When I am asked about anxiety and where it comes from, I remind people that it is so important to look into one’s past to see how past events can play a role as well. Things that may have happened years before can definitely lead to present (and future) issues, as well as leave us to doubt our ability at times ( a la “will I truly be able to manage these new tasks at work,” or “will people really be there for me as my relationships have not gone the way I have wanted. I’m not so sure”). This uncertainty can create a great deal of anxiety and doubt.
Psychologist Charles Bentley eloquently describes how adult anxiety begins very early in our development. According to Bentley, during the first year of life, all we can do for ourselves is breathe; as babies, we have to depend on others to fulfill all of our other needs. Although we gradually learn how to act for ourselves, physical development is slow. Finally in puberty, our mental and motor skills are developed enough that we can begin to attend to our own basic needs.
For at least the first 15 years, our overriding need is to be loved, according to Bentley. Withdrawal of affection implies that none of our other needs will be met. Every child instinctively senses this threat to its survival, and these feelings form the foundation on which adult feelings of panic and insecurity can be built. When a child does not experience unconditional love, the child will spend enormous amounts of energy creating a personality structure that can protect parts of itself that might be perceived as unacceptable.
The Power of the Past
Even when we are little and our brains are not fully developed, every cell in our body has a memory. Painful instances that we may not fully (or readily) remember can indeed create chaos for us. Not having that love and support early on in life is certainly going to leave many a child confused and left to wonder about the world that is out there.
Now, even with the love and support of parents, other traumas will arise. Some examples may include a major illness possibly involving being hospitalized and surgery. Serious injuries are also likely to leave emotional scars as well, whether we experience these ourselves or witness it (like a car accident or shooting). Some of these situations trigger a posttraumatic stress episode, although less serious situations can also create anxiety in us.
Loss is also a major trauma for many and can create doubt and anxiety, leaving us with questions like “if my grandmother died, could my mom or dad die, too?” And “if this happens, who will take care of me?” Unfortunately, I think we all have some form of trauma in our past which, without support, could leave us more susceptible to anxiety.
In coming back to the idea of doubt and how we see ourselves, I know how related anxiety and depression can be. When, for example, we view ourselves as not good enough, meaning smart enough or successful enough or whatever in comparing ourselves with others, we knock ourselves down a peg and again allow more potential angst (where we might question other abilities) to set in. There may be more things going on that fuel anxiety as well.
What You May Be Doing Now to Let Anxiety Live
I would like to begin a discussion here on sleep and how powerful sleep is in our lives. Sleep will impact our mood and affect, and if you are not getting enough of it, you may be putting your mind and body at risk. You see, sleep gives the mind and body an opportunity to shut down all the data and stressors we soak in throughout the day. Even if we are committed to our work and daily efforts, these activities take up mind space, and we all need breaks. Like the computer we may use at work or home, our brain needs to power down also.
Sleeping can also help our muscles relax, as all the pressure from our day can create tension in our neck, back, and so forth. The mind needs this time as well to, if not totally release the struggles or pain, perhaps at least allow the good thoughts within us (confidence, problem solving skills, etc.) to come back to surface and challenge the doubt. I am sure many have heard of the idea of “just sleep on it” to see if we can awake in a better place to address the concern. What can happen when we are at a loss for answers is that too much information, combined with a build-up of emotions (frustration, confusion, etc.) can overwhelm our focus, and rest is a wonderful way to rejuvenate.
Attacking ourselves on everyday issues (such as “I didn’t finish ____ at work. I’m so dumb,” or “I can’t believe I forgot to take the trash out. Why am I always such a _____?”) and reliving past issues (such as “if I only would have done better in school things would not be this way in my life,” or “had I only waited a little longer to be married, I wouldn’t have made all those other mistakes”) do not help our mindset and certainly create and/or grow levels of anxiety.
More to come……
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