Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States and affect both children and adults of all ages and backgrounds. Anxiety disorders are characterized by extreme stress and worry that interfere with the individual’s everyday life. Causes can be medical conditions, genetic and biological factors, substance abuse, childhood trauma, cognitive disorders, co-occurring mental health disorders and eating disorders. Our predisposition to be anxious, to have heightened reactions and even to suffer from anxiety disorders has a genetic component. Often we can see predisposing signs and symptoms from our parents’ actions and behaviors.
How Do I Know if My Anxiety Stems from My Family History?
If you and your parents get anxious about the same sort of things, such as traveling, socializing in big groups or changing jobs, this may be an anxiety pattern you learned from your family.
Your Anxiety Could Be a Part of Your Family History if Your Parents:
1. Were overly stressed- If your parents or grandparents had anxiety disorders or were ‘high strung’ or ‘stressed out’ all the time, there is a decent chance that you inherited some of those genetic traits. Maybe your mom was always stressed out about getting you to school in the mornings, or your dad was always under pressure from his job and took it out at the dinner table. These high strung and anxious behaviors over time, most likely affected how you handle stress and anxiety.
2. Were cold and unattached- If your parents were cold and distant, or highly authoritative, then your anxiety could stem from their parenting practices, even if they never had an anxiety problem. Physical affection, words of affirmation and a warm, welcoming personality can help a child feel secure and loved, whereas a distance style of parenting can lead a child to feel uncomfortable and on edge.
3. Did not handle stress well- If your mom had a fit over the smallest things and your dad become angry daily over external factors, this stress could have easily rubbed off onto you. Even if your parents did not handle big traumatic moments such as a death in the family, appropriately, these traumatic experiences most likely shaped how you now deal with stress.
4. Your parents self-soothed in unhealthy ways- Dealing with stress and anxiety is half the battle. If you learned to use healthy coping skills to work through your anxiety and negative feelings, then you are more likely to live a happy and healthy life. If you grew up in a household where your parents dealt with their stress and anxiety in unhealthy ways, such as reaching for alcohol, cigarettes or by getting super angry, then there’s a chance that you never learned how to manage anxiety in a healthy manner.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety
Although genetics and background do play a prominent role in the development of anxiety disorders, treatment is always available regardless of how old you are or where you are in terms of your anxiety disorder. Treatment aims at teaching healthy coping skills as a way to work through the negative thought cycle that leads to anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most commonly used and widely accepted psychotherapy treatments for anxiety. This treatment modality uses a combination of interventions such as worry exposure, applied-relaxation, psychoeducation, cognitive restructuring and problem-solving skills to educate the individual about their triggers and symptoms and then uses behavioral modifications to release their irrational thoughts and anxiety triggers.
Exposure Therapy for Anxiety
Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy in which the individual is exposed to the trigger or threat for a repeated number of times until the feared stimulus or response is eliminated. Exposing an individua who becomes anxious in congested spaces to images of crowded malls or train stations is an example of imaginal exposure therapy. Over time this individual will become more comfortable with the image and will be able to venture into crowded areas without having this unrealistic fear.
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