How My Anxiety Affects My Relationships
October 29, 2020
You will hear a lot of talk about anxiety right now: COVID, the election, lost jobs, etc. This is the kind of anxiety most of us recognize in ourselves and in others. We know the symptoms of disruption in sleep, agitation and restlessness, a constant feeling of worry and dread. But there are so many of us who struggle every day with generalized anxiety and it goes undetected or even praised because it makes us look like hard workers or concerned parents. We may seem organized, self-sufficient and hard-working, but the driving force behind all that productivity and concern is anxiety – which can also make us miserable and eventually, physically and emotionally sick. Many of us have a quiet storm raging inside of us and we don’t know how to quiet our minds and soothe our nervous systems.
Even though anxiety-driven productivity can be an asset in short spurts, it is really unhealthy in the long term. Anxiety means an increase in cortisol and we know cortisol over long periods increases our risks of heart disease, cancer and mental decline. Anxiety takes a physical, mental and emotional toll on us, and it also harms our relationships.
I have had anxiety my entire life. I’m not kidding. My ENTIRE life. The very first memory I have of feeling overly concerned was failing the first grade. Apparently, I was terrified because old friends even remember my constant fretting over it. The next worry I remember was dying…specifically in the electric chair. I was afraid I would break some law I didn’t know about and would be executed in a wooden chair with a metal bowl on my head. You may be laughing but 50 years later I still remember the anxiety I felt. I think I must have watched a movie where this happened to someone and my brain wouldn’t let it go.
Over the years my anxiety has taken several forms but the most exhausting one is the last one in the graphic I’ve shared below.
I used to be completely unable to relax. I used work to soothe my nerves and I dreaded weekends because there was too much downtime. A good weekend was one where we got up early and marked off dozens of chores on my to-do list and then did something fun from my fun list. I wish I was kidding. Can you imagine my poor husband? I have almost conquered this beast but it took two years and there were times I thought it would kill me. Forced relaxation is much harder than it sounds, but eventually I was able to find and allow empty space. I still have to fight the urge to stay busy, but it is much easier now to give myself time to rejuvenate.
There are so many hard things about living with anxiety but one of the worst for me is watching how my anxiety has affected my family. Anxious people criticize and try to control others. We are constantly over-analyzing and over-thinking through all the “what ifs”. We want our loved ones to take precautions or change their behaviors so that we will feel less anxious. We are simply trying to manage our anxiety but it feels very oppressive and controlling to the people we love. Frankly, the best case scenario is that we just get on their nerves. In the worst case, they withdraw from us because we make them feel inadequate. Today, my son is on his way home for a visit. I asked him to leave early enough to get here before dark but not so early he would drive sleepy. People! He is 24 years old! He is certainly old enough to choose his travel schedule.
When my family is getting frustrated or annoyed with me, I’ve trained them to say the following: “Mom, your anxiety is spilling out all over me”. This is my reminder that I’m crossing the line and need to back away. They don’t have to mumble under their breath that I’m driving them nuts…they just tell me. My anxiety is the problem…not me. This perspective has protected our relationship and allowed us to fight the real problem (anxiety) and not each other. I don’t feel they love me less and they don’t feel I’m doubting their abilities.
I’ve learned a few tricks to help me and my family deal with this. If you are interested in hearing more, shoot me some questions. I’m happy to write more about this. I don’t have it all figured out, but I’m learning to worry less and live more and you can too!
At The Marriage Place, we have therapists who are trained specifically to help you with anxiety using some really cool innovative techniques like EMDR and ETT. If you are interested in learning more about these types of therapies, please contact us HERE.
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