How Does Anxiety Affect a Family?

John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Growing up in a family, it is common to pass things like colds and flus around. As soon as one person is not feeling well, any seasoned parent will tell you that it will make the rounds being passed from one family member to the next. What is true of the flu is also true of our emotions. 

Since a family is an emotional unit, their feelings are transferred between people. Some experts refer to a family as a group of people emotionally living under the same skin. The Bible says something similar about church families, explaining that we rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). 

Perhaps the one emotion that travels most quickly and deeply in the emotional system of a family is anxiety. The Bowen family system explains anxiety as an emotional infection in a family. Like the flu, it gets passed between family members who catch the anxiety. It also teaches two kinds of emotional anxiety in a family system: 

  1. Acute Anxiety – brought on more suddenly by an event, or entrance of a person with anxious presence, that triggers a sense of urgency or emergency that consumes a lot of life energy quickly. Acute anxiety is a sudden drain. Examples would include things like a family member going in for a serious medical procedure or a divorced couple getting lawyers to have a brutal and expensive legal battle over custody of the children. 
  2. Chronic Anxiety – an ongoing and often lower level but nearly constant anxiety that slowly erodes your overall wellness. Chronic anxiety is a slow drip. Examples would include a family member with chronic illness, spiritual oppression that does not lift, a prodigal child who is making foolish decisions and not yet repentant, extended family that acts like a low-level toothache, or a barely functional marriage that is not joyful, healthy, or growing. 

Human beings are creatures of habit. If you think about your day, it likely has a very predictable routine most of the time. This is why, the older people get, the harder it is for them to change. Change brings anxiety. Even good change brings anxiety because it requires change from the routine and skills we know to a new routine and new skills we don’t yet know. Moving to another city or country, losing a job, leaving a church, or changing the kids’ school can be big changes that cause acute or chronic anxiety. A wedding, funeral, or divorce brings change and causes anxiety. Sending a kid to school for the first time, or sending that child off to college in another state or country, is another example of change that causes anxiety. 

When anxiety occurs, the body gives signs. (1) Spinning mind is when your thinking becomes clouded, you get stuck in a mental loop of replaying the same thoughts over and over, or you simply go blank in your mind. Racing heart is when your blood pressure goes up, you can feel your body turning on bracing for danger, and some people experience a tightening in their chest or shortening of their breath. 

In tomorrow’s devo, we will look further at how anxiety can negatively affect a family.

How did your parents handle anxiety as you were growing up? How can you better handle it in your own family?

  1. Managing Leadership Anxiety: Yours and Theirs, Steve Cuss, Thomas Nelson Incorporated, 2019, pp. 40-42.

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