Why Some People Are Born To Worry
How do early-life traumas get under our skin? A researcher details his quest for the stress-causing mechanism
Adapted from Born Anxious: The Lifelong Impact of Early Life Adversityand How to Break the Cycle, by Daniel P. Keating. 2017 Daniel P. Keating.
By the late 1990s, our group at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research had identified robust connections between early adversity and lifelong anxiety and stress, leading to problems in social relationships and mental and physical healthand even to shorter lives. What we needed was an explanation for why this was happening: How does early-life stress get under the skin?
Enter Michael Meaney, a professor at McGill University who specialized in neurology, stress, maternal care, and gene expression. He had been studying rodents displaying stress dysregulation , who were over-reactive to stressors and stayed in a stressed-out state longer. He had discovered physiological differences and behavioral problems in rats whod been deprived of maternal nurturing, which aligned with previous studies, but he also arrived with a brand-new and as yet unpublished finding. He had actually found a biological mechanisma process that seemed to explain why those who experienced stress early in life had so much trouble thereafter. As he explained what he had learned, we suddenly realized that this was the missing piece of our puzzle.
Treatment For Anxiety And Depression
The first step to treatment is to talk with a healthcare provider, such as your childs primary care provider or a mental health specialist, about getting an evaluation. Some of the signs and symptoms of anxiety or depression in children could be caused by other conditions, such as trauma. A mental health professional can develop a therapy plan that works best for the child and family. Behavior therapy includes child therapy, family therapy, or a combination of both. For very young children, involving parents in treatment is key the school can also be included in the treatment plan. Consultation with a healthcare provider can help determine if medication should be part of the treatment.
If you need help finding treatment, visit MentalHealth.govexternal icon.
Everything Is Not An Emergency
As someone starts to feel extremely anxious they often experience a similar pattern of warning signs symptoms such as feeling on edge or becoming short of breath. Emotions and physical responses react as though there were real danger but this is the big lie of anxiety disorders, for everything is not an emergency.
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You Were Born A Nervous Baby
The Theory: Some of us really are just born this way.
The Research: Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan has spent several decades tracking babies from birth to adulthood and found that the ones who were most stressed out by “novel stimuli” as infants â i.e. babies who hated strange noises, toys, and smells â typically grew up into anxious teens and adults. Those anxious individuals showed brain differences from infanthood on, with MRIs revealing thicker cortexes among anxious infants. Researchers aren’t totally sure which is the anxiety chicken and which is the anxiety egg â do anxious people develop thicker cortexes, or do thick cortexes cause anxiety? â but they do hope that this can help people get earlier and more effective treatment.
None of these factors will magically help you alleviate your anxiety, of course â but they might help us better understand our own anxiety, which can often feel totally inexplicable when we’re in the thick of it. And perhaps most importantly, this information can be used to shut down people who think anxiety isn’t a real disorder, and is “all in your head.” Yeah, it is all in my head â right in my thick-ass cortex, chump!
Images: Disney Giphy
Postpartum Depression Vs Postpartum Anxiety: What’s The Difference
Unlike postpartum depression, which can cause mothers to experience extreme sadness or even disinterest in their newborn, postpartum anxiety symptoms mainly manifest in the form of worry. “You constantly feel worried and on edge,” says Sara Gottfried, M.D., author of The Hormone Cure. “I think of postpartum anxiety as the loss of the normal sense of balance and calm, and postpartum depression as a loss of heart.”
Unfortunately, postpartum depression is the disorder that’s talked about most, so many moms aren’t sure what to think once they start experiencing intense worry. “We call postpartum anxiety ‘the hidden disorder’ because so few moms recognize it and it goes undiagnosed,” says Dr. Abramowitz. “It hasn’t been discussed or studied much, even though it’s likely more common than postpartum depression.”
It’s also important to note that PPD and PPA often go hand in handabout half of women who have postpartum depression also have anxiety. “If you’re anxious and it’s getting in the way of your life, you may begin to feel depressed about that and vice versa,” Dr. Abramowitz says.
