partner
  • Repeated calling or otherwise checking on the loved one’s safety
  • Easily prone to feelings of jealousy
  • Difficulty trusting that love is real or reliable
  • Physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, nausea, and vomiting

If these symptoms sound somewhat familiar, what can you do about them to protect your health?

How to Calm Anxious Feelings

Though couples counseling can help with marital problems, sometimes it’s best to start with what you can control—yourself. If you’re feeling anxious, it’s your health that’s at risk. Try these tips to help you feel more calm and centered, regardless of what’s happening between you and your partner:

  1. Become aware: You may not be aware that your worried thoughts and your physical symptoms are actually caused by your anxiety. Try keeping a journal for a couple weeks, and write down every time you feel anxious. Include details about what happened just before you became anxious, and how the symptoms showed up. Were you watching the clock waiting for your partner to come home? Were you emailing or calling excessively? Did you feel ill? After a couple weeks, review the journal and start to notice your own patterns.
  2. Tapping. Once you’re aware of what triggers your anxiety, you can start to try other coping techniques. Tapping is an easy, immediate solution for many who are suffering anxiety. Read more about it on our post about Tapping.
  3. Exercise. Exercise is one of the best ways to relieve anxiety. When you feel your symptoms starting, try taking a walk, turning on the music and doing some dancing, or practicing some yoga or tai chi.
  4. List. List everything you’re worried about. Do it without thinking at first, then look at your list. How likely are these things to really happen? Sometimes when you see them on paper, you can address them more calmly.
  5. Breathe deeply. Most of us breathe in a shallow manner, particularly when we’re anxious or stressed. Take 5 minutes to focus on your breath. Breathe in for six counts, and out for six, and continue for the full five minutes. Deep breathing is usually always calming. If you find you can’t change your breathing on your own, try blowing up a balloon.
  6. Talk to someone. This may be a therapist or a support group, but it’s important to find someone who understands your symptoms. A friend who doesn’t experience the same type of anxiety will be less likely to be able to help you.
  7. Herbs. A number of herbs have calming abilities, and may work to help you feel more secure. These include valerian, chamomile, kava, passionflower, gamma-aminobutryic acid (GABA), skullcap, lemon balm, and L-theanine. Make sure you’re also getting enough vitamin B, as it’s important to the body’s ability to handle stress.

Do you have other tips for coping with attachment anxiety? Please share them!

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Sources
February 13, 2013, http://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2013/0213-happily-married-couples-consider-themselves-healthier-says-mu-expert/.

“Anxiety About Relationships May Lower Immunity, Increase Vulnerability to Illness,” Ohio State University, February 11, 2013, http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/attachanx.htm.

Elizabeth Bernstein, “When It Never Gets Easier to Say Goodbye,” WSJ, September 18, 2012, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443995604578002352537833908.html.

Mike Nichols, “Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder: Not Just Kids,” Anxiety, Panic & Health, April 15, 2009, http://anxietypanichealth.com/2009/04/15/adult-separation-anxiety-disorder-not-just-kids-part-2/.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com

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