4 Ways We Use Our Relationships to Manage Anxiety

How to rely more on yourself to stay calm

Kathleen Smith
Forge
Published in
3 min readNov 22, 2021

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Source: Canva

Humans are social creatures. We use our relationships to survive, thrive, and calm down as quickly as possible.

When I ask my therapy clients how they manage anxiety, they usually don’t talk about the relationships patterns that they activate in times of distress. But paying attention to these behaviors can help you see opportunities to work on self-regulating anxiety instead of outsourcing the job to the nearest, nicest human.

There’s nothing wrong with using other people to manage anxiety. But too much reliance on certain patterns can put a strain on our relationships and ultimately lead to more anxiety. Here are four common relationship patterns we use to calm down.

1. We use conflict to manage anxiety.

At first glance, conflict with others doesn’t seem particularly calming. But seeing and labeling others (and not ourselves) as the problem can help you feel stable.

Conflict happens when two people (or two groups) are focused on how the other needs to change. This can manage tension to a degree. But when one person can shift the focus back on themselves and how they want to respond to the challenge, they’ll be less reactive in the long run.

2. We overfunction for others to manage anxiety.

Controlling or directing others can be a quick fix for distress. It is stabilizing to lend thinking, help, or reassurance to others, especially when their anxiety feels contagious. Constant overfunctioning for others, however, can lead to burnout and other mental health symptoms.

Learning to let people be responsible for themselves is no easy task. But over time, people might surprise you with their capabilities. And you’ll probably become less sensitive to their distress.

3. We underfunction to manage anxiety.

If you’re close to someone who likes to overfunction, chances are you might find yourself doing the opposite, known as underfunctioning, to manage anxiety. When we are distressed, we often look to others to calm us down, reassure us, or function…

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Kathleen Smith
Forge
Writer for

Kathleen Smith is a therapist and author of the book Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down.