On average, one in four people will experience anxiety at some time in their lives. If you’ve ever experienced anxiety, you’ll be too familiar with its whip-cracking chase that seems to come from nowhere. Here are some facts about anxiety that will hopefully help to make more sense of your experience.
Anxiety has a genetic basis.
If either or both of your parents suffer from anxiety, there’s a high chance you’ll experience it as well. It’s about here the nature/nurture argument steps in. Anxiety can be passed down through genes (nature) or through parental behaviour (nurture). In a 2014 study, the α-endomannosidase gene was found to be associated with panic disorder and social anxiety disorder. On the nurture front, research has shown that anxious parents are more likely to inadvertently feed anxiety by being slower to grant autonomy or by supporting the avoidance of situations that might cause anxiety. (These behaviours are completely understandable and driven by the most loving intentions but for kids with anxiety the short-term easing of anxiety can make anxiety worse in the long run.) This does NOT mean that parents cause anxiety – they absolutely don’t. It’s likely that both genetics and environment play a part – the genetic vulnerability to anxiety makes it easier for environmental factors to stir anxiety. It’s important to remember that genes aren’t destiny. Anxiety can be managed. Just because it’s in your family denims doesn’t mean it will be passed to you, and if it is passed down, you won’t necessarily do anxiety in the same way as the people who came before you.
Anxiety can be physically painful.
Anxiety has a strong physical basis. Every physical symptom is a direct result of the body’s fight or flight response. When the brain senses a threat (real or imagined – it doesn’t care) it will surge the body with a cocktail of neurochemicals to provide the physical resources to fight for life or run for it. Physical symptoms can include a tightening around the chest, headaches, nausea, muscle tension, heart palpitations and tummy trouble. Anxiety hurts. It’s different for everyone but the physical response is just as real as the emotional one.
Exercise can reduce anxiety.
Anxiety is the body’s fight or flight response in full swing. When there is nothing to fight and nothing to flee, the stress hormones that are surging around have nowhere to go so they build up, bringing with them the physical symptoms of anxiety. Physical activity is the natural end to the fight or flight response. Exercise helps to balance out the neurochemicals that contribute to anxiety.
Anxiety can confuse the sense of smell.
Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that people with anxiety have a greater tendency to label neutral smells as bad smells. Typically, when processing smells it’s only the olfactory (smelling) system that gets activated. When a person becomes anxious the emotional system becomes intertwined with the olfactory processing system.
People with anxiety are quicker to perceive changes in facial expressions.
People with anxiety are quicker to pick up on changes in facial expressions than those without anxiety BUT they are less accurate. The tendency to jump to conclusions means that highly anxious people will often make mistakes when trying to infer other people’s emotional states and intentions. Understandably, this has a way of creating tension and conflict in relationships. If you’re the anxious one, keep in mind that what you think others are thinking or feeling might not necessarily be right – your speedy powers of perception might have fed you a misread.
Certain diets can influence anxiety.
A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that people who followed a ‘traditional’ diet consisting of vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and whole grains tended to be less anxious compared to those who followed a ‘western’ diet of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products and beer.
Anxiety widens personal space.
Everybody has an invisible zone of personal space around them. The closer we are to someone, the further they are allowed into our personal space zone. The preferred personal space zone differs for everyone but generally it’s about 20-40cm away from our face. Closer than that and we’re stepping back. If you tend towards anxiety, your personal space bubble is likely to be wider.
Performance anxiety? Nah. Excited.
Research by the Harvard Business School has shown that anxiety around performance is better managed by getting excited. The secret is in the re-labelling. The way we talk about our feelings has an enormous impact on the way we feel. Both anxiety and excitement have a lot of the same physical elements. Labelling a feeling as ‘anxious’ brings to mind thoughts of what might go wrong. Reinterpreting it as ‘excited’ brings on a more positive emotional state.
Your friends actually think you’re pretty fabulous.
People with social anxiety often think they don’t come across well socially. According to new research however, people think they’re pretty fabulous. Possibly due to their sensitivity to others, by the time socially anxious people speak, their words are well considered and ready to leave an impression – which they often do. If you struggle with social anxiety, remember that when you let people see you, they really like you. You might not believe this just because you’ve read it here, but next time you’re out, try acting as though it’s true. It will make a difference to you and to the way you’re seen.
Anxiety also comes with strengths.
Nothing about us is all good or all bad – nothing. If you’ve struggled with anxiety, for all the angst it causes you, it’s also helped to shape the person you’ve become in positive ways – the choices you make, the friend you are, the partner, colleague, sister, brother, leader or employee you are. Anxiety is not who you are, it’s something that happens to you sometimes. It’s part of being human and the sometimes beautiful, sometimes messy, sometimes extraordinary art that it is.
