Anxiety ruining family and intimate relationships

Originally Published: February 12, 1999 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 28, 2008
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Dear Alice,

I have a major problem! You see, for the last year now I've suffered with anxiety and it's ruining my relationships with my mom, stepdad, and boyfriend!! I get mad over little things and sometimes, okay most of the time, I take it out on them! Is there any way to deal with this situation? If so, please help.


Dear K,

A couple of distinctions: Sigmund Freud, along with many of today's less famous mental health practitioners and researchers, believes that anxiety and fear are one in the same. Usually, the fear is from something not easily identified by the anxious person. Many types of mental health counseling try to help people link their fear to a particular source or sources. The idea is that greater awareness of our fears will help us change the way we think and/or act when they're around in order to make them less problematic. Feeling anxious on a regular basis can fuel things like insomnia, colds, the flu, and sexual performance problems, and, yes, anxiety can certainly affect our relationships. Being stressed in general from "everyday" sources, i.e., work, school, the weather, etc., can push us toward the same symptoms as our more specific fears. The stress resulting from the more general sources can be reduced by time management efforts, exercise, meditation, and many other techniques, while more entrenched fears tend to be reduced, or even eliminated, more effectively with an examination of their causes.

All that said, can you identify the causes of your angst, stress, and irritability? Think back to a year ago when your anxiety first became a problem. What, if anything, has changed? If you are in school, did it become more stressful? Did someone close to you become ill or pass away? Did you move? Are you unhappy with your job, or are you in a new position? Did you take on new responsibilities? Are you worried about something that may happen in the future? Maybe you'll discover that, for example, taking one extra class was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Your next step is to figure out what changes you can make to your schedule so that your workload and stress level are manageable again. Can you cut something out until the class is over? Can you drop the class?

Taking time out to relax can be therapeutic, too. Can you fit fifteen to thirty minutes into your day to take a bath or go for a run? For some, a break from the day's activities to do something enjoyable has a wonderful effect on their emotional health. Don't forget about talking with your boyfriend and family about what has been going on and asking for support in dealing with your anxiety. Maybe talking to them about your feelings will help diffuse present and future strain. They might even be able to help you reach your goal of lower angst by providing you with wise suggestions or altering their own actions to help increase your calm. You can also find more information the Go Ask Alice! response to Stress, anxiety, and learning to cope and from the National Institute of Mental Health, Anxiety Disorders page.

If self-help suggestions don't work for you, you may want to consider making an appointment with your primary health care provider, a counselor, or a psychiatrist. Columbia students can make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) by calling x4-2878. A health care professional can ask you more in-depth questions and, hopefully, get to the root of your problem. Once that has been achieved — perhaps with the help of anti-anxiety medications — finding some ways to lower your anxiety may be more within your reach.