Love sick: attachment anxiety may increase risk of other illness


Concerns and anxieties about your close relationships appear to create a chronic stressor that can eventually compromise immunity.

The source of attachment anxiety may start in childhood. At a young age, children learn whether or not their primary caregivers will respond to their distress. If they do, children will feel confident in their close relationships to provide what they need. If they don’t or are not consistent, children will develop feelings of insecurity.

Stressed couples had higher levels of cortisol and fewer T-cells

Researchers asked 85 couples married for more than 12 years to complete questionnaires about their relationships and tested for stress hormones and immune cells. They reported sleep quality as well.

Research focused on attachment anxiety. Those higher on the anxiety scale worry about the security and future of the relationship. They seek constant reassurance which perpetuates the stress.

For married couples who were high on the stress scale, there was a higher level of the stress hormone cortisol and fewer T-cells, a component of the immune system’s defense against infection, than for couples lower on the scale.

Lisa Jaremka, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in Ohio State University’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research (IBMR), explained:

“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.”

Participants with higher anxiety produced 11 percent more cortisol than those with lower attachment anxiety. They also had between 11 and 22 percent fewer T-cells.

Cortisol is known to have immunosuppressive effects, inhibiting production of T-cells. Reduced T-cells can impair immune response to vaccines and are a hallmark of an aging immune system.

Source: Psychological Science


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