[irp posts=”106″ name=”Managing Anxiety: 8 Proven Ways”]
A Book for Kids About Anxiety …
‘Hey Warrior’ is the book I’ve written for children to help them understand anxiety and to find their ‘brave’. It explains why anxiety feels the way it does, and it will teach them how they can ‘be the boss of their brains’ during anxiety, to feel calm. It’s not always enough to tell kids what to do – they need to understand why it works. Hey Warrior does this, giving explanations in a fun, simple, way that helps things make sense in a, ‘Oh so that’s how that works!’ kind of way, alongside gorgeous illustrations.
it really helped out my crippling depression
These are the type of articles, I should read more often, Really has made me think of my anxiety in a positive way and made me feel stronger.I’m not alone in this every day struggle.
Thank you so much!
Im a parent of a 15 year old boy suffers anxiety which as made him recieve little education. He crys to me saying his not normal but he is . he is clever buts lets his anxiety control his life im homeschooling him now but everyone said he was lazy but his not his a wonderfull boy that struggles to come to terms with what he as got i help him so much and stay up nights with him which oh well im his mum and love him so much. It affects his sleeping and learning so much. Im there for him 24/7 and its my duty to do so . if only he would seek help but his to ashamed to he thinks people will judge him or not understsnd him . its been a battle since age 6 but ive always been there for him no matter what. Doctor said his got anxiety also on dla for his condition . all my love to everyone in this situation take care your not alone .
Tracey I’m sorry to hear your son is going through this. Anxiety is manageable, but it sounds as though your son is at a point where he needs professional support to be able to find ways to manage his anxiety and get his life back. I understand how difficult it is to get him this support if he is worried about what people think or if he is feeling any sense of shame around his anxiety. Anxiety is so common. It affects about one in five kids, so in his class, there would very possibly be five other kids who are struggling with anxiety or who have struggled with it at some point in their lives. It is so disappointing that other people looked at what he was going through and interpreted this as laziness. Anxiety has NOTHING to do with laziness! Your son would have been fighting a battle every day. It’s exhausting and it’s so hard. If you can, perhaps encourage your son to read this article. It is an article about anxiety in teens. Hopefully it will help your son to understand what’s happening for him, as well as giving him some strategies to try and most imporantly, help him to realise that he isn’t alone https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-teens/. If he can speak with a doctor or counsellor, I have no doubt they would be able to support him through his anxiety and help him to feel stronger in himself.
Question: Are you the publisher and editor of your website I am doing a research speech over anxiety and I want to be able to cite my work correctly
Yes August, I am the publisher and editor. If the articles are written by a guest author, the article will make this clear, otherwise the articles are written by me.
I have struggled with anxiety since college and am now in my late 30’s. I recently broke my leg and needed surgery. There is so much that I cannot do for myself right now and the vulnerability that is feeding my anxiety is hard. I am working to see people and things in my life that I am grateful for, connect with friends and family, and try and find things to do that bring me joy. Your article has been very helpful.
Kim I’m so pleased the article was able to bring you some comfort. It sounds as though you are doing everything you need to do to get stronger. Love and healing to you.
Very hopeful and helpful not to mention the fact that I probably know more..that I suffer from anxiety that the people around me. My anxiety has gotten so bad that I’m ecoming a hermit a prisoner in my own home. I even get anxious when my husband gets too close to me. I start sweating profusely and have to move or he’s gotten so use to it that he will move away just to try to make me feel better. Its difficult for our marriage. I’ve had it since I was 5 yrs old and 50 yrs later it’s probably the worst it’s ever been. I believe mine gets better when I’m in a routine of some sort- spiritually. When I get away from praying regularly, reading the word, going to church…socializing with people in church…which I JUST CAN’T DO ANYMORE. I just want to run. Its so tough. I wish I didn’t have it. But I do. Thnx…for your sharing.
Anxiety can be really tough. I completely understand. It’s important that you have found something that helps. There is a lot of work happening in the area so hopefully we’ll keep getting closer to closer to understanding more about anxiety and the things that help to bring relief.
I’m 17 and have struggled with anxiety for awhile now and have just felt like I’m the only one. I have just recently started going to a new school which has sent my anxiety to a whole new level, and I’ve noticed that so many people joke about it instead of trying to understand it or the person who struggles with it. After reading this article I feel like I can breathe again. Seeing that I’m not the only one and knowing that other people care instead of mock you for it.
This is such a great article and well explained
I’m so pleased this has helped you to feel less alone. There are so many people who struggle with anxiety – you’d be amazed! Anxiety can be really hard to understand for people who haven’t been through it and they can respond in funny ways. Whatever the reason though, having someone take lightly what you’re going through would feel awful – I really understand that. Here are some other articles that might help – just in case you haven’t read them:
>> What I’ve Learned About Anxiety That Only People With Anxiety Could Teach Me: https://www.heysigmund.com/the-things-ive-learned-about-anxiety-that-only-people-with-anxiety-could-teach-me/
>> Dealing with Anxiety: The Facts That Can Turn It Around https://www.heysigmund.com/dealing-with-anxiety/;
>> And to help the people in your life understand things a little more: https://www.heysigmund.com/when-someone-you-love-has-anxiety/
>> Anxiety: 15 Ways to Feel Better Without Medication – https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-without-medication/
I hope these are able to bring comfort to you. You’re certainly not alone. Thank you for sharing your story – you’re wonderful and your comment will help more feel to feel less alone. I wish all good things to you at your new school.
