Mandar’s phone rang for the third time in an hour. He rolled his eyes at it knowing it was his mother, calling to see if he was safe because of the severe thunderstorm going on outside. She was always like this from the time he was a young child. She was always worried about his safety, sometimes excessively so he thought. He picked up the phone only because he knew that if he didn’t, she would start calling his friends worried about why he didn’t answer her call.
“I’m fine, Mom,” he said obviously frustrated.
“Are you sure? I’m watching the news and it sounds really terrible over there. Stay inside ok?” she said, each word dripping with worry.
“No, Mom, I’m going to go outside, stand on the roof of a tall building and hold a key up to the sky,” he replied with resentment and sarcasm.
His friends always told him he was being too hard on his mom, that all mothers worried about their children, but he knew his mother was beyond what was “normal” for parents. Right before going to college, his mother was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and his suspicions were confirmed.
She refused to take medications, lifestyle changes or go to counseling and thus her symptoms were just as disruptive as ever. It made him embarrassed to be around her, resentful that he had to take care of her like a young child and frustrated that his mother would not take care of herself so that they could have a better relationship. It was part of the reason he went to school so far away from his hometown.
In an entirely different city, Sayali was getting making dinner for her new husband. She was chopping up the vegetables when she cut her finger. She breathed in sharply as a result of the pain but tried to be quiet so her husband would not hear. Unfortunately, he did and rushed to the kitchen.
“Sayali!” he said loudly, “Are you ok?”
“I’m fine,” she said trying to get past him to get a bandaid.
“It’s bleeding!” he said, his eyes large with worry. “I always tell you to let me chop the vegetables. You’re so clumsy that you always do something like this. Why won’t you listen?” he said, frustrated with his wife.
Sayali took a deep breath and stopped trying to push past him. She knew that anytime she hurt herself or got sick, he had to go through this process of criticizing her and blaming her for making the mistakes that caused her pain. He wasn’t trying to be abusive. It was his way of expressing worry. Her mother in law had warned her about his. From a young age, he always worried about everything. Mostly, he worried about the health of his family, but as he got older, his worries included keeping a job and being financially stable.
“I know everyone worries,” her mother-in-law told Sayali, “but everything makes him so nervous. It seems so much worse than most people.”
Sayali would often become so frustrated with her husband’s need to criticize her for everything that they would repeatedly have fights about why he couldn’t let things go. It had been months since they had been intimate and Sayali tried to schedule work meetings and meet with friends in the evenings to minimize her time with him. She hated to admit it, and couldn’t talk to anyone about it, but she felt embarrassed that her husband worried so much and took it out on her. She never realized the first year and a half of marriage could be so difficult.
South Asians tend to express love and caring by worrying. However, excessive worrying, especially that which is seen in Generalized Anxiety Disorder, can wreak havoc on relationships. Whether they be intimate partnerships, friendships or a parent-child relationship, excessive worry that is expressed in any manner can destroy an otherwise healthy, happy relationship.
Someone like Mandar feels that though he is an adult, his mother treats him like a young child. He feels embarrassed by her and would rather spend his time elsewhere than to deal with her mismanaged emotions. Sayali is in a similar situation where she feels untrusted and blamed for something that is not truly a very big deal. Neither of them are satisfied in their respective relationships and over time the connection erodes.
If you find yourself worrying excessively, take some time to talk to your loved ones about how it affects them. While you may be completely convinced that your worry is justified, sometimes a choice between holding on to your worry or repairing a relationship must be made.
Excessive worry comes from unhealthy coping of anxiety. Try to engage in relaxing activities during the day, change your thoughts about a situation that is causing you worry or talk to your health care provider about suggestions on how to better manage your worries. By doing so, you could be saving your closest relationships.
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