Guest blog by Fioralba (Fio) Millon MA, LPC, NCC
When suffering from anxiety or depression, you know how it feels for you. You feel it constantly. Even when you’re not thinking about it, you feel it controlling your mood and actions. However, there is another aspect to be considered – how depression and anxiety affect relationships.
The effects of anxiety and depression may feel as if they are just part of your everyday life. It’s become your normal. Yet, the people with whom you interact view your conditions through a different lens. They may misinterpret or not understand your actions or may judge you from their perspective. They may, in turn, treat you differently than they usually might.
Whether you are talking with a store clerk, a friend, a coworker, your child, or your significant other – your behavior influences how they react to you. Additionally, their reaction to you can change how you respond to them. That is why you need to explore this connection of your depression or anxiety and your relationships.
Recognizing how depression and anxiety affect relationships is one of the steps in recovering from these conditions. When you can realize the impact of depression and anxiety on your relationships, you are in a much better position to overcome these hurdles.
How Depression and Anxiety Affect Relationships at Work
Every day at work, you interact with clients, your boss, your staff, and your colleagues. You seek to earn their respect, business, support, and confidence. As you do, you want to project competency. But if you are suffering from depression or anxiety, at times you can see that goal dissolve before your eyes.
The influence of depression and anxiety upon work lives was one of the reasons the American Psychiatric Association created its Center For Workplace Mental Health. They provide employers with tools to better support employees to access effective help. These disorders respond well to treatment. You should recognize that you can control that which feels uncontrollable.
In the workplace, anxiety and depression can fill you with a fear of failure. For example, instead of accepting an assignment, anxiety may drive you to defer to a coworker. Your boss may view that as an unwillingness to take on challenges. When the next assignment arises, your boss may immediately go to your co-worker and not to you. In turn, this makes you feel even less competent – and more anxious and depressed.
A vicious, never-ending cycle is now in motion. It only fuels your low self-esteem. This makes you even less likely to speak up or give your input. When you are given a task, you can become so obsessed with the challenges that you do not handle it efficiently.
All of this can lead to further isolation, failure to communicate with colleagues, low motivation, and hypersensitivity to criticism. You may feel as if you are not taken seriously. There may be strained relationships with your coworkers.
You may begin to perceive your environment as hostile. You may create ways to be absent from work. This exacerbates the perception of your boss, and you may miss out on a promotion again. That only fuels the downward spiral that it all feels inescapable.
The good news is this cycle of depression and anxiety effects on work relationships is not inescapable. You can break the cycle. Help is available and effective. Your work relationships don’t have to be affected by depression and anxiety.
How Depression and Anxiety Affect Relationships in Your Social Life
Maintaining an active and fulfilling social life can also feel impossible if you have anxiety or depression. While Social Anxiety Disorder is a specific diagnosis, any variant of anxiety or depression can impact your social life.
Anxiety and depression inhibit not only your relationships with people you know, but also your ability to make new friends. These conditions influence your behavior. Others may misinterpret your actions and treat you based on these interpretations. For example, they may see you as withdrawn or standoffish and keep their distance from you in return.
Fear of being in situations with unknown people or worry that people notice your anxiety or depression prevents your real personality from shining. You may find it difficult to make eye contact, join conversations, or be the center of attention. You may fear others judging you.
All of this leads to further negative thoughts. You begin to make excuses to avoid parties or dinner with friends. When you do force yourself to be a part of these things, your enjoyment is not what it used to be. You then feel worse.
You’ve probably now lost all desire to go out. Isolation begins to feel like a haven. But you begin to feel disconnected, lonely, and you feel as if you have no friends. All of this leads to losing contact with old friends and finding no new ones.
It can feel like a free fall into a dark chasm that cannot be stopped. These feelings lead to more anxiety and increased depression. You may feel complete despair over your situation.
It is not a fall; it is a process. And it is a process that can be reversed with appropriate treatment.
