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Counseling On Demand Stress In Relationships

Stress Brings Out Anxiety in Relationships | Stressors Come in All Forms- Good and Bad

Stressors can lead to all sorts of personal reactions- Anxiety, Depression to name a couple.

Here we examine stressors’ effects on adult relationships- This one termed Fearful Avoidant (Attachment Theory- developed by Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby)

Fearful–Avoidant: High Anxiety, High Avoidance

“People with losses or other trauma, such as sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence may often develop this type of attachment and tend to agree with the following statements: “I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them. I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others.”

People with this attachment style have mixed feelings about close relationships. On one hand, they desire to have emotionally close relationships. On the other hand, they tend to feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness. These mixed feelings are combined with sometimes unconscious, negative views about themselves and their attachments. They commonly view themselves as unworthy of responsiveness from their attachments, and they don’t trust the intentions of their attachments. Similar to the dismissive–avoidant attachment style, people with a fearful–avoidant attachment style seek less intimacy from attachments and frequently suppress and deny their feelings. Because of this, they are much less comfortable expressing affection.” (Wikipedia, Attachment in adults, Fearful-Avoidant)

Kidd, Hamer, and  Steptoe study (highly technical), ” Stressful situations are thought to activate the attachment system (Bowlby, 1969; Mikulincer et al., 2003), and physiological systems are an important mechanism for the expression of stress responses. It has been argued that the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis will be particularly sensitive to attachment processes because it specifically responds in situations that evoke social-evaluative threat (Blascovich and Tomaka, 1996; Dickerson and Kemeny, 2004; Denson et al., 2009), is sensitive to interpersonal situations (Diamond, 2001; Kirschbaum et al., 1995), and shows individual variation in response (Gerra et al., 2001). Stimulation of the HPA axis leads to the release of adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) by the anterior pituitary, which results in the adrenal cortex releasing cortisol into the bloodstream. Although activation of these systems in response to stress is functional, repeated activation of the stress system can ultimately compromise functioning (Taylor, 2010).

Therefore our hypotheses are as follows: first, those individuals high in attachment anxiety (preoccupied and fearful) will report greater levels of perceived stress in comparison to those low in anxiety (secure and dismissive) during a non-attachment related acute stress task. As findings from previous research are quite diverse it was not possible to develop specific hypotheses regarding cortisol reactivity during an acute stressor. Therefore we have adopted a more general approach. Our second hypothesis is that there will be a difference in cortisol response between attachment styles during a non-attachment related task in an older population.” (Study by Tara Kidd, Mark Hamer and Andrew Steptoe, Examining the association between adult attachment style and cortisol responses to acute stress, US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health)

In everyday language, stress brings out anxiety in relationships.

Meghan Laslocky’s Story, “I am, or at least was, a textbook, or perhaps even extreme, case of anxious and avoidant. For years, I was so crippled by fear of intimate relationships that I didn’t have anything even close to a boyfriend until I was 28. Even then, it took another eight years for me to pull off having a long-term, serious relationship, much as I wanted one.

There are a lot of things that explained this rather debilitating immaturity (depression, trauma, and a bevy of neuroses, not to mention misguided stubbornness and pride), but the only thing that explains how I got over it and ultimately became a wife and mother (and the author of an entire book on heartbreak) was the patience and care of a truly gifted therapist—that and medication that treated my depression and social anxiety.

Laslocky’s Five ways to overcome attachment insecurity

If you think you’re insecurely attached, and it’s having a negative impact on your love life, here are a few common sense steps you can take to make the transition to secure attachment:

  • Get to know your attachment pattern by reading up on attachment theory. I don’t care if it’s through Wikipedia, an academic article like “Attachment Bonds in Romantic Relationships,” or immersion in a book like Attached, by Amir Levin and Rachel S.F. Heller, a psychiatrist and a neuroscientist respectively. Trust me: Knowledge is power.
  • If you don’t already have a great therapist with expertise in attachment theory, find one. It might even be worth asking if they’ve ever had a patient or client who they’ve seen make the leap from insecure to secure attachment in their adult romantic relationships.
  • Seek out partners with secure attachment styles. The last thing you need if you’re trying to overhaul your attachment style is to be undermined by someone who can’t support you. Research indicates that about 50 percent of adults are secure in their attachment style—pretty good odds for finding someone out there who rocks your world AND is secure. Studies suggest that a positive experience with a securely attached person can, in time, override your insecure impulses.
  • If you didn’t find such a partner, go to couples therapy. If you’re, say, anxious-preoccupied and you’re already in a loving relationship with, say, someone who is fearful-avoidant, I’d advise finding a couples therapist who can help both of you become more secure, together. Even if you feel like your relationship is going great, consider taking this step as a pre-emptive strike against trouble.
  • Practice. Pillow talk just isn’t your thing? Make yourself do it, even if you have to start by talking to a stuffed animal. Hate talking about the future of your relationship? Try talking about the next few months of your relationship if you can’t handle talking about the next few years.

(Meghan Laslocky, How to Stop Attachment Insecurity from Ruining Your Love Life, Greater Good Magazine, Greater Good Science at U.C. Berkeley)

As Meghan says, “medication and therapy.”  Medication alone is usually not enough. For one thing, though, it can put you into a frame of mind to profit from Talk Therapy.

This is where Counseling on Demand comes in.  Talk therapy is not just talk.  It is the relationship that heals.

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I am the Founder and CEO of Counseling On Demand with a Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy with over 25 years of experience in helping Individuals, Couples, Adolescents, and Families who struggle with a wide variety of Life's Challenges. I thus have developed an Array of Effective Counseling Tools and Evidenced-Based Interventions to help you towards Your Road to Better Mental Health and Wellness. You are Never Alone...I look forward to meeting with you or your family member soon!