I feel pretty certain that every person who has an anxiety disorder wonders “Why me?”
In previous pages, I have explained to you how an anxiety disorder is “created”. But you are probably still wondering, “Why doesn’t everybody get an anxiety disorder eventually? Everybody is under tremendous stress at one time or another, but not everybody seems to end up with an anxiety disorder. What are the reasons that this happened to ME?”
Well first of all, the truth is that lots and lots and LOTS of people have anxiety disorders. The figures I have read all vary, but according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 18.1% of the adult American population has an anxiety disorder, with 4% of those cases being classified as “severe”.
So that means that millions of people in this country have an anxiety disorder of some kind, including Social Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, OCD, and severe phobias.
So you are definitely not alone. Not even close.
And you, yourself, may know a lot of people who have an anxiety disorder and you don’t even realize it because so very few people talk about it. Most people keep their struggles with anxiety to themselves out in the real world, or share them only with their close family/friends or people in their “internet world” out of fear of being labelled crazy or weak.
We already know that mental health is a difficult topic for a lot of people. No one wants to feel “broken” or judged. But one of the biggest keys to recovery is acceptance and knowing that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone needs a bit of help sometimes. Accepting support is one of the first steps to becoming the person you have always wanted to be.
You are NOT crazy or weak. You are just you. You are a unique, special, amazing, one of a kind person…….who happens to have a lot in common with the other millions of people in this country who have an anxiety disorder.
A lot more than you might think……
You, me, and almost every single person in the world that has an anxiety disorder….that is not related to PTSD or a medical cause...has a certain set of personality traits that have contributed to their disorder.
Think of an anxiety disorder as a pot of stew with a specific set of ingredients; the ingredients being our personality traits. Those kitchen cabinets up in our brain have to hold these personality traits, or at least most of them, if we are to be able to make Anxiety Disorder Stew. If you have the right ingredients, and you stir them just the right way, over the right amount of heat, for the right amount of time……you can make a fabulous batch of Anxiety Disorder Stew. And of course, the more ingredients you have, the more perfect your stew will be.
I don’t want to brag, but my Anxiety Disorder Stew IS perfection. My cabinets are well stocked with all the right stuff and I know exactly how to use it. Unfortunately, the stew tastes terrible and is really bad for my health so I have had to learn better ways to use those ingredients.
Here are the “ingredients”….the personality traits…that we have, that can contribute to the creation of an anxiety disorder:
1. WE ARE VERY ANALYTICAL. Most people with anxiety disorders love to question things.
We want to know the “how”, the “why”, the “what”, the “when” of everything. We don’t like un-answered questions. We don’t like un-solved riddles. We don’t want to “not know” what is going on. We want to know how things work, why they work the way they do, what is going on…..we are constantly asking questions about life and our surroundings and other people and things . We love to ponder and wonder and dissect and pick apart and question, question, question.
2. WE ARE INTELLIGENT. Not very many people with an anxiety disorder have low IQ’s. It takes intelligence to be as stressed out as we are!
You know how they say ignorance is bliss? Well there is some real truth to that. If you don’t know about something, its pretty hard to worry about it, isn’t it? But we smart people….we know lots of stuff and we are able to figure things out quickly, as well. We are able to quickly see all the potential consequences of whatever circumstances we are in. And not only are we able to figure out what those consequences could be, quite easily, but we then over analyze those potential consequences and we don’t let it go.
(Here is a great little article that talks about how people with anxiety disorders tend to have higher IQ’s than the average person, but how not all intelligent people have anxiety disorders. This makes perfect sense to me because remember, anxiety disorders are created by several personality traits….not just one.)
Now, it wouldn’t be so bad to be able to figure things out quickly and analyze potential outcomes except that with people like us, the potential consequences that we think of and over analyze are usually NOT GOOD.
This is because:
3. WE ARE TYPICALLY PRETTY NEGATIVE PEOPLE. For must of us with anxiety disorders, the only time we are positive is when we are positive something bad is about to happen.
We think negative thoughts all day long. We expect the worst to happen all the time.
