7 Habits You Learned Early In Life That Cause Anxiety
We all experience anxiety for different reasons, but you're likely paying attention to what is causing you to feel uneasy in the present moment rather than things from the past. However, some early learned behaviors can actually play a role in how you feel now. There are a number of habits that cause anxiety that you might have learned early in life, and getting to the crux of these issues may actually help you feel better. Our early habits and ways we learned to navigate the world tend to have a bigger impact than we may think, especially when it comes to managing stressful situations.
"People begin learning how to deal with uncomfortable feelings, like fear and anxiety, when they are very young," psychologist Dr. Sal Raichbach PsyD of Ambrosia Treatment Center, tells Bustle. "In early childhood, we develop coping mechanisms through observation and experience. The problem is that not all coping mechanisms work, and sometimes they lead us back to feeling even more anxious. As we age, our behaviors become ingrained into who we are and how we act, even if they aren’t effective."
Thankfully, it's never too late to change your behavior, which means you can work to counteract the effect of these early habits. Here are seven unexpected habits you might have learned early in life that can trigger anxiety, according to experts.
Not doing your homework right away may have seemed innocent enough back then, but it could be responsible for some of your anxiety in the future. "Once procrastination becomes a habit during childhood, it tends to stick," says Dr. Raichbach. "It usually begins with household chores and school assignments. After a while, the association between time-sensitive commitments and anxiety becomes that person's reality. Deadlines and responsibilities start to trigger these anxious feelings automatically. As an adult, responsibility becomes greater, and so does the pressure stress."
2. Being A Perfectionist
That desire to impress your teachers or get the approval of your parents by being perfect can lead to unrealistic expectations of yourself. "The problem with perfectionism is that it doesn’t allow you to make mistakes and learn from them," Dr. Raichbach says. "Since the expectations you're setting are unrealistic, it’s a total set up for anxiety. Once a person develops a fear of failure, it makes it difficult to take chances and grow without feeling that crushing uneasiness."
3. Not Sleeping Enough
"Sleep problems from a young age can trigger anxiety later in life," clinical psychologist Sweta Venkataramanan, Psy.D., tells Bustle. "Often times difficulty sleeping is the result of ruminative thoughts that are keeping you awake. As a child it may be harder to recognize or speak about, but these thoughts that make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep often manifest into anxiety later in life."
4. Zoning Out
Zoning out or not paying attention in class can also lead to some issues with anxiety. "Sometimes it is due to lack of interest," says Dr. Venkataramanan. "Other times it's a detachment due to an internal process where it's hard to talk about things out loud. The more frequently this happens the more likely it is to develop into anxiety in the future where the way of dealing with problems is through getting lost in thoughts."
5. Internalizing Your Feelings
If you were taught to keep your feelings to yourself when you were younger, it could be the cause of your anxiety now. "Childhood is when people learn to identify their feelings and express them in a healthy way," says Dr. Raichbach. "Kids that don’t express themselves tend to struggle without an emotional outlet. It becomes even more difficult as an adult because society expects us to keep it together. The pressure of bottled up emotions has to escape somehow, usually in the form of anxiety and worry."
6. Controlling Others
A lack of control means uncertainty, and for some people, that uncertainty leads directly to fear and anxiety. If you were always the leader of the pack in your friend group or your parents gave into everything you wanted, this could pose a problem later in life when you run into situations out of your control. "Childhood is when we start to understand our place in the world and how much influence we have on others," Dr. Raichbach says. "If a kid is lead to believe that they are always in control, it's likely they'll run into that anxiety during adulthood."
7. Staying Away From Activities When You're In A Bad Mood
Avoiding activities when you were young because you were cranky can set you up to have more anxiety in other areas of your life. "Pervasiveness is allowing one aspect of your life to rule all areas of your life," psychologist Dr. Mike Dow, Psy.D., Ph.D, tells Bustle. "If you got a bad grade and stay home from the dance, you're learning that one area of your life bleeds into all areas. Instead of keeping it specific, it becomes global. Then, you spiral into feelings of panic, dread, and anxiety. If you learn to honor your feelings for a moment and then take contrary action, a little anxiety will tend to dissipate quickly."
These early habits — as innocent as they may seem — may be the root of your present anxiety. And if you are having trouble moving past them or developing new coping mechanisms, a therapist may be able to help.