Subscriber OnlyYour Wellness

Do you find yourself constantly worrying about what your friends are thinking?

Relationships: Feeling anxiety in any kind of relationship is a natural response to being a social human

Placing our friends on a pedestal and consistently worrying about maintaining or justifying our friendships and relationships is more commonplace than we may think.

Even if a relationship is easy and it has been relatively plain sailing, worries, fears or anxieties may creep on-board telling us to watch out for the rough waters we fear may inevitably wash over us and damage the bow of friendship.

Amanda considered herself to be an anxious person, but her fears and worries were driven when she was with a particular group of friends she was closest to. They grew up together, were each other’s bridesmaids, and travelled together. She looked up to them because she says they seemed more confident, self-assured and she “put them on a pedestal” and compared herself to them, their achievements, looks and lives.

Despite being close to this group of friends, Amanda says she was “in a constant state of flux worrying about how they were feeling and what they were thinking”.


She worried about their comments on things such as her appearance, style and certain life choices, and struggled greatly if she was met with “radio silence” when she shared her decisions to stop breastfeeding and give up alcohol. Her worries, fears and consistent state of anxiety with these people eventually made her realise that she was constantly seeking their validation and approval and worried about the strength of their connection.

“Experiencing anxiety related to relationships or friendships is a common occurrence that many people may encounter at some point in their lives”, says Sophie Cress, a relationship therapist. “It is understandable to feel apprehensive about the dynamics and uncertainties that are inherent in relationships since they involve vulnerability, trust and emotional investment.”

Cress reassures that feeling anxiety in any kind of relationship is a natural response to being a social human and does not necessarily indicate an issue. However, as with any psychological issue, Cress also advises that if anxiety becomes too much to handle and starts to interfere with daily life or the ability to establish healthy connections, it could be beneficial to seek professional support.

People seek to be validated all the time from their partner, by asking for assurances of love and commitment to relieve their anxieties

—  Sophie Cress - relationship therapist

Amanda, who distanced herself from the friendships that caused the most worry with an intense fear of rejection, realises now “that no friendship should cause that much anxiety”.

Relationship anxiety can show up in many ways and is likely to be experienced differently from person to person. A strong sign is that of compulsive reassurance-seeking behaviour with insecurity and doubt being prolific. With this comes worry about whether a couple is compatible or if friends are as close as once believed.

Intrusive thoughts about fidelity can encourage a person to break up with a partner before it gets too serious and keeping people at arm’s length is a way to avoid making connections that may eventually hurt due to a fear of abandonment. Being dishonest, people pleasing, jealousy or possessiveness, feeling threatened by others and doubting love can be other factors of relationship anxiety.

“People seek to be validated all the time from their partner, by asking for assurances of love and commitment to relieve their anxieties”, says Cress who also suggests that people with relationship anxiety may demonstrate “perfectionistic behaviours” to avoid rejection or criticism. “The struggle to live up to such unattainable standards may result in a sense of inadequacy and, consequently, anxiety in the relationship. This conduct can be exhausting for both partners and may lead to a sense of insecurity in the relationship.”

As with other anxiety issues, the physical symptoms of relationship anxiety can manifest with stomach aches, headaches, or sleeping problems.

Most significantly, a person is at risk of sabotaging their connections if their fears, worries and anxieties are left unchecked. “This can manifest as a tendency to control or manipulate situations, and avoid vulnerability, which can all undermine the trust and intimacy necessary for healthy relationships,” says Cress. “They may also misinterpret their partner’s actions or project their own fears on to their relationships, leading to unnecessary conflicts and misunderstandings that further erode the connection.”

Anxieties can outshine the healthy and positive aspects of a relationship, which can result in individuals withdrawing or disengaging emotionally from their partners or friends. “Anxiety can affect your friendships in several ways, from making it harder to connect with people and develop new relationships to making you worry that your positive friendships are not as close with you as they seem”, says Séamus Sheedy, accredited therapist and chair of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP). “Relationship anxiety gets in the way of your ability to connect with friends, meet people or simply maintain your existing friendships. If you suffer from severe anxiety, you may often feel the need to avoid social situations entirely, often cancelling at the last minute.”

Sheedy says that the anxiety felt in relationships can “cause trust and connection to break down” and cause a person to avoid expressing their true feelings. “At times”, he says, “it may cause you to focus too much on your own feelings or concerns, impacting on your ability to be present in a relationship causing a lack of fulfilment and joy”.

Cress advises that one way to address anxious thoughts and fears is by utilising cognitive-behavioural techniques, such as cognitive restructuring, which challenges irrational thought patterns and replaces them with more realistic and balanced perspectives.

“To manage anxious thoughts and feelings as they arise, practicing mindfulness and grounding techniques can help individuals stay in the present moment,” she says. “To reduce reliance on external validation and ease anxiety, it’s important to develop a strong sense of self-esteem and self-worth independent of the relationship.”

Managing anxiety in healthy ways can build resilience and coping skills and Cress suggests that engaging in self-care activities, such as exercise, hobbies and relaxation techniques, can lower stress levels and promote emotional wellbeing. She also recommends strong and honest connections.

“Having a support network of friends, family, or a therapist can offer alternative sources of validation and perspective outside of the relationship”, she says while also reiterating that identifying triggers, challenging assumptions, and accepting the inherent uncertainties of relationships and letting go of the need for control can help individuals cultivate a greater sense of peace and security.

Relationship anxiety will not go away on its own and it’s important to overcome these feelings and deal with the anxiety. Sheedy says that looking at issues from the past can increase your awareness as to why anxiety is so prevalent in your relationships. He says, “sometimes, we feel insecure because we lack confidence in the ability to choose healthy relationships for ourselves because of how last relationships worked out”.

Cress advises having “open and honest communication with your partner about your worries, hopes, expectations, or dreams for the future. Recognise the issues and tackle them in a way that is appropriate for you.”

Relationships: read our series of articles

Geraldine Walsh

Geraldine Walsh

Geraldine Walsh, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health and family