We have ways to manage our anxiety by distancing ourselves from others, which may be a quick way to relieve stress, but the behavior comes with consequences. We stay late at work to avoid our spouse, we might not share our true beliefs with friends out of fear that they will disagree, and due to COVID-19 have withdrawn from others due to pandemic-related anxiety. We lose opportunities to build relationships and to work on managing the anxiety in more skillful ways (like using DBT skills). Here are some of the things we do to create distance in our relationships in order to keep our anxiety under control. Do you do any of these behaviors?
Moving across the country to avoid family.
Canceling plans with people at the last minute to feel instant relief.
Avoiding listening important voicemails.
Becoming busy with work to avoid family.
Only talking about your kids when you talk with your spouse (avoiding other topics that may be important, but difficult to discuss).
Using alcohol or drugs to feel more at-ease during conversations.
Choosing “safe” topics, like only talking about sports or the weather.
Texting someone when you should probably call.
Only visiting your family when you have to.
Switching the conversation topic when you sense others are anxious.
Ghosting a date instead of letting them know you’re not interested.
Lying about your beliefs to avoid disagreeing with others.
Saying “I’m okay,” “I’m good,” “I’m fine,” when you aren’t.
Avoiding engaging with people who are sick or passing away.
Not introducing yourself to a coworker who seems unapproachable.
Asking someone several questions to avoid sharing about yourself.
Not being the initiator of conversations with people who look different than you.
Not bringing up family history that is stressful to talk about.
Not engaging in conversations that are hard, but necessary.
Packing everyone’s day full with activities to keep them busy.
Minimizing your accomplishments in hopes of making others feel comfortable.
Assuming that others aren’t interested in hearing about your passions or hobbies.
Making alternative plans on the same day that you have a get-together, so that you have an easy way out.
Turning on the television during family visits.
Bringing up a difficult topic during the last two minutes of counseling when it is something that should have been brought up when the session started.
While distancing relationships may be a quick or good way to avoid a tricky situation, it isn’t always the greatest way to respond to it, as there may be later consequences and missed opportunities. When you notice yourself performing one of these behaviors, ask yourself if this is coming from anxiety and if it is your best thinking. There are other ways of managing anxiety when it comes to relationships, though the downside is that it takes practice to learn new skills and strategies, and they tend to cause a little more discomfort, temporarily. The upside of practicing being more skillful is that these ways are, overall, more helpful.
Change doesn’t happen when we engage in distancing behaviors. Shift avoiding behaviors to relationship connecting and open behaviors. Challenging anxious thoughts will also foster change. Change happens gradually over time. Turning off the television or putting down the bottle of beer to have an important conversation will allow you to work through things. There are internal and external relationships to be mended. Learn to say how you’re truthfully doing. “Actually, I’m not doing the greatest. Let me tell you what’s been challenging me this week.” Be mindful of how you keep distance in your relationships in order to manage anxiety, acknowledge and address it, don’t allow it to create a diluted version of yourself.