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How Is Anxiety Diagnosed
To be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, youll have to speak to a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed professional counselor , or social worker.
Youll discuss your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Theyll also speak to you about your symptoms and compare your symptoms to those outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders .
How To Restore Serotonin
The bodys serotonin can be replenished in a variety of ways, some in the short term and some for the long term. The suggestions below will have both short and long term effects if maintained.
Increasing your serotonin levels through the changes noted above can help bring your brain chemistry back into balance, so that you can stop feeling anxious and start feeling happiness.
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How Common Are Depression And Anxiety During Pregnancy Or After Birth
As mentioned above, researchers believe that depression is one of the most common problems women experience during and after pregnancy. According to a national survey, about 1 in 8 women experiences postpartum depression after having a baby.
Anxiety during and after pregnancy is as common as depression and may happen at the same time as depression.
You may feel like you’re the only person in the world who feels depressed and anxious during pregnancy or after your baby is born, but you are not alone.
How Does Stress Affect Anxiety
As mentioned above, in addition to genetics, the environment you live in affects whether or not you will have anxiety. For example, scientific research shows that experiencing a childhood trauma like abuse or a disrupted family makes you more likely to develop anxiety later. The timing of life stress can also be important. Teenagers seem to be particularly sensitive to interpersonal stresses, like rejection or bullying.
The new field of epigenetics takes the powerful connection between genetics and environment one step further. Research in this area shows that stress during pregnancy or even before pregnancy can affect whether or not a child develops anxiety later. Scientists believe this happens because some genes can be programmed to turn on or off even before they are passed down from parent to child.
Anxiety can also be learned. Children learn how to handle situations by watching how the adults around them behave. If their parents often respond to events with anxiety, children may learn to model that behavior. For scientists studying anxiety, this pattern can be very difficult to separate from genetics.
Also Check: How To Help A Child With Social Anxiety
What Are Anxiety Disorders
An anxiety disorder is a medical condition characterised by persistent, excessive worry.
Anxiety disorders can take a number of forms. Common to all of these is anxiety so distressing it can interfere with a persons ability to carry out, or take pleasure in, day-to-day life.
A person may experience more than one anxiety disorder. Some people may also experience depression with the anxiety, or have problems with alcohol or drug abuse.
You Have High Verbal Intelligence
The Theory: Verbal intelligence covers writing and reading skills, as well as verbal reasoning ability âwhich might mean that those with higher verbal intelligence have an easier recall of past situations .
The Research: Though the sample size on this 2014 study conducted at Canada’s Lakehead University was tiny , it did present an interesting theory â it tested students both for verbal ability and anxiety, and found a connection between higher verbal intelligence and anxiety. Basically, folks who were good with words were found to also be more likely to worry. Researchers theorized that folks with higher non-verbal intelligence â like visual and hands-on learners, who do better with abstract concepts â might be better able to pick up non-verbal physical cues from those around them, which could help them assess social situations more accurately, and thus be less anxious.
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Anxiety Disorders In Children
It’s normal for children to feel worried or anxious from time to time such as when they’re starting school or nursery, or moving to a new area.
But for some children, anxiety affects their behaviour and thoughts every day, interfering with their school, home and social life.
This is when you may need professional help to tackle it.
Genetics Have A Lot To Do With Who Gets Depressed
Recent research has found that 40 percent of people with clinical depression can trace it to a genetic link. Furthermore, an individual with a depressed relative is nearly five times more likely to suffer from depression than someone with a depression-free family tree. And if a member of your immediate family suffers from severe depression, you’re about one and a half to three times more likely to develop depression than someone without a depressed family member.
A lot of the most informative research regarding the genetics of depression comes from studying identical twins, who are useful when studying genetics because they share the same genetic code. Researchers have found that if one identical twin suffers from depression, the other will also develop depression 76 percent of the time. Even when you adjust for environmental factors, like being raised in the same home, the numbers are still astounding â identical twins who are not raised together share clinical depression 67 percent of the time. These high rates definitely indicate that genetics are a huge factor. But since the rate isn’t 100 percent, we can’t deny that environmental factors are also at play.
