Anxiety is a lifelong trait

Unfortunately for those of us with anxiety disorders, it appears to be a lifelong trait. To some extent, it seems obvious.

For example: my friend M is an adventurer. She has climbed mountains, jumped out of perfectly good airplanes (with a parachute and skydive partner), and generally loves to try new things. M does NOT have an anxiety disorder.

I do.

My idea of an adventure is jaywalking. Trying new things means walking on the opposite side of the street from the subway station to my office. Newness and novelty are overwhelming to me. I like learning new things, true, but I also like routine. I like working the same hours every day, driving the same roads, taking the same trains.

In many ways, I wish I could be more like M. More...I don't Constant anxiety can be hard to deal with and manage.

Which is why it helps to learn that I'm just wired differently, and that I can't change some of my innate temperament. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison have looked at the persistence of anxious temperament in rhesus monkeys.*

From a press release:

"The study looked at brain activity, anxious behaviour, and stress hormones in adolescent rhesus monkeys, which have long been used as a model to understand anxious temperament in human children. Anxious temperament is important because it is an early predictor of the later risk to develop anxiety, depression, and drug abuse related to self medicating. The researchers found that those individuals with the most anxious temperaments showed higher activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that regulates emotion and triggers reactions to anxiety, such as the fight or flight response. These anxious monkeys had more metabolic activity in the amygdala in both secure and threatening situations.

"The brain machinery underlying the stress response seems to be always on in these individuals," said Kalin, "even in situations that others perceive as safe and secure." "

Even a year and a half after the initial tests, the monkeys originally rated as anxious showed much higher stress responses in all types of situations than the non-anxious monkeys.

Am I destined to be anxious the rest of my life? Probably. I am working to live with it or at least live around it. But I'm trying not to blame myself for it and waste my energy trying to do a preso-chango and become an adventurer like my friend M.

*This journal (all of the ones published by the Public Library of Science) is a free, open-access research publication, which means that you can download the whole article for free.

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tokaiangel said...

I'm kinda glad I an anxious monkey. Jumping out of planes is massively brave, but our survival instincts are there for a reason: to ensure we survive!

I kinda like the fact that some people need to bungee jump to feel like they are leaping into the unknown - I get the same effect just ordering a different sandwich at lunchtime.

A sandwich is a lot cheaper than extreme sports travel insurance, after all.


Interestingly, I found CBT very very helpful for my anxiety problems. So although we may not be able to rid ourselves of them completely, we can definitely learn to live with them.

TA x

IrishUp said...

TA is right: thrill-seeking can be a disorder too. Such people often have surpressed startle responses and can need ever-escalating risks to stimulate them. These can lead to self-harming behaviors and difficulty sustaining relationships, even if such people appear "exciting" from the outside looking in.

We all have our demons. As a person who absolutely LOATHES getting a new cell phone b/c of the hassel of the learning curve, I am a big fan of the devil-you-know. I'll keep my foibles, and my feeties INSIDE the plane TYVM!

Le Fleur said...

I agree that thrill seeking can be a disorder. I have one that basically involves the need for thrills, but I won't mention it for fear of being ridiculed as I have heard that people think it is not a "real" disorder.

Anyhow, I also think that you can't live your life based on the findings of a case study in a laboratory. I mean, the same thing does not always apply in all situations so all people tagged with an anxiety disorder may not have the same symptoms and they may not be lifelong.

I should be on medication for my bipolar disorder, this is not the one I was talking about above, but I refuse to swallow bitter pills and have been refusing since I was diagnosed at sixteen. I'm still alive and quite well adjusted, I think.

Carrie said...

Oh, I agree: thrill seeking can be addictive and dangerous! I know that's not M- she just loves new things and is very adventurous.

I've been anxious for a long time, and I know that I'm almost always probably going to be more hesitant to try new things than most people. And that's okay. There's also a very fine line between understanding your own personality traits and being trapped by them (if that makes any sense at all!).

For years, I berated myself for not liking the same things as other people: going to bars, socializing in large groups, being adventurous. For me, this study was as much about understanding that I'm wired differently as it was about condemning myself to a life of anxiety.

CBT and DBT have literally been lifesavers, both with my anxiety and my mood disorders (likely an atypical bipolar disorder).

Phew- that was long. Mary, are you out there? You're rubbing off!

Le Fleur said...

I always leave long comments and here's another :)

My sister said she doesn't think I'm bipolar because I don't act like the people who get treated at her hopital and I've never been hospitalized. Truthfully, I'm so afraid of hospitals that I would suffer anything rather than be taken to one.

Also, the manic side of my mood disorder isn't what she would call mania. She's studying to be a social worker, but she works with nurses at the momment and she thinks she's seen all types.

I suppose I could call it an atypical bipolar disorder, but I do have episodes where I just can't close my eyes and I have to do something to exhaust myself completely so it'll pass. I also have episodes where I just cry and cry and I've tried to suffocate myself in my pillow as I felt so bad for no real reason.

Normally, I'm on a middle ground though and that's what my family members see and that makes them think that nothing is wrong. I've learned to deal with it, and even hide it, as I don't like answering their questions about it.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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