Stressful relationships could affect the immune system

Posted Feb 16, 2013 by Tim Sandle
A psychology research project suggests that those involved in a stressful relationship, or who have high levels of anxiety about a relationship, may have weaker immune systems.
J Ocean Dennie
For the study, the researchers gave groups of married couples questionnaires that measured the degree of "attachment anxiety". Attachment anxiety is a condition, identified in psychology, where people tend to fear rejection, seek constant reassurance from their partner, and put a negative spin on things that happen in their relationship. An alternative term is "separation disorder".
The questionnaire was titled "The Experiences in Close Relationships scale". Once the questionnaire had been completed an analyzed, the researchers proceeded to take blood and saliva samples from the study participants. From these samples, laboratory tests were carried out and the hormones and immune cells contained within the samples were counted and categorized.
The outcome was that high attachment anxiety was associated with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well as fewer cytotoxic and helper T-cells, which help find and destroy invading pathogens (which would lead to a weaker immune system). The impact on the suppressed immune system is described in the research as "compromised immunity".
Lisa Jaremka, a psychologist at Ohio State University, who led the research explained the premise for the study in a press release: "Everyone has these types of concerns now and again in their relationships, but a high level of attachment anxiety refers to people who have these worries fairly constantly in most of their relationships."
The research has been published in the journal Psychological Science, in an article titled "Attachment Anxiety Is Linked to Alterations in Cortisol Production and Cellular Immunity."