Living with anxiety can make it difficult to do everyday tasks, including connecting with others. Anxiety can make you overthink interactions, worry about what others think, and jump to the worst conclusions in situations. It can also make someone feel irritable, leading to sharp reactivity or to shutting down in certain social scenarios.
All of these elements make it challenging to build relationships. Forming and growing relationships are a big part of living a more fulfilling life, so it’s important to find ways to cope with anxiety. Whether it’s a romantic, personal, or professional relationship, these habits can help you improve how you communicate and strengthen your connection.
How to prevent anxiety from ruining your relationship
1. Identify causes of anxiety
There are many causes of anxiety, whether due to events from the past, genetic predisposition, emotional neglect as a child, or other attachment issues during youth. Many find their anxious thoughts stem from underlying shame, low self-esteem, or lack of self-confidence. Identifying where your anxiety stems from can help you target ways to stop it from growing and reframe your reactions to potential triggers and stressors.
2. Attend individual and couples therapy
Therapy is an excellent tool to help you identify the roots of your anxiety and ways to cope with it. Types of cognitive behavior therapy specifically focus on how thoughts and feelings influence behavior. Those struggling with anxiety find it’s these thoughts and feelings that make it difficult for them to connect with or trust others. Consider attending couples therapy along with individual therapy to help you improve your communication and strengthen your relationship both with yourself and your partner, friends, and family.
A common problem many with anxiety face is that they rely on friends, family, or partners to work out their struggles. This can be highly burdensome for these individuals as they are not trained to help their loved ones manage their anxieties.
Often, relying on your closest relationships to “fix” you can exhaust the other person and strain the relationship. Working with a professional therapist can help you unburden yourself and those you love, improving your relationships all around.
3. Use breathwork to calm yourself
Anxious reactions often manifest in a rapid heartbeat and quickened breath. These triggers put your brain in “fight, flight, or freeze” mode, making it difficult to proceed rationally in the face of a perceived threat or challenge. Focusing on slowing your breath can stop the escalation of anxiety and its reactions. Use methods like breathing in as much air as possible, then slowly letting it out, repeating for one to two minutes. Deep breathing can happen anywhere and can have a big impact on lowering your stress response.
4. Break your anxious thoughts
Along with deep breathing, there are other methods you can use to not only lower your stress response but interrupt the thought patterns that lead to disruptive, anxious thoughts. When you notice an anxious thought begin, redirecting your focus and reframing your reaction to the thought can go a long way toward finding a more balanced frame of mind.
One method to use is the “Five Senses Exercise.” In this exercise, you focus your attention on something you can see, something else you can hear, a new thing you can touch, something you can smell, and something you can taste. Moving your focus to these external stimuli can stop your anxious thoughts before they build to a reactive level.
Another method is a body scan, where you shift your focus to how you feel in your body, starting at your feet. Sitting still or lying down, you pay attention to how your body feels in your toes, feet, ankles, calves, knees, and so on until you reach your head. At the end of the exercise, you’ll find you’ve broken your thoughts and instead are grounded in the moment.
5. Give yourself grace
As you’re focusing on how to strengthen relationships and manage your anxiety, you will come up against roadblocks and stumble along the way. Forgive yourself! Recovery is not a straight line; you will experience ups and downs in your journey. What’s most important is that you keep putting in the effort again and again. With time and practice, you’ll see your anxiety lessen, and your relationships grow.
Remember that you are not bound or defined by your anxiety. It is only part of what makes you who you are, and something millions live with and manage in their lives. You, too, can lessen the hold anxiety takes on your life, finding growth in relationships and yourself.