Managing Feelings — 03 December 2011
How does anxiety affect your relationship?

We live in stress-inducing times. Public media reminds us daily of a wobbly economy, job scarcity, housing difficulties, social inequities, political feuds, wars, international instability and natural disasters. It is understandable that we feel some anxiety in light of all the discouraging news. Compounding these external threats are our personal concerns about health, job security, family matters and more. Yet, if your or your mate’s worries are constant and exhausting, they may signify a generalized anxiety disorder that could interfere with your lives and relationship.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-IV) describes Generalized Anxiety Disorder as a compilation of symptoms that last most days for at least six months and include at least three of the following:  Restlessness or feeling on edge, Irritability, Tiring easily, Muscle tension, Difficulty concentrating or Sleep problems. It also stipulates that these symptoms are not attributable to any other medical or psychiatric condition.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder affects about 5% to 6% of Americans at some point in their lives, appears more commonly in women and usually starts in young adulthood through the mid -50s. It presents with troubling worry and agitation about minor anticipated issues such as possible injury or behavioral faux pas. This anxiety is accompanied by physiological symptoms of fast heartbeat, upset stomach, muscle strain, sweating or irritability. The individual is usually displeased with the tiring thoughts and feelings of his/her anxious state.

Dr. Fahad Alwahhabi reported in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, “This anxiety disorder has been attributed to an excessive activation of the brain mechanism underlying fear and fight-or-flight response, intended to protect the individual from harm.” The positive intended benefit does not modulate the discomfort the sufferer experiences.

This profound and non-remitting anxiety may seem needless and annoying to the partner, who seeks to understand the logic behind the worry. Individuals living with an excessively anxious mate may become impatient, agitated and even critical of the worried mate as their efforts to calm and soothe their loved one fail. They often report feeling helpless in persuading the anxious spouse that his/her concerns are meritless.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder can negatively impact family relationships.

The agitated energy of the worried mate is pervasive and affects all members of the household, including small children and even infants. Fortunately, treatment is available with antidepressant medications and cognitive behavioral therapy that includes relaxation techniques.

If your partner is excessively worried:

¨     Understand that your mate suffers from a physiological disorder that is not based on logical threats but is emotionally and physically distressing and exhausting to him/her.

¨     Abstain from trying to convince your worried partner that these concerns are implausible, unlikely or illogical. Your mate may know it and is unable to change his/her hormonal reactions.

¨     Stay calm and soothing to your children to improve their psychological equilibrium.

¨     Express compassion, not criticism for your worried partner’s suffering.

¨     Seek medical/psychological treatment to help your mate, yourself and your family gain a calmer life.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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