The concept of dating, relationships, marriage - even divorce - can evoke feelings of anxiety in many. This is a natural component of relationships with others; after all, we are sharing ourselves with somebody else, and that can make us feel vulnerable at first. In my last post, I described how ‘every important relationship we have shapes our brain, which in turn shapes our very relationships.’ This still holds true. Now imagine that the anxiety of one particular relationship transcends into our overall psyche, and consequently gets transferred to our other relationships. This knock-on effect can have a pretty significant impact on our happiness, making us feel a bit out of control for the most part. What’s more, the anxiety we experience in childhood (even in the womb!) can stay with us for a lifetime if we don’t take an active course in diminishing it.
To cling or not to cling
One of the more discernible ways that predict whether we fear rejection or fear intimacy is in our ‘attachment style,’ a trait rooted in our childhood that extends into our adult relationships. In psychology, there are two ends of the attachment spectrum - avoidance and anxiety. Those on the ‘avoidance’ end of the spectrum tend to be very self-reliant and uncomfortable with closeness and intimacy. At the other end of the spectrum, those with high anxiety fear rejection and are more dependent on others. For instance, someone with high attachment anxiety may think their partner will leave them on a regular basis, constantly seeking reassurance, and may even interpret their partner’s actions in a negative way. If they have a more ‘avoidant’ partner (one who fears intimacy), this clinginess may cause their partner to pull further away, making the anxious person feel even more insecure. See how this could turn into a vicious cycle of of anxiety?
What does this look like in the body?
In the body, increased attachment anxiety is reflected in elevated levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, and lower T-cells, white blood cells essential for our immunity. While every effective immune response involves activating T cells, they are especially important in cell-mediated immunity, which is the defense against tumor cells and pathogenic organisms inside body cells. A study showed that recently divorced women had fewer numbers of a variety of T-cells compared to married women. Even in a relatively stable relationship like a marriage, those with higher attachment anxiety also show decreased levels of immune-boosting cells and increased cortisol1. So on top of increasing our stress levels, relationship anxiety can also affect our own body’s immunity against disease and infection. On the flipside, think of how the positive effects of reducing relationship anxiety could have on our immunity and hormonal balance!
If reading this is making you frantically analyze your childhood and your current dating choices, don’t fret. While our past shapes much of our behavior, the fantastic plastic brain shows us that nothing about our behavior is set in stone. True, taking some time for self-analysis can be insightful and fruitful, but the fact is we are constantly changing and may feel more attached or less attached depending on our current partner. The practice of meditation can help us learn about our own thoughts and behaviors, and gently, over time, lead us to a place we want to be within ourselves. What’s more, studies show that meditation is also linked to higher levels of compassion and greater immunity against cellular invaders. We are only beginning to understand the science behind relationship anxiety and the links between interpersonal relationships, stress, and health. Remember though, that the human experience is shared experience, and that we affect each other in ways previously thought unimaginable. Meditation practice can help us find balance within ourselves so that we are better equipped to find harmony with others.
- Your Brain On Love (via Headspace)
Reference: Jaremka, Lisa M., et al. "Attachment anxiety is linked to alterations in cortisol production and cellular immunity." Psychological science (2013).
Dr. Claudia Aguirre is a neuroscientist specializing in the mind-body connection.
This post was originally shared on Headspace.
Begin your day feeling grounded and inspired.
A free 30-day email series where we share the most impactful stories and ideas that have helped us on our journey to live a more meaningful life.
✌️ Free. Unsubscribe anytime.
“I’m in the midst of big life transitions at the moment, chasing book deals, relocating, taking risks, carving out a life that feels honest, so your emails have been a perfectly timed source of inspiration and reassurance.” Jo in London, Great Britain
"Love the emails! They are a great reset or what I would call mindful chiropractic adjustment to approaching the day. Thank you!" Laurie in Albuquerque, New Mexico
"I love the emails. They give me a new perspective and things to think about and apply in my life." Monica in Johannesburg, South Africa
"It's food for the soul and sets my spiritual compass in the right direction." Farahdiva Samsul in Assam, India
"Absolutely LOVE the daily emails. One of the only email subscriptions I read daily. Keep them coming!!" Adriana in New York, New York
"The emails are thought-provoking and uplifting. A little pause from the crazy happenings of modern life. A quick chance to reflect, smile, and think about a life lived mindfully." Pharan in Queensland, Australia
"I have thoroughly enjoyed the Mindfully Mailed series. Daily I await this little nugget of goodness to hit my inbox each day." Tambria in Shreveport, Louisiana
Welcome to Holstee
Living with intention is an ongoing practice, not a destination. Inspired by this, we’ve created a range of products to help you on your journey to live both fully and mindfully, including the Holstee Membership, Reflection Cards, and our recently-launched Reflection.app.
This article is part of our series on the theme of Simplicity.EXPLORE Simplicity →
Inspiration and tools to help you live a more meaningful life.VISIT THE SHOP →