Well, let me start with—I don’t know why you specifically have anxiety; however, I have many questions only you can answer and maybe that can help you start to understand it a little better.

Does it run in your family?

This matters for a couple reasons: 1. You could have the genetic predisposition for mental health issues, including anxiety. There’s a great deal of research going on looking for the connections between certain genes that increases a person’s susceptibility to anxiety and other mental health disorders. 2. Environment matters. The environment you were raised in absolutely plays a roll in your anxiety. Was your mom anxious? Our brains as babies tend to mirror our mom’s brain.

Did you have a sibling who had a lot of medical issues when you were young? Did you have a lot of medical issues? Is there trauma in your history? Trauma is a big deal—even if you don’t remember it. Imagine what it would be like for a mom to be holding her infant while being assaulted by her spouse. The infant knows who its primary caregivers are and to witness one caregiver harming another is extremely traumatic. It’s just as traumatic as being abused themselves.

If an anxious pattern started early in life, it will likely stay that way unless something changes.

What are the current environmental factors going on in your life?

If you don’t have money for housing or food, it’s understandable that you have anxiety. Maybe things aren’t going well in your relationships, maybe the kids aren’t alright, or maybe you feel like you’re in a lose-lose situation. When this is the root of your anxiety, either the situation has to change, or you have to need to practice skills to help manage your anxiety. But let’s be real—if there’s no money for food, no amount of deep breathing is going to change the very valid stress, fear, and worry you have going on in your life.

How often are you on social media?

If comparison is the thief of joy, then social media might be the kingpin. Everyone is beautiful, happy, well-traveled, and photogenic. Why can’t I go to New Zealand? Why are all my clothes stupid? Why did four people wish me a happy birthday? Why do I look like a stroke patient when I smile? No one actually likes me. I have nothing to offer. Why do I even exist? (Well, that escalated quickly…This is what we call a slippery slope and is considered a logical fallacy).

I also think social media creates a problem for teens who are now constantly connected with their peers. It’s never been like this. Friends could call the house phone, or come over after school, but that was about it. Aim Instant Messenger because a thing when I was a kid, but we had dial-up, so I couldn’t keep the phone line tied up too long. Kids need to be oriented to their families first and foremost. When they’re constantly oriented to their friends instead, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and lose their sense of self.

How do you talk to yourself?

Are you familiar with thinking errors? Or as I mentioned above, logical fallacies? The way we think can keep us stuck in the way we feel. Check out this list of common (not all) thinking errors. Start to notice when you’re falling into thinking errors and make a conscious decision to change the thought pattern. How you respond to your own thoughts matters because sometimes it’s our own thinking that keeps us anxious.

What do you think of yourself, others, relationships, and the world?

Often times, when life seems to continually throw curve-balls at us, we end up believe something about ourselves, others, relationships, and the world. The man who was continually criticized, rejected, and had love withheld as a child probably thinks very little of himself. If his own dad couldn’t love him, then he must be pretty worthless. And if he’s worthless, then every comment from his wife that isn’t an affirmation will trigger every ounce of rage within him. Relationships only create anxiety because you can’t trust others. And the world? Well, it’s full of people looking out for themselves and will only do something for others if it also benefits them.

What have your experiences taught you about yourself? That you’re loved and safe or that you’re worthless and a nuisance with nothing to offer others or the world?

My number one rule for people is simply this: be nice to yourself. I mean it. Just take a step back and choose to be kind. Because if you can’t be safe with yourself, then you can’t feel safe with others, and the anxiety will win. The way people have treated you isn’t necessarily a reflection of you. Maybe Dad wasn’t mean to you because he didn’t love you. Maybe he was mean because his dad was mean to him and he didn’t know how to be a dad. Maybe he was stressed about losing his job and health insurance, which meant if anything happened to you, he couldn’t take care of you. And if he couldn’t take care of you, then he probably took that deeply personally. It wasn’t you.

Anxiety can be paralyzing, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re having trouble figuring it out on your own, go talk to someone. Look into your options. There’s EMDR, talk therapy, music therapy, neurofeedback, and more. Just because one thing didn’t work, it doesn’t mean nothing will. Keep trying.

We’re here to help.

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