It’s normal to experience apprehension about starting a new job, going on a first date, or speaking before a large group. That nervous or unsettling feeling known as anxiety is not always bad, because some anxiety can help people be more careful when faced with challenges. For example, an individual considering a long-distance road trip might relieve some worry by getting their car checked before driving. However, when fear and worry become excessive and lead to panic over routine tasks or events, a person could be suffering from an anxiety disorder. According to statistics, anxiety disorder affects just over 19 percent of the population (or 40 million adults) each year.
The Challenges of Living with an Anxiety Disorder
Chronic or persistent anxiety can control decision-making and thoughts, interfering with every aspect of a person’s life. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by constant worry when there is no cause for concern. An individual with obsessive-compulsive disorder experiences recurring thoughts and practices repetitive behaviors or rituals such as handwashing.
People who suffer from panic disorder experience sudden and intense fear for no apparent reason. The source of anxiety for individuals with post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be a traumatic event like an accident, assault, disaster, or combat experience. With social anxiety disorders or social phobias, fears may include public speaking or other activities such as eating in the presence of people.
How Anxiety Can Interfere with Making Friends and Other Relationships
At FHE Health, we understand how hard it can be for someone with anxiety to maintain relationships. Family connections, casual friendships, and intimate relationships can all suffer when a member or partner has an anxiety disorder. When a parent has an anxiety disorder, it can impact how children perceive their world. It’s vital to look at some behaviors individuals with specific anxiety disorders may exhibit to understand how anxiety can interfere with relationships.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
A parent with a generalized anxiety disorder might worry constantly about something terrible happening to their child. If the child wants to play sports, the anxious parent might deny them the opportunity because they think the child might get hurt. Parents with anxiety disorder can pass their fears to their children. For example, the child of a parent afraid of water may never learn to swim.
Many have heard the term “helicopter parent,” which describes a parent who “hovers” over a child to protect them. Parents who are overprotective may find that their children rebel as they get older, engaging in activities their parents disapprove of and lying for fear of getting in trouble.
One hallmark of obsessive-compulsive disorder can be the need for continual reassurance. Intimacy can be difficult for an individual with OCD because they may constantly question how a partner feels about them and attribute an insignificant slight to someone not loving them. Other issues like fear of contamination can spill over into sexual relationships, causing a partner with OCD to find sex unpleasant.
OCD can affect family and coworker relationships when the individual spends too much time in ritualistic behavior. At work, team members may be unable to complete tasks because a person with OCD needs to double-check their work many times before passing it on to the next person. Family members and friends might find that the loved one with OCD is frequently late for activities or events because of compulsions such as washing hands several times or checking locked doors.
A panic attack can be scary for loved ones, especially when the person experiencing it feels that they may be dying or having a medical emergency. For a child of a parent with panic disorder, this can be especially frightening. Relationships can suffer because individuals with panic disorder may avoid participating in activities with loved ones or going places they think could trigger a panic attack.
An individual prone to panic attacks may also relinquish duties that require them to leave home (driving children to school, picking up groceries, etc.), so that another family member has to take on these additional duties. That family member may in turn feel more stressed and resentful toward the person with panic disorder.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder can cause frightening flashbacks of events such as assault, combat, or terrorism. Loved ones may feel on edge when a person with PTSD reacts violently to sounds such as fireworks or becomes upset at everyday occurrences like urban noise. People with PTSD may have difficulty with intimate relationships; they often distance themselves from those who love them. Family members and others may feel like they must “walk on eggshells” because they never know what may trigger a violent reaction.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder or friendship anxiety goes beyond being nervous about meeting new people or going to a party solo. Individuals with social anxiety disorder may find talking with people uncomfortable, because they fear humiliation or judgment. Lunch with a friend can cause a socially anxious person to worry that others will judge them regarding how or what they eat. Learning how to make friends with social anxiety can be hard, because socially anxious people may have difficulty trusting others enough to form committed relationships.
6 Tips for Overcoming Anxiety That’s Hurting Your Relationships
Friendships are essential, so it’s important to learn how to deal with anxiety in relationships. Try something new to help develop and maintain healthy relationships. Consider the following tips for overcoming friendship anxiety: Set small goals, change ways of doing things, be open with loved ones, and seek professional help.
Set Small Goals
Regardless of the anxiety type, attempting a drastic and immediate change can be overwhelming, leading to frustration and a return to the same habits. Small goals may be more effective. Rather than attending a big party as a way to face anxiety, asking a friend to go for a 15-minute walk may be a more reasonable approach.
Change Your Ways of Doing Things
Avoid allowing anxiety to control relationships. Rather than instilling fear in children, teach them to make safe choices. Explain why they need to be careful but spare the traumatic details from personal experiences. Instead of hovering, find a way to allow a child to be independent such as participating in activities with children of trusted friends. It’s o.k. to ask whether activities will be chaperoned and remind everyone involved of the child’s curfew when appropriate.
Try Different Ways of Maintaining Relationships
When dealing with an anxiety disorder, if venturing out is not an option, stay connected with friends through calls or chatting online. It’s acceptable to begin a potentially intimate relationship by talking online until both parties are comfortable with a face-to-face encounter. When ready, the first meeting can be at a neutral, safe place, such as a coffee shop or library.
Be Open with Loved Ones
When a panic attack is imminent, it may seem natural to cling to friends and loved ones. However, it can be challenging, especially for children, to know how to respond to a panic attack. Therefore, it is vital to acknowledge how loved ones feel when they observe a panic attack. Explain what events or settings lead to panic attacks. The same may be true for PTSD. Being informed may help loved ones avoid fear, handle the situation with patience, and understand that things will be better after the incident passes.
Avoid Judging People Based on Unrealistic Perceptions
Assuming how others will react often prevents a person with anxiety from enjoying activities like dinner with a group. There may be no evidence that friends will judge someone based on what they say or how they eat their food. It is important to remember that everyone struggles with something. Friends could also have anxieties but may have learned ways to deal with them.
Understand that it takes patience and time to stop anxiety from monopolizing relationships. Practicing self-care and continuing to work on it can lead to progress.
Seek Professional Help
Anxiety disorders are treatable. An individual with anxiety may benefit from medications, and therapy can help identify the condition’s root cause and healthy ways to cope. Since anxiety can interfere with the ability to speak openly, therapy can help people find the words to express their feelings. A therapist can guide family members in understanding anxiety and developing coping skills that lead to healthier relationships.
At FHE Health, we offer mental health services to assist individuals in working through difficulties caused by anxiety disorders and other conditions. If anxiety is preventing you from developing and maintaining healthy relationships, call us now. Our compassionate team is available 24/7 to answer questions.