How a bad relationship can make you ill
Not only does anxiety appear to raise levels of stress hormones in the body, it also makes it less effective at fighting off illness.
Researchers at Ohio Sate University tested the health effects of ‘attachment anxiety’ on 85 couples who had been married for an average of more than 12 years.
People with attachment anxiety are defined as being excessively concerned about rejection.
They also have a tendency to constantly seek reassurance that they are loved, and are more likely to interpret ambiguous events in a relationship as negative, the researchers said.
Couples completes questionnaires about their relationships and had samples of blood and saliva taken.
This was so levels of a key stress-related hormone and numbers of certain immune cells could be tested.
The participants also reported general anxiety symptoms and their sleep quality.
Of particular interest were people considered to be at the high end of the attachment anxiety spectrum.
The researchers found that people with high attachment anxiety produced, on average, 11 per cent more cortisol – a hormone associated with stress – than those who weren’t so anxious.
They also found that the more anxious people were also less able to fight off infection, as they had up to 22 per cent T- cells than less anxiously attached partners.
Incidentally, while more women in the study suffered from higher levels of attachment anxiety, the researchers saw the same elevated levels of cortisol and lower T-cells in the men who were anxious.
Stress is already known to negatively affect health, but this study aimed to look specifically at relationship anxiety.
And while more women in the study suffered from higher levels of attachment anxiety, the researchers saw the same elevated levels of cortisol and lower T-cells in the men who were anxious.
Lead study author Lisa Jaremka said: ‘Everyone has these types of concerns now and again in their relationships, but a high level of attachment anxiety refers to people who have these worries fairly constantly in most of their relationships.’
Though some scientists believe that attachment anxiety can be traced back to childhood, Dr Jaremka noted that people who feel anxious can change, over time.
‘It’s not necessarily a permanent state of existence,’ she said in the study published in the journal Psychological Science