Let’s take this scenario: your partner comes home frustrated and annoyed. You start to panic that they’re upset with you. Your thoughts spiral, your hands start to sweat, your heart begins to race… you can’t think straight, and all that’s on your mind is this all-consuming worry that something isn’t right.

If you struggle with anxiety, chances are you find it extra challenging when there’s conflict in your relationships. This can show up with your family, close friends, or with romantic partners. For many people, it can be particularly hard in work settings, where a piece of feedback from a superior or some gentle criticism from a colleague can feel world-ending. When we struggle with anxiety, we might find it quite difficult to tolerate any negative opinion at all, often because we spend so much time critiquing ourselves, or because even small amounts of negativity feel especially heavy and unwieldy when we’re carrying a mental burden of our own.

If you’re looking for some support in managing conflict with anxiety, keep reading for some suggestions:

1. Recognize that conflict is universal. There’s simply no way to be completely conflict-free even in the most loving and unconditional of relationships. Humans disagree! We have differing perspectives.

2. Know that the way you experienced conflict growing up doesn’t have to reflect how conflict might play out in adulthood. If you’re particularly uneasy about conflict, it might stem from a particularly contentious childhood. Maybe conflict in your family meant excessive yelling, or even emotional or physical abuse. If this is how you initially experienced conflict, it makes sense that your mind might panic at any impending sign of disagreement in adulthood. However, as an adult, you are capable of making decisions about who you spend time with, and ensuring that those people are ones you can trust to manage conflict well.

3. Find and cultivate relationships where you feel a sense of safety. This usually means people whose opinion you deeply value and respect, as well as people that you can trust to be gentle with you. Then, when conflict inevitably comes, you can trust that it won’t destroy the relationship.

4. Learn to read your body’s signs. If you know that conflict is a trigger point for you, begin paying some extra attention to what’s happening in your body. If you notice you’re starting to sweat, or that it’s getting hard to think clearly, take some time out from the situation and practice a coping skill, like breathing or grounding strategies. If you can intervene early on and ease your body and mind into a sense of safety, you will be better equipped to handle the discussion ahead.

Still struggling? That’s okay! Many of these reactions are deeply ingrained in us, and you may find professional help beneficial. If you’re looking for more support managing anxiety in your relationships, check out our counseling services or look for mental health professionals in your area.

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