The big A? Well, we are talking about anxiety.

As one of our most primeval emotions, it’s based around fear and protecting ourselves from danger. Our ancestors found this rather helpful when faced with the actual danger of being attacked by a sabre-toothed tiger, or another tribe. Confronting such threats, their “fight, flight, flee and freeze” responses were triggered which helped prevent them being disembowelled.

Unfortunately, that primeval part of the brain (the amygdala) is still with us, despite the reduced likelihood of tigers and tribes wanting to harm us. That familiar adrenaline rush and increased heart rate still readies us to jump out of the way of a speeding car, or take action if someone is out to steal our fancy watch.

Thanks to evolution the frontal cortex, a newer more logical part of the brain, emerged. In theory, this should make our responses to danger way more rational, logical, controlled and less intense. Or are they?

So, where is this diatribe taking us? Well, a recent client stated he was feeling rather anxious and somewhat depressed. After some gentle questioning, it emerged that the cause was a reaction to his partner’s high anxiety.

After further enquiry, the answers were revealing. The clients partner was constantly scanning their surroundings to reduce threat and danger despite there being no tigers, tribes or muggers in sight. This included constantly assessing the perceptions of others and possibilities for negative judgement, overthinking and demanding certainty. Resulting behaviours included overplanning and researching, checking, micromanaging everything and wanting to control the partner’s actions and of others.

Gosh, that frontal cortex seems to be imagining triggers and not the logical liberator it should be!

Asked how he felt, after wiping away tears, the client used phrases such as absolutely exhausted, constrained, joyless, withdrawn and almost imprisoned. Life was like walking in a field of buried hand grenades – not knowing when one would go off underfoot. A previously largely happy relationship had become transactional, distant, toxic, full of anger and hurt.

Asked how he responded on a daily basis, “tit for tat”, avoidance and unhealthy subservience (“you are right”, or “whatever”) came up. Unsurprisingly, this elicited a negative response from his partner. And so, the cycle went on. And on.

The client’s way forward was to be better at managing his own reactions to individual situations and flare ups. One can’t control other people’s actions – it’s futile and ultimately unhelpful. It’s better to try – with great tact – to influence them. Patience and understanding was also suggested, as was sometimes simply walking away from situations. His partner was also recommended to try therapy to clarify the real triggers for, and beliefs around, their anxiety.

In conclusion, we all feel anxious at times in life – unfortunately it’s part of the human condition. Whilst that anxiety is mostly focussed on ourselves, the impact on our loved ones can be equally intense and damaging. Indeed, seeking support for oneself can also make a big difference to others…