June 26, 2023

Anxiety is not genetic

Most clients I see believe that they are in some way genetically predisposed to high anxiety levels and have concluded this is why they feel so anxious.

When I try and explain to them that their anxiety has nothing to do with genetics they will often say something like:

"Well if it’s not in my genes then why am I constantly anxious when I have nothing to feel anxious about"?

"Why am I more anxious than everyone else around me"?

and "Why does anxiety strike out of nowhere when I’m not even thinking about it”?

These are all of course great questions, so in this blog I’m going to explain the three simple reasons why we might currently be predisposed to high anxiety that have nothing to do with genetics or biology.

1. Past Trauma

The first reason we might experience a higher anxiety response than most is because we’ve been through trauma in our past.

Trauma very often comes out of nowhere.

Even when it involves a certain situation over a long period of time what most traumatic experiences have in common is the fact that we didn’t see it coming and ultimately felt powerless to do anything about it.

This can leave our mind in a huge state of confusion about how we avoid similar negative experiences in the future.

As a result we might find ourself in a kind of simmering state of high alert: so we do more scanning of our environment than others as our mind seeks to head off any potential threat; we’re perhaps just that little bit more jumpy than the people around us due to the fact our mind has us constantly ready to leap into life saving action.

In short our mind no longer allows us to easily relax because we’ve lost a little bit of faith in our ability to spot and avoid any potential imminent danger.

So a big reason we might currently be predisposed to high anxiety is because bitter experience has our mind fearing what more seemingly insurmountable challenges life has in store for us.

2. Parents

The most common reason that the clients I see have already concluded that their anxiety is of genetic origin is because their parent(s) suffered with it.

Many doctors will even ask about any history of parental anxiety as a way of establishing if their patients anxiety is congenital or reactive.

But it’s important to remember that when we’re born we are all effectively a blank page waiting to be written on, no knowledge, no beliefs and no insecurities.

The first people who get to write on that blank page are our parents.

Long before they’ve started to pay attention to the things they are teaching us about our emotional responses our brand new sponge-like brains are absorbing everything we encounter and learning about the world and our place in it.

In the early formative years of our growth if we observe our parents (the people whose thoughts, beliefs and attitudes we are most invested in adopting) displaying signs of anxiety and fear then our mind is highly likely to conclude that the world is a scary place and it is appropriate to worry, fret and be in a constant high state of anxiety.

Also, our parents are the people we look to to keep us safe in those early years.

If they seem to be suggesting that they constantly feel under threat and in danger then what are we meant to concede, except that even when we’re in our home with the ones who love us most, we’re still not safe.

This is why anxiety gets passed down through generations, not because of our genes, but because we learn from those that raise us.

3. Self Esteem

Whenever we face an upcoming challenge our mind does a kind of self audit of resources. Our subconscious asks the question “do I have what it takes to overcome this challenge?”

This mostly happens in the background outside of our conscious awareness and if the answer is “yes we do” then we head on into that challenge with very little hesitation or emotional impact.

However, if we look at the challenge and our subconscious mind decides we might struggle, or maybe that we know we just can’t handle it then this might give rise to increasing anxiety and fear as the challenge draws nearer.

If we can abort, and swerve the challenge entirely then all is well and good, but what about those things we can’t avoid?

When we feel ourself dealing with increased levels of anxiety it is often because life’s challenges are piling up and we’re getting low on resources. We’re starting to feel overwhelmed.

So what has self esteem got to do with this?

Well, when we do that little self audit of resources there are a few factors that come into play as our subconscious does the maths on this.

Our mind asks itself things like how big is the challenge ahead of us?

How many of them are there?

Do we have experience of dealing with this in the past?

Most importantly it checks how good we feel we are at dealing with challenges. It questions our competence and our ability to achieve.

If we feel good about who we are and the things we achieve from day to day then our subconscious might look upon the new challenge favourably, but if we feel bad about ourself and easily defeated by life’s challenges then…not so much.

What this means is that our anxiety response will inevitably be more easily fired up if we suffer with low self esteem than if we are brimming with confidence. It’s not the challenge that makes us anxious , but our perceived ability to cope with it.

SO there you have it, three reasons we might be predisposed to a high anxiety response that have nothing to do with genetics or biology.
But what does this actually mean for our journey through and out the other side of whatever high anxiety we are currently experiencing?
Well, put it this way. If high anxiety is in our genes then that would mean we were stuck this way.
After all, we can’t change our genetic structure. It remains the same all our life.

However, you’ll notice that the three reasons I listed in this video all have one thing in common. 
They are all based on the things we learn.

The good news here is that our brain is constantly learning and relearning its responses thoughts and beliefs.

Our brain never stops growing from the moment we’re born to the day we die.

You only feel high anxiety in the way you do now because you learnt something about life that left you feeling vulnerable.

Getting the other side of the anxiety you currently feel is just a matter of relearning the things you need to so you no longer feel under threat.

Perhaps most importantly the aim of this blog is to allow you to get rid of (for good) the idea that you are genetically locked in to your anxiety response, and to allow your mind to realise that you can change, you do change every day and that you will change in the way you want to.

Because regardless of what you might have though in the past, you weren’t born this way, and you won’t remain this way.

By: Tim Box

The Control System | Master

June 26, 2023
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