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Newborn Reactions Can Predict Depression And Anxiety
Print version: page 13
1 min read
Monitor on Psychology40
Some babies cry, scream and kick in response to unfamiliar situations while others remain calm. The difference between the two stays with them throughout their lives, predicting their susceptibility to depression and anxiety disorders, finds a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, Dec. 711, in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The study’s lead researcher, Carl Schwartz, MD, a psychopathologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown, found that a baby’s temperamentreliably discernable at 4 months of agepredicts the structural development of the anterior prefrontal cortex, the brain area heavily involved in emotional response and control.
“Every parent is intrigued by the differences in children that are present from the day they’re born,” Schwartz says. “We’ve discovered a surprising, and we think important, link to depression and anxiety.”
Schwartz cautions, though, against generalizing his findings to all cases of prefrontal cortical thickness. “Anatomy isn’t destiny,” he says. “But anatomy does seem to have a pretty big footprint.”
A Combination Of Genetics And Life Events Mainly Cause Anxiety
“The main underlying core belief of any anxiety disorder is an exaggerated sense of vulnerability in the world of yourself or the people you care about,” Touroni says. “Fundamentally, it’s about understanding whether your experiences led you to develop a belief that the world is a dangerous place.”
In particular, child sexual abuse and family violence may lead to an increased risk for anxiety. Moreover, having three or more adverse childhood experiences these are somewhat traumatic events for children, ranging from divorced parents to abuse is associated with a higher likelihood of developing anxiety.
Different childhood experiences at home, school and elsewhere can help explain why some family members might develop anxiety while others don’t.
For example, a 2018 study followed 49,524 twins for 25 years. The researchers found that as twins aged and their environments became more different, the influence of heritability on their chance of developing anxiety decreased. In short: even though the twins shared genetics, their risk factors for anxiety were affected more by their environment than their genes.
In the end, there’s no concrete set of factors that can predict if you will develop anxiety, or not.
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If Anxiety Or Depression Runs In Your Family
Age may be a clue about whether your family might have a genetic link to anxiety or depression. If one of these conditions shows up in someone before the age of 20, their family members are more likely to, as well. In most cases, the younger the person is when they get anxiety or depression, the more likely it is to be hereditary.
Anxiety and depression can still be genetic if they show up in your older family members. But often, new conditions in people that are over the age of 20 are linked to painful or stressful life events.
Youâre more likely to inherit a tendency for anxiety or depression if a close family member has it, instead of a more distant relative. If you have a twin, parent, or sibling who has anxiety or depression, youâre more likely to get it because youâre closely related to them.
Making Sense Of Anxiety
Its natural to worry during the stressful times we all experience from time to time in life. Someone with an anxiety or related disorder, however, feels persistently anxious in a way which is excessive and out of keeping with the situation they are in.Understanding how anxiety disorders work then, is an important first step in taking control of symptoms and getting better.
What Are The Risk Factors For Depression And Anxiety During Pregnancy Or After Birth
Depression and anxiety during pregnancy or after birth can happen to anyone. However, several factors make some women more likely than others to experience one or both of these conditions. These risk factors include:
- A history of depression or anxiety, either during pregnancy or at other times1
- Family history of depression or anxiety2
- A difficult pregnancy or birth experience3
- Giving birth to twins or other multiples4
- Experiencing problems in your relationship with your partner5
- Experiencing financial problems6
- Receiving little or no support from family or friends to help you care for your baby7
- Unplanned pregnancy8
Depression and anxiety during pregnancy or after birth don’t happen because of something you do or don’t dothey are medical conditions. Although we don’t fully understand the causes of these conditions, researchers think depression and anxiety during this time may result from a mix of physical, emotional, and environmental factors.