How to stop anxiety ruining your relationships
Feeling anxious, stressed or worried is part of the human condition. It is perfectly normal to feel any of these things, as much as it is normal to feel hungry, sad, tired, happy, or curious.
Sometimes, though, we can get stuck in anxiety, and it begins to overwhelm some of our everyday living. This can have an impact on how we interact with others, on our friendships and romantic relationships too.
Social anxiety is where we have feelings of anxiety around being in social situations with other people. This can feel physically like heart palpitations, sweaty palms, or feeling a bit shaky, to name a few. Often this happens when you are walking into a new place or meeting new people, but sometimes it becomes part and parcel of how you feel whenever you’re around anyone else.
When we are stuck in anxiety, we often stay on ‘high alert’ for people looking at us the wrong way, looking like they’re bored with us, or maybe talking about us. Perhaps we think everyone is staring at us, or we assume that no one really wants us to be there.
The trouble with having these socially anxious thoughts and feelings is that it can make us behave in ways that do make people act differently around us. If someone in the group is looking very uncomfortable, it’s human nature to either try to reach out to them, give them extra attention, or shy away from them and leave them alone. Either of those can then confirm how we feel.
We might have thoughts like “See! I told you they were avoiding me!”, or when people try to make us feel better, we squirm under the attention, start blushing and get hot under the collar, and want to run and hide.
We can, therefore, see that sometimes, anxiety can create the very behaviour that we are trying to avoid. It means we can be stuck in a cycle, and guess what? This makes it even harder to go out the next time of course!
Similar things can happen in our intimate relationships. Perhaps we feel anxious when our partner starts talking about people at work, other interests, or future plans. We might have thoughts that they don’t want to include us, or that they would rather be with someone else. This can lead us to start acting differently, either trying to push them away in self-protection or cling on to them too much.
The source of these behaviours is our own worries and anxieties, but we play them out on those closest to us. If we don’t address the issues, this can push them away permanently.
How to stop anxiety from ruining your relationships
So how can we stop this vicious cycle from taking over our lives? Firstly, it’s important to notice what is happening. Meditation or mindful practices such as yoga or tai chi can help you to get more connected to what is going on in your body. Being able to regulate your general anxiety levels will mean you are better equipped to face tough times.
You can try sharing your worries with your partner or a trusted friend, especially if they are able to be by your side when you go somewhere new or are out socialising. Finally, try keeping a journal, and start to notice what things or situations are having an impact on you. Notice what thoughts and feelings arise, and see if you can begin to increase your awareness of what would help.
Perhaps you notice that you feel worse if you have to walk in on your own somewhere, or if you are running late, and you can then start to give yourself a helping hand. Don’t be afraid to try doing things differently if you need to!
Find your safe space
Counselling can really help if you notice that anxiety is causing you some real difficulties. When we get stuck in anxiety, it is usually because there are some unhelpful thoughts and beliefs that are surfacing for you from the past. You can tackle them with compassion in therapy, with a trusted professional, in a safe space to talk. From there, you can begin to make lasting changes in how you feel about yourself and others. It’s ok to reach out for support.