Researchers gave married couples questionnaires that measured attachment anxiety. People with attachment anxiety tend to fear rejection, seek constant reassurance from their partner, and put a negative spin on things that happen in their relationship.
“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,” Lisa Jaremka, a psychologist at Ohio State University, said in a press release.
To explore possible physiological consequences, researchers took blood and saliva samples from the study participants and measured the hormones and immune cells they contained. They found 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.
“These data suggest that attachment anxiety may have physiological costs, and they provide a glimpse into the pathways through which social relationships affect health,” the paper’s authors wrote.
On the bright side, Jaremka said that attachment anxiety is not necessarily a permanent trait. Previous research has shown that a very strong relationship can help a previously anxious person become more calm and self-assured.