Relationship anxiety could weaken your immune system

Anxious couple

Anxiety and concerns about your close relationships can make you fall ill by reducing your immunity, a new study claims. Such concerns appear to function as a chronic stressor that can compromise immunity, researchers said.

They asked married couples to complete questionnaires about their relationships and collected saliva and blood

samples to test participants' levels of a key stress-related hormone and numbers of certain immune cells.

Those who are on the high end of the attachment anxiety spectrum are excessively concerned about being rejected, have

a tendency to constantly seek reassurance that they are loved, and are more likely to interpret ambiguous events in a

relationship as negative, researchers said.

Married partners who were more anxiously attached produced higher levels of cortisol, a steroid hormone that is released

in response to stress, and had fewer T cells - important components of the immune system's defence against infection

than did participants who were less anxiously attached.

"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," said Lisa Jaremka, lead researcher from Ohio State University's Institute for Behavioural Medicine Research (IBMR).

Though some scientists theorise that attachment anxiety can be traced to inconsistent care during one's infancy, Jaremka noted that there is also research-based evidence that people with attachment anxiety can change.

"It's not necessarily a permanent state of existence," she said in the study published in the journal Psychological Science.

Jaremka and colleagues tested the health effects of attachment anxiety on 85 couples who had been married for an average of more than 12 years.

The participants reported general anxiety symptoms and their sleep quality. Participants with higher attachment anxiety produced, on average, 11 per cent more cortisol than did those with lower attachment anxiety.

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