How Depression and Anxiety Affect Relationships in Your Family
Your family knows you best. Indeed, you count on them for support and understanding while you deal with your anxiety or depression. And, undoubtedly, they are willing and eager to help. But, as with every other relationship, your anxiety and depression can have an impact on them.
Your anxiety or depression can make you more isolated and withdrawn from your family. You might find little enjoyment in life or pleasure in doing things that were once fun. Your withdrawal may cause your family to also withdraw from these family activities.
You may find it challenging to open up and discuss your condition with your family. However, despite this “I don’t want to talk about it” feeling, your family may become your outlet for your frustration and anger at the situation. They are closest to you, your safe harbor where you let down. So paradoxically they are the ones to receive your negativity, complaints, impatience, and criticisms.
But this erodes emotional closeness. Your family may feel resentful or blame themselves for your symptoms. They may feel alienated from you. As the depression and anxiety causes you to focus more on yourself than on your family, you cannot attend to their needs as you did before. They may withdraw from you.
Members of your family may also feel guilty at being unable to help you. At the same time, they may find the situation draining, all while feeling upset and worried for you. They may even begin to develop their own psychological issues.
For example, many studies have shown a connection between parental depression and a child’s anxiety. Young children are the most susceptible to this. They may act out and rebel against you. As you notice all of this, you may feel even more alone. The ones closest to you are drifting further away. So your anxiety or depression becomes even worse. Once again, that spiral of despair kicks in.
But it is, in fact, not hopeless. Help that works is available.
How Depression and Anxiety Affect Romantic Relationships
When you are suffering from depression or anxiety, maintaining or developing a romantic involvement presents another challenge. In an existing relationship, you will face new obstacles. Establishing a new bond may feel unattainable.
Any close relationship needs nurture from both parties in order to thrive. So significant complications arise when one or both persons in the relationship lack energy or motivation, suffer low self-esteem, or generally withdraw from the world. Or if you constantly doubt and question yourself, you convey this to your significant other.
If you have anxiety or depression, you likely find it hard to discuss your feelings with your partner. You may become overly clingy or suspicious or begin to exhibit jealousy. Possibly becoming defensive and impatient. You may lose interest in a having sex and begin to perceive a loss of support from your partner.
Your partner may become exhausted with the effort required to connect with you. That person may feel hurt or alienated. They may feel guilty that they cannot help you. They may view your sadness as their weakness. Your partner may shut down and stop talking to you. You might both be perplexed that given the love you both have, why can’t they help you?
All of this tends to stop communication. You feel each other drifting apart. You both feel guilty and inadequate. The love that you felt for each other, or the love that you could develop for each other, seems to dissolves into a mist.
It feels un-fixable and hopeless. But it can be fixed. There is hope.
Things Can Get Better
Perhaps you recognized yourself in some of this. Maybe you see a friend, family member, or co-worker in some of this discussion. The good news is that depression and anxiety do not have to be permanent. There is help.
The most challenging step is the first one: reaching out to a trained professional. But making that call or writing that email can begin to make everything that seemed impossible now within your grasp. Relationships can be healed and restored. There is no magic wand, but consulting with the right therapist can start you down the road to the life you want. Effective therapies can bring your back from the hold anxiety and depression have had on you.
As one of the professionals at Life Care Wellness, I can be a part of your journey back to the real you. Take that first step. If you’re in the Chicago area, contact me. We can walk together and arrive at a better place. If you’re outside the Chicago area, check out the Anxiety and Depression Association of America to connect with help near you. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, understand that you don’t have to keep struggling. There is hope.
Fioralba (Fio) Millon MA, LPC, NCC
Fio is a psychotherapist at Life Care Wellness. She practices from a strengths-based, culturally sensitive, and meaning-focused approach. She also integrates pluralistic elements, and multiple theories and perspectives to fit the needs of each client. Fio specializes in anxiety, depression, self-esteem, trauma, domestic abuse, life transitions, codependency, and grief.