Relationship Anxiety: Connection Between Love & Stress

by Ishani Bose last updated - Medically reviewed by Dr. Sarah Schewitz

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Of all the things ever discussed, love is perhaps the most talked-about yet the least understood emotion there has ever been. Of course, we all know how being in love can make your heart glow or give you a rush similar to the euphoria connected with the use of cocaine. However, no one can deny that it also has the potential to give you sleepless nights and anxiety pangs – that can sometimes have serious physical and mental ramifications. Relationship anxiety, as it is commonly known, is a real issue that people deal with, which needs to be addressed. Failing to do so can make you feel stuck in an endless loop of self-doubt and misery. Is anxiety entirely bad for love though? Let us find out.

What is Relationship Anxiety?

Relationship anxiety can be different for different people but if one were to describe it in layman terms, it is a state of constant stress, insecurity, and worry about your relationship, which can manifest even if everything is going comparatively smooth. Most people face relationship anxiety at the beginning of their relationship before their partner shows an equal amount of interest and commitment towards them. Some may even feel it later on in their relationship. These issues may not necessarily be a result of something going wrong in the relationship. It could, more often than not, be one’s thought patterns influencing their behaviors that eventually cause rifts in their relationship.

A man and woman, in love, hugging each other

Relationship anxiety can be controlled and overcome with time and consistent efforts

Role of  Cortisol

When one experiences relationship anxiety, their stress hormone (cortisol) rises, and their neurotransmitter, serotonin (which regulates mood and social behavior in the brain), gradually begins to decline. Low levels of serotonin are also found in those with obsessive-compulsive disorder. A reduction in serotonin causes obsessive and sometimes intrusive thoughts. When it comes to relationship anxiety, these thoughts are typically deep-rooted insecurities or angst about one’s relationship. Another chemical in the brain, known as norepinephrine, which acts as a stress hormone and neurotransmitter, also gets triggered with relationship anxiety. This causes physical symptoms of anxiety that are frequently experienced in love, such as increased heart rate, loss of appetite, alertness, energy sleeplessness, sweating, and trembling.

Is Anxiety All Bad For Love?

Many things can cause anxiety. We know that the absence of love gives rise to loneliness, which eventually could lead to symptoms of stress and anxiety. We also know getting over a broken heart can cause anxiety and depression. Sometimes, everything is fine in our current relationship but we are so hurt by our past experiences that we continue to be anxious in all our future relationships. However, did you know that anxiety is not always that bad? Sometimes, anxiety can act as a facilitator of love.

Everyone knows about the initial phase of love or the ‘honeymoon phase’.During this phase, the ventral tegmental portion of the brain (known as the reward circuit) is flooded with chemicals that trigger an abundance of emotional and physical responses. During the love-struck phase, as it is sometimes called, the brain lets out a feel-good chemical known as dopamine, which activates the reward circuit. The physical symptoms of this phase may include sweaty palms, racing hearts, and feelings of passion and anxiety. So the ‘butterfly in the stomach’ feeling that people experience in the initial throes of romantic love is really just a form of anxiety. Now would you call that feeling bad?

As per a 2016 study published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, rise during this phase only to act as a trigger for “pleasure, proximity, and closeness”. The study states that elevated levels of cortisol in this phase help to encourage social bonding and get over one’s neophobia, which is a condition of extreme and irrational dislike towards something new and unfamiliar.

With time, the love hormone, oxytocin, gets activated and strengthens and deepens the relationship between a couple, particularly after establishing a physical relationship. Over a period of time, dopamine and oxytocin, together, activate a state of calmness, contentment, and security, which help to alleviate stress prevalent in the initial phase of love.

Ways To Overcome Relationship Anxiety

While anxiety may not always be bad, it can be quite unpleasant sometimes and could even get out of control if not managed properly. Relationship anxiety is quite complex and is often related to early childhood attachment experiences. However, it can be controlled and overcome with time and consistent efforts. The following are some of the ways in which you can best deal with this condition.

  • Seek therapy: The main cause of relationship anxiety is past unresolved issues. Memories from childhood and past relationships can haunt you and influence your thought patterns and consequently your behavior. Often, these memories are stored in your unconscious mind and aren’t even something you think will influence your behavior. Therapy sessions can help you uncover and overcome these past hurts.
  • Journal: Relationship anxiety can also be born out of low self-esteem and self-doubt. Journaling daily can help you gain insight and understanding about your issues and possibly even reduce your anxiety through a focused-examination.
  • Self-compassion: An important part of your healing journey is showing self-compassion. By treating yourself and your experiences with compassion and kindness you will, with time, learn to let go of the hurt and the internal turmoil that is causing you to get caught up in a prolonged game of “anxiety tug-of-war”.
  • Reach out: Talking to a trusted friend, family member or counselor can help you clear your head and get perspective, as well as prevent you from getting into the unending loop of anxiety. Better yet, have open conversations with your partner. Communication helps to foster healthy relationships.

Love can sometimes help to ease anxiety and other mental health disorders simply by establishing a sense of belonging. A 2014 report published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research highlights how a feeling of loneliness not only gives birth to anxiety and other mental health disorders but also triggers inflammation and pain in the body. Loneliness gives rise to anxiety, which causes cortisol and adrenaline levels to rise, further causing people to feel insecure and threatened. Being in love can help people feel more connected and whole, thereby mitigating anxiety.

Having said that, love can be a risky affair and everyone who has been hurt in love can vouch for that. Our past experiences shape our personalities and determine our attitude and openness to emotional intimacy. It requires a lot of courage to be vulnerable enough to accept everything that comes with being in love. Perhaps, stress and anxiety are part of the deal. But as we have seen, the absence of love does not ensure an anxiety-free life either. The truth of the matter is, you have the potential to feel anxious or amazing either way. As the poets say, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

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About the Author

An alumnus of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Ishani Bose has worked as a reporter/features writer for several leading newspapers and organizations in India. It was her love for food, health, and wellness that brought her to Organic Facts. As a Content & Culinary Outreach Specialist, she is responsible for developing and managing the website’s recipe section. She is also passionate about mental health and enjoys writing about it for the website to educate more and more people about the same. An avid Instagrammer who knows the latest social media trends, Ishani helps strategize and create authentic content for the website’s social media platforms. When not writing or cooking, you’ll find her reading, traveling, soaking herself in music, arts, and culture in every way possible. Ishani has completed an online program on “Introduction to Food and Health” by Stanford University, US. Furthermore, she has completed an online course on “The Science of Wellbeing” by the Department of Psychology, Yale University.

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