How to Be Free of Anxiety and Improve Your Relationships

Anxiety serves us well when we face a real threat that requires a quick response. Continuing to worry about imagined threats, however, is the source of many chronic symptoms for individuals and relationships.

Rather than letting your fears run you, here are three things you can do to be free of anxiety and improve your relationships.

Separating the ‘what if’ from the ‘what now’

Managing anxiety healthily is an important effort at every life phase, but the single young adult suffers particular pressure from media, peers and parents to focus more on finding a partner than learning to manage stress as a single person. Hence, it’s worth giving some attention to how to prevent anxiety becoming a drain on our growth.

The degree to which we live life attuned to what might go wrong in the future, especially in our relationships, has a direct link to our capacity to deal with life’s challenges. If we’re always on alert for threats to harmony, or carrying a fear of another being in some kind of distress, our life energy gets directed towards looking for what we’re anxious about.

And what happens when you start looking for the evidence of what you imagine and fear? You’re sure to find confirmation for what you are looking for and then to behave as if the problem is a fact rather than imagined.

When tension arises we might start scanning our lives (or ourselves or another person) to look for evidence of what we fear; we will inevitably find possible characteristics of our fear and put a name to it; and then we begin to treat it as if it were a real problem rather than something we’re afraid might occur.

We can make it very hard to work out what’s logical because we can put so much intellectual research into our labeling of the problem that it seems to be legitimate.

Watching out for and putting a stop to going in search of what we fear is an important life management skill to learn at any stage of life.

Learning self-regulation to manage anxiety

Anxiety can easily get directed into our relationships by overly relying on others, overly controlling others, or focusing on a distraction relationship.

Relationships are great for our health if we don’t let them take over our individual responsibilities, but we are vulnerable as humans to letting our relationships act as a sedative when life gets challenging. We can look to others to calm us or focus on being helpful to others to calm us down.

Stress and anxiety is an unavoidable part of life and if we can learn to not fuel it with our imaginations, and learn to draw on our own body’s resources to contain our stress, we become better equipped to adapt to life’s challenges.

Our responses to anxiety are automatic and usually below the level of our awareness. They can impact the functioning of our entire body, including digestion, heart rate, blood pressure, adrenaline levels, breathing capacity and skin temperature.

Our growing up is significantly enhanced by recognizing when our relationship systems trigger internal anxiety and recognizing how our bodies express this arousal.

The more we attend to our body’s stress responses and practice skills to bring down the agitation, the more choice we develop between attending to our feelings or our thinking. We can have our feelings and emotions without them having us or taking over our energies.

Paying attention to our depth and pace of breathing, to our hand temperature and to our muscle tension can go hand in hand with using our mind to put anxiety triggers into logical proportion.

While there are no magical techniques to managing our stress responses, we can each find strategies that make a difference for us.

Avoid external distracters as substitutes

Most of us don’t realize how little we draw on our inner resources to manage our agitations. Instead we tend to impulsively go outside of ourselves and resort to indirect distracters of the anxiety.

These can become either bad habits or more serious addictions. Anxiety distracters come in almost any form, ranging from substances or food to relationship fantasies, to shopping and excessive computer use. Each distractor has varying levels of destructiveness to our, or another’s, health and functioning.

The main problem with external anxiety distracters is that they never take us to the issue that needs to be addressed more thoughtfully. They also prevent us from developing or paying attention to our biologically inbuilt tools for dealing with stress management.

It’s just like the child who always jumps into his parents’ bed when afraid of the dark and never learns how to get his fears under control.

When we don’t learn how to regulate our anxieties we are more prone to getting others caught up in helping us diffuse our stress. We redirect our worry focus onto another person or allow another to take on the job of care taking us.

Questions to ponder upon

  • What are the ways in which I look to others to reduce my inner uncertainties?
  • How can I learn to stand more on my own two feet while staying connected to friends and family?
  • What life skills could do with some extra attention?
  • How can I practice using my internal calming tools to deal with stress?
  • Can I see the difference between worrying about imagined things and worrying about factual problems?
  • What could be changed to create more mutual interest in relationships rather than giving and/or taking?


GYU front cover 2011Sept_150dpiJenny Brown is the author of “Growing Yourself Up - How to Bring the Best to All of Life's Relationships. She is the founder and director of the Family Systems Institute in Sydney, Australia, where she has a counselling practice and trains mental health professionals and organisations. Her book explores how you can improve your relationships by taking that critical first step: first, find the wisdom and maturity to be the best person that you can be. You can download the eBook version here.