Mental Health

Stress, anxiety and our relationships

June 2023

As it’s International Men’s Health Week, we’re shining a light on a topic that often goes unspoken: the impact of stress and anxiety on our relationships.

These emotions can wreak havoc on various aspects of our lives, including the connections we cherish with our loved ones.

So, let’s dive in and explore how stress and anxiety may be affecting your relationships, and more importantly, what you can do about it.

What is stress and anxiety?

Stress is a temporary emotional response triggered by external factors like work, relationships, or health issues.

It can manifest in a range of ways, from irritability and fatigue to muscle pain and trouble sleeping.

“When we’re under stress, it brings out our worst traits, says Hayley Cuskelly, lead consultant at Acumen Health who is experienced in supporting men deal with stress and anxiety.

“Compared to women, men release smaller doses of oxytocin when stressed, which makes them more likely to have the fight or flight response, either repressing their emotions and escaping the situation, or fighting back.”

If you find yourself becoming irritable, have more frequent angry outbursts, or even engage in more arguments over small issues, stress is a likely factor.

You may also feel like you’re hypersensitive to criticism and hyper-vigilant about potential threats.

Anxiety on the other hand, is characterised by persistent worries that stick around even when there’s no apparent stressor.

Common anxiety symptoms include feeling nervous or worried for a prolonged period, feeling sad or down often, mood swings (highs and lows), lack of interest in things you used to enjoy, feeling overwhelmed with stress, major changes in eating habits, sleeping too much or too little, changes in sex drive, withdrawal from loved ones, and thinking about suicide.

Now, here’s an eye-opener: anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia, and guess what? 20% of men will face anxiety at some point in their lives.

Impacting our relationships

Picture this: you’re distracted, struggling to communicate effectively, and finding it hard to connect with your partner or loved ones. Sound familiar?

Yep, stress and anxiety can lead to precisely these issues. You might become withdrawn, less affectionate, or experience a change in your sex drive.

And leisure activities? Well, you might find yourself participating less and feeling increasingly isolated from social groups, including your partner.

But that’s not all.

Anxiety can also mess with your mind, making you overthink every conversation, phone call, or text. It might even push you to push people away first, all in an effort to avoid rejection.

Some of us might even shy away from relationships altogether, fearing the impact anxiety could have on our romantic endeavours.

“Anxiety and stress spills over into relationships and will impact different relationships differently, causing a wide range of problems,” Hayley adds.

Finding a way forward

“If anxiety is having a negative impact on your relationships, it is important to talk to a healthcare practitioner or mental health professional.

“There are treatments that can help you manage your anxiety and improve your communication and functioning in your interpersonal relationships,” says Hayley.

One way to start is by having an open conversation with your partner about what you’re going through and how anxiety is affecting you.

If you’re single, don’t hesitate to confide in someone you trust, like your doctor or a close friend.

And couples out there, consider attending counselling sessions together. It’s a safe space where you can explore your emotions, work on your communication skills, and strengthen your bond.

In addition to seeking professional help, Hayley suggests these practical steps can help to manage stress and anxiety.

  • Meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing, and other relaxation methods into your daily routine
  • Maintaining a balanced diet, and minimising alcohol consumption
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Reducing external stressors

Of course, it’s essential to consult with your healthcare provider, as they may recommend therapies such as psychotherapy, medication, or relationship counselling.

Remember, sometimes anxiety can be overwhelming and debilitating, which is why seeking help is vital.

Don’t let anxiety control your relationships or hinder your ability to lead a fulfilling life. Reach out to a doctor or mental health professional if your symptoms are causing distress or affecting your daily life.

With the right treatment and support, you can develop healthier, more meaningful connections with those around you.

Take this International Men’s Health Week as an opportunity to prioritise our physical health but also our mental wellbeing.

By tackling stress and anxiety head-on, we can nurture stronger, more fulfilling relationships and live happier lives.

Remember, you’re not alone. Reach out, speak up, and let’s support each other on this journey toward better mental health.

10 steps to prevent stress and anxiety impacting your relationships

Here’s a list of actions you can take if you suspect that stress and anxiety are taking a toll on your relationships:

1. Recognise and acknowledge your feelings

The first step in addressing any issue is to acknowledge it. Be honest with yourself about how stress and anxiety are affecting your relationships. Awareness is key to making positive changes.

2. Open up to your partner or loved ones

Communication is essential in any relationship. Share your concerns and emotions with your partner or loved ones. Let them know that you’re going through a challenging time and that you’re working on managing stress and anxiety. This open dialogue can foster understanding and support.

3. Seek professional help

Don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare practitioner or mental health professional. They have the expertise to provide guidance and support tailored to your specific needs. They can help you develop coping strategies, manage anxiety symptoms, and improve your relationship dynamics.

4. Consider couples counselling

If stress and anxiety are straining your relationship, couples counselling can be incredibly beneficial. A trained therapist can facilitate healthy communication, help you navigate challenges together, and strengthen the bond between you and your partner.

5. Practice self-care

Prioritise your own well-being by practicing self-care. Engage in activities that bring you joy and help you relax. This could be anything from taking a walk in nature, indulging in a hobby, or simply spending quality time alone to recharge. Remember, taking care of yourself enables you to show up better in your relationships.

6. Explore stress management techniques

Discover stress management techniques that work for you. This might include mindfulness exercises, deep breathing exercises, journaling, or engaging in physical activities like yoga or exercise. Find what resonates with you and incorporate it into your routine.

7. Set boundaries

Establishing boundaries is crucial for maintaining a healthy balance in your relationships. Learn to prioritize your own needs and communicate them to your partner or loved ones. This ensures that you have the space and time to address your own stress and anxiety.

8. Educate yourself and your loved ones

Learn more about stress, anxiety, and mental health. Understanding these conditions can help you and your loved ones navigate the challenges more effectively. It also reduces stigma and promotes empathy within your relationships and community.

9. Practice patience and compassion

Remember to be patient with yourself and your loved ones as you navigate stress and anxiety. Healing takes time, and there will be ups and downs along the way. Cultivate self-compassion and extend that compassion to those around you.

10. Take proactive steps towards a healthy lifestyle

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can have a positive impact on your mental well-being. Focus on maintaining a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and reducing alcohol consumption. Small changes in these areas can contribute to overall wellbeing.


The following resource has been provided for informational purposes only. As it does not consider your personal circumstances and needs, we recommend you obtain your own professional health advice to determine how this resource may apply to you.

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