If you worry excessively just like your mom, or have a few nervous habits just like your dad, it may be a sign you got your anxiety from your parents. Because — while there are many causes — anxiety can be genetic, and it can be learned. And recognizing that can be a good first step in overcoming it.
"Our predisposition to be anxious, to have heightened anxiety reactions, and even to suffer from anxiety disorders definitely has a genetic component," Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. If your parents or grandparents had anxiety, then that may be your answer.
But environment can play a role, too. For example, "parents who responded to challenges in life with great anxiety may have exhibited behaviors that increased your chances of having it, too," Dr. Klapow says.
Whatever your family history may be, keep in mind there are always ways to treat your anxiety. You can always start by making a few small lifestyle changes to give your body (and brain) what it needs to remain calm and cool, such as exercising, eating good food, and getting plenty of sleep.
"If you are experiencing enough anxiety that it is impacting your life, though, do not try to treat it on your own," Dr. Klapow says. That's when therapy can be a big help, and possibly even medication, to help you manage your symptoms. If any of the below sounds familiar, let a therapist know so they can help you get back on track.
Your Parents Were Cold & Distant
While not all parents can be present 24/7, if yours were particularly cold and distant, it may have been a factor in the development of your anxiety.
As Dr. Klapow says, "Your environment and how you were raised can drive your anxiety. If your parents were cold and distant, or highly authoritative, then your anxiety could absolutely stem from their parenting practices — even if they themselves never had an anxiety problem."
They Were Inconsistent
While a kid will never admit to liking structure, the truth is they crave it, and even need it in order to feel safe and secure. So if you grew up in a house where your parents were inconsistent, take note.
"If they were not dependable, or frequently sent mixed messages about how to behave in the house, it could contribute to anxiety," Dr. Klapow says.
Of course, there's nothing you can do to go back in time to undo any damage this may have caused. But you can recognize the effect it may have had, and take steps as an adult to overcome it by possibly seeking treatment.
Your Parents Didn't Handle Stress Well
"If your parents endured some sort of traumatic experience that you were present for — maybe a death of their parents or siblings — and they had severe stress reactions, your observations of those reactions could result in your own traumatic response," Dr. Klapow says.
While family moments like these don't guarantee someone will grow up to have anxiety, it can take a pretty big toll. And may even explain why you react in a similar way now that you're an adult.
Your Parents Self-Soothed In Unhealthy Ways
Everyone feels anxious from time to time. And a large part of dealing with it is learning healthy coping mechanisms, so it doesn't take over or cause more stress than necessary.
If you grew up in a household where everyone went for a walk during anxious times, then you probably recreate that same healthy scenario for yourself now that you're grown up.
But if your parents dealt with their stress and anxiety in unhealthy ways — such as reaching for alcohol, cigarettes, or by getting super angry — then there's a chance you never learned how to manage anxiety, licensed psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR, tells Bustle.
If you don't remember what it was like as a kid, "ask your parents how they have unsuccessfully and successfully managed their own anxiety," Scott-Hudson says. "All of this information is useful for understanding how anxiety has functioned in your own family system."
You Get Anxious About The Same Things
"If you and your parents get anxious about the same sort of things, such as traveling, socializing in big groups, changing jobs, etc, this may be anxiety patterns you learned from your family," licensed marriage and family therapist, Heidi McBain, MA, tells Bustle.
Was your dad always nervous at parties? Did your mom panic on planes? As McBain says, "You may have noticed how they reacted to each of these areas/stimuli and then seen these reactions as normal within your family." And you may even be repeating them yourself, all these years later.
You Get Hung Up On Being "Perfect"
"Anxiety can take many forms," NYC-based psychotherapist Jenny Maenpaa, LCSW, EDM, tells Bustle. And perfectionism is one of them. "Maybe your parent accepted nothing less than an A+," she says, "and you internalized that expectation for yourself over the years." And now, as an adult, you experience a high amount of anxiety at work, or fall apart whenever things don't go as planned.
Whatever the case may be, if you're struggling with anxiety, it may be worth it to consider your family history, and the environment in which you were raised. While these things won't tell the whole story, it can be helpful to think about the bigger picture.
By talking with a therapist, and working on ways to manage your anxiety, you can start to feel better — no matter what happened in the past.