It’s not our fault, it’s just the way we are. We were born this way……great big pessimists. Some people are born hopeful optimists who see the glass as half full, and some of us were born with a little gray cloud hanging over our head.
We pretty much expect the worst to happen in most situations, and our internal dialogue…our self talk……is not exactly what I would call encouraging or helpful. It is usually full of doubts and insecurity and fear of failure and dread. It makes it pretty tough on the old stress level when you are constantly analyzing situations you are in and thinking of ways that things can turn really bad, because your brain “hears” every single emotion that you have, and it reacts accordingly.
4. WE ARE PEOPLE PLEASERS. For some reason, we really want everybody to like us.
We slap a smile on our face and do whatever we can to convince people that we are happy and fun and worthy of their admiration. We care a LOT about what people think about us and we usually assume that people are thinking about us and judging us all the time, when the truth is that most people are so busy thinking about themselves that they are not paying NEARLY the attention to us that we think they are. We put on this facade of sunshine and rainbows, say “yes” way more than we should and overextend ourselves and feel guilty at even thinking about telling anybody “no”.
We don’t want to complain. We don’t want to rock the boat or create any waves. We don’t want to assert ourselves. We often let people walk all over us and mistreat us because we don’t want to make them “mad” at us by standing up to them. And all of this is really mentally exhausting.
For a lot of us with anxiety disorders…this “people pleasing” attitude does not reflect who we really are. Yet we put this performance on all day every day, and on some level we start to become bitter and resentful, which of course we never let on about, and it just adds to those negative emotions that we already have a huge supply of.
5. WE HAVE BIG IMAGINATIONS. Those of us with anxiety disorders have a “go big or go home” attitude when it comes to the scenarios we can dream up. We have huge imaginations and because we are such negative people, we aren’t usually using our mental powers to dream up fantasy worlds of rainbows and magic and love and light. Nope, not us. It’s not that we aren’t romantics because most of us are, but when it comes to the things we conjure up in our heads……..we are the “Masters of Disasters”.
We are so worried about getting an aneurysm that most of us know how to spell the word. Enough said right there.
If we feel a pain in our head, we don’t think “tension headache”. Oh no…..we go straight to stroke or brain cancer.
If we smell something funny in the air of our home, we are almost positive there is a gas leak of some kind.
If we screw up at work, we just know we are going to get fired, lose our home and end up on the streets.
If our spouse is late coming home from work, they didn’t get held up in traffic – they were the victims of a horrible car accident or some other tragedy.
We use these analytical, negative thinking, imaginative brains of ours to come up with all kinds of horrible possibilities. We don’t care about odds, or statistics or what “probably” happened or what probably WILL happen. We don’t care about what makes the most sense. Nope. Our big imaginations go straight to worst case scenario.
We believe that if something bad can happen, it will happen to us, and we believe it can happen at any time.
6. WE ARE VERY SENSITIVE PEOPLE. Things just naturally affect us more than they affect other people. And in some ways this is good. We are able to see the beauty in things that other people can’t see. We are able to FEEL the beauty in art and music and people. Our hearts can be touched in a way that I honestly think most other people wouldn’t understand and I feel so lucky for that. I often find myself in tears while listening to certain songs or watching movies or reading books. Sometimes I will see or hear something and my heart swells so much that it feels like it will explode.
I went to Riverdance once with my husband and every time the dancers lined up and did their step dancing in unison, I would literally hunch over and sob because I was so overcome with emotion. It was so amazing. Slightly embarrassing…but amazing. I feel so lucky that I get to feel beauty to that degree.
Unfortunately I also feel emotional pain, sadness, and fear to that degree too, but I have learned that the good things about being sensitive make it all worth it.
We feel stress more. We feel emotional pain more. We get our feelings hurt easier. We care almost too much about other people. We empathize too much and take on the pain of other people. We get scared more easily. We don’t like change. We don’t like anything taking us out of our “comfort zone”. We like our routine….we don’t want things to get “shaken up” by anything.
When something shakes up our world, it rocks us down to our core and it takes us a long time to recover from it. Whether it is the death of a loved one, a divorce, the loss of a job, an illness, changing homes………any of these things can affect us to the point where we actually have to take time out of our lives and allow ourselves to recover and heal because they affect us THAT deeply………..but we rarely do give ourselves time to heal and that is one of the reasons we develop an anxiety disorder.
7. WE ARE CHRONIC, HABITUAL WORRIERS. You may say this is the same thing as being negative. But it’s not. I have known lots of negative people who aren’t worriers. They are negative, but in more of a “just love to complain” kind of way. I am sure you all know somebody like this. You know….the kind of person who is never happy, never satisfied, something is always wrong……but yet they don’t sit around and obsess or dwell on it. They just kind of chronically complain about everything without obsessing about any one particular thing.
But we aren’t like that. We are mega-worriers and we take it seriously. It’s not just a hobby for us. We really BELIEVE and FEEL our worries. Our worries have a life of their own it seems, and they breed more worry on top of worry, and we find it nearly impossible to let go of it.
We worry around the clock. Then we start to worry about how much we are worrying. Then we worry that we won’t be able to stop worrying, and the more we worry about not being able to stop worrying, the more we worry. People say “Stop worrying.” But we think we can’t. People say “Relax”. But we think we can’t.
We have been this way our entire lives…but most of us don’t even realize it until our anxiety disorder erupts and we are asked to look back at our childhood and our teen years and early twenties.
I had no clue how much of a worrier I was until my anxiety disorder came about. I mean, I knew I worried. But I had no idea how much more I worried than the average person does. I just thought I was totally average…like everybody else. My anxiety disorder showed me lots about myself that I didn’t know, and that is why I am so thankful for it.
8. WE ARE INTROVERTS. We live life inside our own heads. I for one, like it that way. Well, to a healthy degree, that is. I love being an introvert. I love who I am, and I am totally comfortable with my own company. I have a cozy little nest in my head and that is where I spend a lot of my time. I like people and I am a social person when I have to be…..but I am also very shy which is something that most people who know me would never guess because I work so hard at pretending I’m not. But whenever I’m with people I don’t know, I usually end up saying something completely awkward and draw attention to myself anyway, so I don’t know why I bother.
The point is that I just find it so much more relaxing, and just plain easier, to be my myself, lost in my own thoughts, than with a group of people socializing.
I am ME when I am in my head. I am who I really am. I don’t have to try, I don’t have to exert energy making small talk…….I can just be myself and think about things that I want to think about and happily write in my notebooks or make one of my many lists of random things. So you won’t ever find me saying that being an introvert is a bad thing.
The problem is that sometimes we introverts spend a little TOO much time in our cozy little nests. We don’t spend enough time out in the “real” world, interacting with people and participating in activities that make us “do” rather than “think”. We never give ourselves a break from ourselves.
All healthy relationships need to involve spending a little time apart, readers. And that includes your relationship with yourself.
Too much time in your head, alone with yourself, changes your perception of the world. You start looking at it as an outsider looking in, instead of a participant. This is normal and just a natural result of too much introversion, however this little change in perception can feel “weird” and odd to those of us who are hyped up on adrenaline enough to notice it, and it can be a big anxiety contributor.
In addition, sometimes we just need to refresh our minds and “change channels” and experience something REAL and light instead of living in the heavy imaginary world in our head. Our brains NEED this break and our minds need it even more.
9. OUR MINDS AND OUR BODIES NEVER RELAX. Relaxing is just not something that a lot of us find it easy to do. Our thoughts are going all the time and never seem to stop coming. We are over-thinkers to the extreme. Its our favorite pastime.
Our bodies are always moving too. We seem to always feel the urge to be “doing something”, and even when we are sitting down, we are usually fidgeting or moving some part of our body. I am ALWAYS fidgeting. Mostly I am a foot bouncer and a toe mover. If I am sitting down watching a movie, I bob my feet up and down through the whole thing and curl my toes back and forth through the whole thing. I was 35 years old before I even realized I did this.
