Anxiety Myth #18: Behaving anxiously is a part of who I am. I can’t change who I am.
Another common anxiety myth: believing that anxiety is a part of who you are, and therefore, you can’t change who you are.
The cause and treatment of anxiety disorder is better understood today than ever before. Yet, misguided theories and myths about anxiety disorder persist.
A common myth that still persists today in spite of the abundance of research to the contrary is that some people believe issues with anxiety are a part of who they are, and therefore, there is nothing they can do to change it. In other words, they believe that just as they were born with their eye color or height, they were born to be anxious. So, just as they can’t change their eye color or height, there is nothing they can do to eliminate their issues with anxiety.
This line of reasoning, however, is faulty and for many reasons.
First, anxiety is caused by apprehensive behavior and not by anything genetic or biological. For more information, see our myths, “Anxiety disorder is caused by a genetic predisposition” and “Anxiety disorder is caused by a biological problem with the brain.” You can see our Anxiety 101 section for more information, as well.
Behavior is caused by the way a person thinks and acts. Apprehensive behavior is caused by imagining something bad, unpleasant, and/or harmful might occur. Worry is an example of apprehensive behavior. Again, for more information, see our Anxiety 101 section.
Second, behavior is learned. We learn most of the ways we behave by the age of eight. Consequently, those who raise us, and the way they behave, greatly influence the ways we learn to behave. This is why anxiety disorders often run in families. Not because of biological or genetic reasons but because of the influence parents and the way they behave influence their children when growing up.
For example, in an online poll we conducted in September, 2016, 88 percent of respondents said one or both of their parents were worriers when growing up. And in an online poll we conducted in May, 2016, 99.4 percent of respondents said they were worriers. As you can see, worry is a predominant behavior among those who experience issues with anxiety. And, the vase majority of those who struggle with issues with anxiety had a parent or parents who worried when growing up. As we mentioned, worry is an example of apprehensive behavior.
Moreover, the vast majority of anxiety disorder clients we’ve worked with over the years have traced their anxious behaviors back to either parental influence and/or a situation or circumstance where they learned to approach adversity, uncertainty, and risk in an apprehensive manner.
So again, anxiety disorder is not caused by biological or genetic reasons but by learned behavior. We explain this in more detail in Chapters 5, 6, and 7 in the Recovery Support area of our website.
Third, those who struggle with anxiety issues often have similar backgrounds and have parents with similar parenting styles. Sure, there is some diversity within this group, but overall, anxious parents raise anxious children.
Fourth, numerous studies over the last 10 years have found CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – which identifies and addresses the behaviors at the root of problematic anxiety) to be the ‘Gold Standard’ treatment for anxiety disorder. IF anxiety disorder was caused by any other reason(s) CBT wouldn’t be as effective.
Therefore, overly apprehensive behavior is the cause of issues with anxiety. Identifying and addressing the underlying factors that motivate those behaviors eliminates issues with anxiety.
If you’ve tried CBT and you believe it didn’t work for you, that doesn’t mean CBT doesn’t work or that there is a different cause for anxiety disorder. You can read more about the reasons for this in our previous anxiety myth entitled, “Therapy didn’t work for you, that means your anxiety is different and you won’t be able to overcome it.”
You can also read, “Is it possible for a person to never recover from anxiety disorder?” for more information.
There are many other reasons, as well, which we explain in the Recovery Support area of our website.
The bottom line is this: the cause and treatment of anxiety disorder is well understood today. Therefore, there is no reason to suffer needlessly. With the right information, help, and support, anyone can make meaningful behavioral change and overcome a struggle with anxiety disorder.
How can believing this myth hamper recovery?
If you believe issues with anxiety are just a part of who you are and there’s nothing you can do to eliminate them, you won’t pursue treatment. Since anxiety disorder doesn’t resolve on its own, this means a struggle with problematic anxiety will continue.
If you don’t do anything to correct the cause of problematic anxiety, issues with anxiety will continue. Only when we correct the problem will it and its symptoms disappear.
How can believing this myth make things worse?
As we mentioned, anxiety disorder doesn’t resolve on its own. It takes getting the right information, help, and support, as well as effort and time to overcome issues with anxiety.
Unaddressed anxiety issues can not only continue to cause problems but these problems often become more severe over time. Furthermore, as the body ages, it isn’t as resilient to stress so the impact of problematic anxiety becomes greater over time.
Moreover, as suffering intensifies, feeling like there’s no hope can further aggravate anxiety, as well as cause issues with feeling depressed. Bringing these two emotions together – fear and depression – can make things much worse.
Doing nothing to correct problematic anxiety often results in a greater struggle as we age.
But if you believe anxiety disorder can be overcome by working with a good therapist, and are willing to work at it, the sky is the limit!
All of us at anxietycentre.com overcame anxiety disorder by working at it, and with the help of an anxiety disorder specialist/therapist. A great many others have done it as well (which is why therapy is the ‘Gold Standard’ treatment for anxiety disorder).
Anxiety isn’t about something you were born with and that you can’t correct. Anxiety is about behavior that all of us can change and control when we know how. Working with an experienced anxiety therapist, coach, or counsellor can teach you those important skills.
Getting the right information, help, and support, and then doing the right work and for long enough, is all that is required to overcome anxiety unwellness for good. No one needs to suffer needlessly!
Anxiety isn't something that needs to be cured because it isn’t an illness. Dealing with our apprehensive behaviors, which cause issues with anxiety, solves the entire anxiety unwellness problem. Anyone can do this work with the right information, help, and support.
Again, no one needs to suffer needlessly. There is help available. The road to meaningful recovery is clear, well known, and well traveled. Those who do the right work succeed!
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder coach, counselor, or therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.
For more information about our Anxiety Counseling option; our Available Anxiety Therapists; to Book An Appointment with one of our anxiety therapists; common Anxiety Signs and Symptoms; common Anxiety Attack Symptoms; the symptoms of panic attack disorder; anxiety Recovery Support area; information about Anxiety; and our Anxiety 101 section; or click on the appropriate link or graphic below:
"CBT can be recommended as a gold standard in the psychotherapeutic treatment of patients with anxiety disorders." - Otte, Christian. "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Anxiety Disorders: Current State of the Evidence." Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. Les Laboratoires Servier, Dec. 2011. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.
DISCLAIMER: Because each body is somewhat chemically unique, and because each person will have a unique mix of symptoms and underlying factors, recovery results may vary. Variances can occur for many reasons, including due to the severity of the condition, the ability of the person to apply the recovery concepts, and the commitment to making behavioral change.
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Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated October 2016.