It helps to know I am not the only one..keep up the good work
You’re certainly not along with this. If only you knew how many people are struggling with this. I hope this has helped to bring you comfort.
I love this article! Really has made me think of my anxiety in another way. I’m trying to figure out how to deal with it without having to take medication and it’s things like these that make that seem more and more possible.
I’m so pleased this article found it’s way to you!. If you are looking at ways to deal with anxiety without medication, here are some others that might help:
>> Anxiety: 15 Ways to Feel Better Without Medication https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-without-medication/
>> Dealing with Anxiety: The Facts That Can Turn it Around https://www.heysigmund.com/dealing-with-anxiety/
>> Managing Anxiety: 9 Proven Ways
I am 22 and in my last year of college. My family has recently been taking on the challenge of caring for an elderly family member. In the process of studying for my CPA exam, trying to find a job, and working the 2 jobs I currently have, plus finishing school and making time for my family I have been struggling greatly with my anxiety. This has never really been a problem for me before. This article was very helpful to help me understand a little of what is happening within my own body.
I’m so pleased the article has been helpful for you. You have a lot going on at the moment, so it’s understandable that your body is responding the way it is. It’s great that you’re so open to the information and understanding what’s happening in your body. I know there’s a lot happening for you at the moment but you sound as though you’re doing an amazing job of positioning yourself for a great life. Keep going. It will be worth it.
I have just recently discovered your website and I love it! I’m in my early 30s and anxiety has really started rearing its ugly head lately. I love reading about the techniques to deal with it and to know that I’m not alone!
You are so not alone! There are so many people struggling with anxiety and it’s been wonderful that so many people have shared their story. I’m pleased you’re enjoying the articles. Thank you for taking the time to let me know.
Is the first time that I read information like that(about anxiety)is very helpful for us.I have more than 2 years living with anxiety.I have medicine for some month but I stopped them because they make me feel addicted.I am trying to keep calm my mind whith breathing exercises,i do exercise in and out every day,i balancing my food,i try to enjoy little things and I trying don’t think about bad thing.
I come to this site to get advice as its such a informative website and offers reassuring advice,i am 17 years old and im currently at my first year in college and its become very stressful,because of that i have started having panic attacks and your website has been very useful in getting information and techniques on how to deal with it all.
I’m so pleased you found us here. I know how stressful first year college is, I used to make myself sick with worry (before I knew how to manage it!) but what I wish I knew then (well, I probably knew it but I wish I believed it!) is that everyone gets to where they’re meant to be no matter what. My path from then to now has been nothing like I expected but I’ve ended up exactly where I’ve needed to be (right now it’s saying to you what I wish I could have said to myself!). I’ve had huge joy along the way and massive disappointments – but – every disappointment has lead to an opportunity I never could have imagined. Life’s like that. I can see that you feel the pressure and you certainly aren’t alone there. Trust that you will end up where you’re meant to end up and as long as you work hard it will be somewhere wonderful. You care so much, that it can’t help but be any other way. Even if you have a diversion of the path, most times, if not all times, that will be a gift. It’s always hard to believe until it happens. I’m pleased you’ve found the website useful. You’ve probably already done this but there are quite a few articles under the ‘Being Human’ tab under Stress’ and ‘Anxiety’. Thank you so much for coming to the site.
Thank you for this article. I look forward to sharing it with my now 18 y/o daughter. She has been struggling with this & I think showing her this article will help her see what I have been telling her, that she is not different from her peers & that a lot of them go through this as well & it will be ok.
Yes! You only have to look at the comments on this post to see how many people are struggling with anxiety – and it’s all ages. It means so much to me that people are taking the time to comment. One of the things it’s doing is letting everyone who feels different because they have anxiety, know that they aren’t. There are so many people experiencing exactly what your daughter is experiencing. I hope the information is able to help her.
I’ve always thought and felt like I didn’t belong but as I grew up I realized that I need to be myself who cares if I belong or not because it was mostly anxiety eating away at me. As soon as I went to college it opened my eyes because everyone was starting over and everyone was looking for friends so I told myself everyone was in the same boat! Going to college has been one of the best experiences of my life. I figured out that by going out of my comfort zone and despite the anxiety I can overcome anything I set my mind to! I’m still shy but I’m not afraid of anyone not liking me anyone because I don’t care! At the end of the day I know that I’ve been the best me that I can be and it makes me so much happier. Granted I still struggle with anxiety everyday but I have truely became a stronger person because anxiety has shown me how tough I can be when things get rough. Even though my road has been long and I’m still not at the end,I’m proud to say I love the person I’m becoming ?