How to deal with anxiety in anxiously attached relationships

This Mental Health Awareness week, Relate counsellor Holly Roberts explores how anxiety shows up in anxiously attached relationships & discusses how we can help ourselves if we have an anxious attachment style.

Mental Health Awareness Week gives us all an opportunity to take a moment and reflect on how we’re really doing. It’s so easy to just be in ‘on’ mode. How often do you notice that you say “I’m fine, you know, busy, busy!” when someone asks you how you are? But, really, how are you? Stressed? Tired and overworked? Anxious?  

On average, around 1 in 4 of us will experience some kind of mental health problem over the period of a year, and 1 in 6 people will experience anxiety or depression in that time. Feelings of anxiety are really common but aren’t talked about as much as they should be. So, we’re going to open the conversation and look at how anxiety can affect your relationships, especially for those with an anxious attachment style.  

What is anxious attachment? 

Anxiety can show up in lots of different ways, but we tend to feel the impact most noticeably on our close relationships. This is particularly the case for people that have an ‘anxious attachment’ style.

An anxious attachment style means that you are overly worried that your partner/s or friends are going to suddenly leave you. This way of thinking often stems from childhood experiences and lodges itself in our subconscious when we become adults.

We may find ourselves feeling anxious when our partner has popped out to the shops and takes just a little too long. Or when a friend has left us on read for ages. Our imaginations, triggered by our anxious attachment thoughts, will lead us to panic and worry that the worst is happening. We’ll imagine that our partner has had some awful accident or our friend hates us and doesn’t want to be friends anymore.

These thoughts may be catastrophic but are perfectly normal. That’s what I want to try to help achieve here: you’re not weird or crazy if you think like this, your brain is just wired in such a way that when you are triggered you can’t help but have these thoughts.

How to notice if you're anxiously attached 

Thinking and reacting like this is exhausting. If you notice that you are feeling uneasy in your stomach, your heart is racing or you tend to catastrophise when you encounter issues in your relationship this might indicate that you have an anxious attachment style.

If you crave approval and you’re a people pleaser, even at your own detriment, then you may fall into this category too. You may notice you become clingy when your partner tries to get some distance or friends say you’re ‘too much’ because you need a lot of reassurance.

How can I help myself if I’m anxiously attached? 

So, if you’re one of the many people who fall into this category, you might be wondering what can you do to help yourself and your relationships.  

  • Firstly, try to be kind to yourself and not criticise yourself for feeling the way you do. The more we think we ‘shouldn’t feel this way, the more we view ourselves as being wrong or not good enough. If we can compassionately accept our way of thinking, knowing that it’s just our brain doing its thing, then maybe we can find some peace in self-acceptance.   

  • Work towards gently challenging these exaggerated ways of thinking by asking yourself ‘is this a fact or is this a thought?’. Going a bit further and trying to find solid facts that disprove your thoughts might also help you find a more balanced point of view.  

  • Learn what your bodily signals are when you go into a panic may help you to soothe yourself before the thoughts become too hard to manage. If you notice your breathing becoming short and laboured then take a moment to inhale and exhale deeply and slowly. Notice if that makes a difference.  

  • Ask your partner/s or friends for support. If they know what is going on then they’re ‘in the know’ and can offer help when you need it. What could they do to help empower you when you’re triggered? It can be hard to ask for help, could you send them an emoji that shares your state of mind and lets them know it’s your code for ‘I need some reassurance’? 

You deserve to be supported and we’re sure your friends and partners want to support you, despite what your anxious thoughts might tell you. Anchor yourself in this positive thought and hopefully you’ll start to see some improvements in your everyday interactions. Little by little they will make a difference.

If you want to talk to a professional about your anxious attachment, our trained relationship therapists can help you understand yourself and find ways to deal with your emotions. 

How we can help

If you’re looking for support with your relationships, we can help. We offer a range of ways to speak with a trained relationship expert including ongoing counselling, 30 minute web and phone chats, and one session therapy.

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