Are you just a worrier or is it something a little more than that…
What is anxiety exactly? I encounter people in my personal life all of the time who have no problem claiming they are a “worrier” but then when I ask them if they have anxiety its always the same response: oh no, I just worry a lot. After we get to talking a bit more about what anxiety or an anxiety disorder actually is a lot of the time there is this “ahah" moment. Mental health isn't always a super easy topic to bring up in everyday conversation but when you tell people you're a therapist it becomes one. What I'd like people to know is that anxiety disorders are a lot more common than most people realize and it can be brought on by more than just a traumatic event.
A lot of what contributes to anxiety in our lives is totally out of our control and yes I mean 100% out of your control: Genetics. The inheritance of anxiety is real folks (read more here). While there has always been the nature versus nuture argument regarding pretty much all mental health and human behavior there is a lot of evidence to support biology plays a bigger role that once thought.
In fact studies are showing that you are probably inheriting more than just your Nana’s eye color. It's now been explored by numerous research studies in fact there are entire books on the subject. According to Mark Wolynn the author of It Didn't Start With You our anxiety, depression, OCD and even specifc phobias can sometimes be linked to events in parents or grandparent’s lives. Genetic inheritance can be enough to give you the predisposition to experience anxiety and numerous other mental illnesses. Add into the mix: perhaps getting really sick as a kid or mom being a yeller or the neighbor dog getting nippy with you. This equation of genetic inheritance + an episode where you were in intense pain or feared for your safety or that of a loved one can equal anxiety, depression, etc.
How do you know you are suffering from an anxiety disorder? What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety?
The only true way to know is to see a professional who can give you a diagnosis.
But you may have anxiety if:
-You can’t fall asleep at night because you keep thinking about tasks you need to handle tomorrow or that weird interaction you had with someone last week or you’re wondering if you really did lock the doors.
-You make plans and then when it comes time to you dread going and sometimes cancel what you were looking forward to.
-You have had trouble concentrating because your brain goes off into scenarios and worries making it impossible to focus on the task at hand.
-You hold yourself to perfectionistic standards.
-When you get overwhelmed with responsibilities you get irritable with the people closest to you.
-You are the King/Queen of figuring out the worst case scenario for practically every situation.
-Sometimes there are physical symptoms like digestive issues, shakiness and tightness in the chest (which is why it is always important to rule out medical conditions with your doctor ASAP)
So now that we know this anxiety thing was definitely not a decision we made along the way or some willful weakness, what are we supposed to do about it? I believe the first step is acknowledging how anxiety affects your current life. Your joy, your relationships, your health. Begin to separate yourself from your anxiety. You are not your anxious thoughts. It takes a while and often requires some help from professionals but it is possible to get to a point where you start living in the present instead of spending time thinking about the past and worrying about a future outcome that may not happen.
You don’t have to live in the anxiety loop forever. There are therapies that work, coping skills you can practice and become an expert at. When you become mindful of your thoughts, feelings and actions you can feel more control in your life and decision making.
And lucky for you, you are in good company it seems like weekly more and more celebrities (Lady gaga, Kristin Bell, Jennifer Lawrence, etc) and public figures are speaking out about anxiety and their own struggles. There are so many people who get exactly what it’s like and you probably know quite a few. Talking about it with someone else who is living with anxiety can be extremely helpful in coping and healing. You are never alone.
For more on anxiety check out my favorite books on the subject:
Calming Your Anxious Mind
First we Make the Beast Beautiful
Hettema, J.M., Neal, M. C., & Kendler, K.S. (2001). A Review and Meta-Analysis of the Genetic Epidemiology of Anxiety Disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158(10), 1568-1578. dog:10.1176/appi.ajp.158.10.1568
Wolynn, M. (2017). It didnt start with you: How inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle. New York: Penguin Books.