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A new definition of being lovesick

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER
  • Star Tribune
  • February 17, 2013 - 4:00 PM

When someone tells a spouse, “You make me sick,” they might be speaking literally. Anxiety about your love life can increase the risk of illness.

The discovery, made at Ohio State University, didn’t surprise, T. Aaron Ridge, a licensed psychologist at the Center for Relationship Therapy in Minneapolis.

“Anxiety is pretty bad for us in lots of ways,” he said. It’s part of the body’s survival reflex, “and while in the short term that can be good because it can make us take evasive action, in the long term it wears the body down.”

The Ohio university’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research interviewed 170 people who had been married an average of 12 years about the confidence they have in their relationships. Researchers also collected saliva and blood samples.

The subjects who expressed nervousness about the stability of their marriages had between 11 and 22 percent fewer T cells, which are considered a vital component of the body’s immune system.

“Previous research has suggested that reduced T-cell levels can impair the immune response to vaccines and that low levels of the cells are a hallmark of an aging immune system,” noted Lisa Jaremka, lead researcher for the study.

It’s not just the immune system that suffers, Ridge said. Being excessively anxious about a relationship increases the odds of something going wrong in that relationship.

“Anxiety affects our ability to think creatively and to solve problems,” he said. “Relationships require a lot of creative thinking.”

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