While this may not always be the case, quite often we can learn how to be anxious from our parents or from other primary caregivers that we might have had when we were growing up. As children, naturally we learn from our parents or caregivers and quite often by modelling them. Also, when we are young, we have very little idea of what is "normal" and what might be "anxious" or "abnormal" behaviour or other. We only know what is right in front of us, until we start experiencing the world outside of the home. So, if Mom and Dad are anxious and if they behave accordingly, then we are primed to learn from them by watching and behaving similarly. We may even actually feel as anxious as them. If a care-giver feels anxious, then he or she will convey tension, heightened alert and other behaviours that demonstrate that a threat is expected or detected. Children that grow-up around adults that cannot settle themselves in their fears, imaginings and assumptions about the future usually feel unsettled as well.
To be fair, being a parent is difficult. Being a parent that is not anxious at times is nearly impossible. So, the point of this article is not to castigate or propose resentment towards parents that experience anxiety. Rather, the point is to raise awareness about a possible source of anxiety for those that suffer from it. Understanding anxiety is a key to coping with it.
Anxiety is a fear of future events that may or may not happen and often that fear is not warranted or rational. It includes worry about what "will" or "might" happen with regard to life. Anxiety can be extreme and include phobias. It can be chronic: ongoing and all the time - like social anxiety; or it can be acute: fear about particular events or situations - like flying in airplanes or swimming in the ocean. Anxiety starts as a thought in the mind. The thought achieves influence and activates the body. The body responds to the vivid imagination of the brain and physically feels a heightened sense of energy. The body may even poise itself to react. Yet, that poise and energy is triggered by the imagined threat and not something that is real in the environment. Often there is no healthy place for the anxious energy to go (because there is no way to pragmatically act on an imagined event and/or fear impedes any alternate actions) and so it will not dissipate, rather it may build and feed more imaginings.
Anxiety is not easy to tackle, confront or solve alone. When we have grown up with and have learned anxiety from our parents or caregivers, then we can really struggle to help ourselves. Especially when we do not know other ways or alternatives for responding in life and to stressors - in other words, we think that the anxious behaviours that we have learned are normal. As well, coping mechanisms that we develop in response to our learned anxieties can be very effective: either the anxious states are denied or ignored or we simply resolve to accommodate them (never fly in an airplane, swim in the ocean or engage in social functions). Modern lifestyles help distract us from confronting the basic emotions or energy around our anxiety. Hand-held devices - like smart phones and tablets, along with jam-packed personal and professional schedules can effectively keep us from sitting with our anxious thoughts. --And yet, the anxious thoughts do not go away, rather they persist or compound.
It can be useful to pay attention to our surroundings and to attempt to take-in real environmental data. When we ground our experience in what is actually happening around us, then we are less likely to feel anxious and/or resort to our learned patterns of anxiety. Another extremely rich source of information to help us depart from our imaginings is our true inner physiological and emotional experience. When we pay attention to ourselves and honour what is going on for us in the moment by noticing our physical pain and/or naming our emotions, then we are more empowered and better able to help and give ourselves what we need.
Blogging about mental health issues for personal and professional development. All material is authored by Cori Lambert unless explicitly stated otherwise. Authentic Consulting and Counselling is located in West Perth, Greater Perth Area.