Nature vs. Nurture
Episode #3 of the course How to overcome your anxiety by Eileen Purdy MSW, M.Ed.
It’s understandable to just want to skip to the punchline and know the specific cause for your anxiety, but let me unpack this a little. Because the fact is, even for doctors and scientists, the jury is still out.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the exact cause of generalized anxiety is unknown. There is evidence that biological factors, genetics, medical factors, environmental factors, substance use, and stressful life experiences play a role.
Pretty broad and not very comforting. I know.
Often, we feel that if only we could just put our finger on the exact cause, we would be able to understand why we are the way we are or do the things we do. And actually, our brains do too. They crave understanding things. Unfortunately, we can’t always satisfy our brains in this regard.
And this turns out to be okay, because no matter how nice and reassuring it is, information and understanding by itself doesn’t create change.
So, knowing that we won’t be able to totally identify why we have anxiety, here is the comforting part. We can make huge gains in overcoming it without “connecting all the dots” in our personal history because of something called neuroplasticity.
Remember back in the first email, “neurons that fire together wire together”? Neuroscientists have found that the brain is more amazing than we ever knew, and they call this feature neuroplasticity! And this is a huge reason why we don’t need to do a deep dive into all the nitty gritty of our past.
Meaning our anxiety or chronic worry caused by factors from the past can be changed in the present thanks to our brain’s ability to create and strengthen new neural pathways.
The way we do this is by
• Labeling our anxious and worrisome thoughts and feelings as false alarms…
• …over and over, every time we have those thoughts or feelings.
And with this continued and repeated practice, you’ll outdo both nature and nurture.
So you can see, the main “dots” we have to connect have less to do with nature or nurture and more to do with our perceptions and self-talk—an important caveat being if we have experienced some sort of trauma in our lives. Trauma adds a complexity that goes beyond the anxiety many people face. To honor that, I’d highly recommend working with an experienced professional in addition to following these strategies to help you see the results you deserve.
“Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things” by Jenny Lawson
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