Fighting with your friends and loved ones can be a drag, but what if it actually killed you?
According to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, stressful social relationships can be linked to higher mortality rates.
Specifically, people who experienced worry and demands at the hands of a significant other or child had a 50-100 percent increase in mortality risk.
Also, people who had constant conflict with anyone (significant other, children, friends, family members, etc.) were linked to an increased mortality rate.
The study used 9,875 male and female participants ages 36-52 years old. Data came from the Danish Longitudinal Study on Work, Unemployment and Health.
“Stressful social relations are associated with increased mortality risk among middle-aged men and women for a variety of different social roles,” according to the study authors. “Those outside the labour force and men seem especially vulnerable to exposure.”
Alisa Ruby Bash, a licensed marriage and family therapist, said in an email that the study results make sense, because it’s known that stress and depression are associated with many physical health conditions like heart disease and chronic pain.
“In my experience with patients, there is an undeniable connection between stressful relationships and poor mental health,” she added.
She has treated a variety of patients who had stressful relationships who eventually died, potentially as a result of that stress.
“Painful familial relationships, as well as toxic romantic relationships, have triggered many addictions, and resulted in numerous relapses, which have resulted in early death, tragically for some,” Ruby Bash said.
She said stress as a result of spouses, children and parents can sometimes make women feel like they’re suffocating, since often there is no downtime or a way to escape.
“I have seen this type of stress contribute to anxiety, depression, and suicide,” Ruby Bash said. “These relationships can also set off underlying mental illnesses, which can put patients at greater risk for dangerous grave situations, which can end in death.”
Other mental health consequences of stressful relationships include the potential of developing mental and physical health conditions like anxiety (including panic attacks), eating disorders, addictions, somatic disorders, migraines, obsessive compulsive disorders, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Some people might even turn to self-mutilation in severe cases.
She does believe that most relationships involve some type of stress, whether it’s a result of conflicts or challenges. However, there is a difference between everyday stress and frequent, severe stress. That type of stress could even be associated with emotional and physical abuse, or different mental and physical disorders.
“However, often one’s perception of stress, and their ability to cope with it, is a bigger factor than the actual stressor,” Ruby Bash said.
She has some suggestions for minimizing conflict in social relationships.
“The most helpful method to reduce that kind of tension in relationships is honest, clear communication,” Ruby Bash said. “If both partners, or parent and child can understand how the other feels, then steps can be taken to create a healthier environment.”
If that is not possible, it could be time to look internally to make any changes within one’s self.
“Although we cannot control others behavior, we can learn to control our reactions,” she added.
Ruby Bash also suggests reading self-help books, engaging in yoga or meditation, and attending a support group or seeing a therapist.
In the worst-case scenario, it might be necessary to leave a relationship or cut off a friendship, especially in cases where there is abuse.
If a friend/significant other/family member is cheating, lying and participating in poor behavior constantly, this is also a situation where they either need to get help and stop those behaviors, or it’s time to get out of that social relationship with them.
“When a relationship no longer provides any joy, and each other’s company is misery, it may be irreparable,” Ruby Bash said. “It is best to honor your self, cut the tie and begin creating a positive peaceful future.”
“Our relationships should ultimately be the supportive net to catch us when life knocks us down,” she added.
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Lund, Rikke and Christensen, Ulla, et al. Stressful social relations and mortality: a prospective cohort study. Web. May 28, 2014.
Jegtvig, Shereen. MedCity News. Stressful relationships are really bad for you (as in early death). Web. May 28, 2014.
Ruby Bash, Alisa. Email interview. May 28, 2014.
Reviewed May 29, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith