Are You Wired to Worry?
A recent NY Times article brings up the work by highly esteemed developmental psychologist, Jerome Kagan, who wondered if some people are just always "mentally preparing for doom." For the past 20 years, Kagan has been following hundreds of people to see if their tenuousness as a baby follows them into adulthood.
In other words, are some people just wired to worry?
Through his study Kagan has found that some people are just more prone to worry on a biological level. In people who are highly sensitive to perceived or imaginary threats, we might see heightened arousal in the amygdala, a part of the brain that is meant to react to changes in our environment like danger.
People who live with an anxious mind also have more activity in the right side of the brain, which is also associated more often with negative or uncomfortable emotions and experience greater increases of the stress hormones of cortisone and norepinephrine.
And so what if we are wired for anxiety, does this mean we are deficient or defective in some way?
Here's how it works in our culture. When someone does have an anxious mind, that thought of defectiveness often does arise. "What's wrong with me, how come sally doesn't react this way?" These thoughts often give rise to feelings of shame and secondary emotions such as anger about our shame or even more shame about our shame. Before you know it we are in a loop which mingles depression with anxiety.
So the anxious mind itself is not the problem. The problem is how we relate to it.
Even if you have an overreactive anxious mind, you can learn to step outside of the habitual cycle of reaction that creates that downward spiral, and in that moment of awareness you are present and are able to see a wider and more open landscape. Seeing the hope landscape of options in front of us, we become more creative and flexible which often calms the anxious mind.
Mindfulness practice is a very practical way of relating to our anxiety differently, learning to approach the feelings instead of reacting by fleeing or avoiding which exacerbates it.
To learn more about how mindfulness can work with anxiety, feel free to sift through my blogs here as there are many examples of this.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interactions provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Coping - Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. - Oct 15th 2009
Remember, it's not the wiring that's an issue, its the way we relate to it.
I'm a big proponent of integrating a more nonjudgmental present moment awareness practice in daily life to work with changing the relationship.
I welcome you to look through my previous blogs for tips and also to check out the audio CDs and EBooks I have put out that can help actually integrate this into practice.
Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
Anxiety and babies - - Oct 14th 2009
I'm a mother of two adult children. One was always anxious. Seems sad to think we'd wired for stress. What are good coping skills that would help?