We are also frequently tense. Scan your body right now. Are your shoulders up by your ears? Is your jaw tight? Are your muscles just generally tight and clenched all throughout your body? I even clench my facial muscles…my lips and my cheeks….and I am not aware of it until I do my “scans”. The problem is that tense muscles tell your brain that there is a REASON to be tense. That is not the message we need to be sending to our brains!
When your thoughts are moving all the time, and your body never truly rests unless it is asleep, your brains thinks that there is “something going on out there” in our world. It thinks you never trust your environment enough to truly let your guard down. And if your brain thinks you don’t want to let your guard down, you can bet it’s going to help you out with that and keep that adrenaline flowing.
10. NOT ONLY DO WE NEVER STOP MOVING, WE ARE USUALLY MOVING FAST. A lot of us are fast talkers, fast thinkers, fast movers. I do everything fast……which makes it kind of surprising that I am also chronically late to every single event in my life. I speak and even think fast. I breathe fast…..I even eat fast . A lot of people who have GAD and/or Panic Disorder just seem to have an over-all faster pace than the rest of the world.
How many laid back, calm people do you know who move fast or talk fast? I can’t think of any off of the top of my head. Being calm and being slow go hand in hand. Being anxious and quick are the flip side of that coin. Body language and body movement play a big role in how your brain interprets your level of security. I frequently have to remind myself of this and slow myself down.
Now on their own, all of these personality traits of ours aren’t so bad.
Some of them are actually pretty wonderful, I think. They are nothing out of the ordinary, or weird or unique. These are simply some of the basic personality traits that human beings have and almost everybody has at least one of them, I would guess.
But the thing is that most people don’t have ALL these traits.
It is only when you have ALL, or at least almost all, of these personality traits, combined with just the right amount of chronic and/or acute stress in your life, that you have a good chance of developing an anxiety disorder.
And lucky us….we were born with all the right numbers and won the anxiety lottery.
So you see, it’s not your fault you have anxiety.
From the day you were born with that personality of yours, you were at high risk of developing an anxiety disorder. But it’s not something they screen you for as a kid ( ALTHOUGH IT SHOULD BE) – so all this time, you never knew.
If you had filled out a personality survey at the age of 12, any psychologist would probably have predicted the storm you were heading into and they would have educated you about anxiety and you would have never been caught off guard the way that you were.
You may even have been taught ways to delay or avoid the anxiety disorder erupting altogether!
But most of us didn’t see a psychologist at that age. So we weren’t warned, and when our anxiety disorder blew up, it blew up our life and we were left standing in the rubble, scared and afraid with no idea what just happened.
But now you have power! You are no longer that person who walked blindly through your life, unaware that every single day you were bringing yourself one step closer to your own personal hell.
NOW YOU KNOW!
Now you know.
And with knowledge, comes your power. If I had to pick one thing that saved me from my anxiety disorder hell, it was awareness and knowledge. I suppose that is two things. But either way, that is what helped me get my life back.
The ball is in your court now. You decide what happens next. You decide whether this cycle is going to keep continuing on and on, or whether you are going to stop it.
The choice is yours. Remember that it may not be your fault that you have anxiety, but you are still responsible for it, and you are the ONLY person who can make it better.
I can’t make it better for you, any more that I can lose 100 pounds for somebody. But I can show YOU how to make it better for YOURSELF. All you have to do is decide that it’s what you want and commit yourself to doing whatever it takes to make it happen……and owning who you are and respecting who you are is a huge part of that process. It’s a choice that must be made if you want long-term success with your anxiety recovery.
Don’t get me wrong……I want you to embrace your personality traits, embrace your quirks, embrace all the wonderful “weirdness” that makes you YOU. You were born to be the person that you are.
Whoever YOU are, love yourself more than any person on this Earth could ever possibly love you, and give the gift of yourself to the world. And while you are doing all of that, put a focus on learning how to use these wonderful personality traits of yours to work FOR you, instead of against you.
If you have no idea where to begin, please read my Anxiety Recovery Steps for some more info on how we tend to use these personality traits against ourselves and what I did to help turn things around.
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