While anxiety disorders do run in families, genetics is only one of the risk factors. In this article, we will discuss the biological components along with environmental, societal, and parental modeling.
While many of you are likely familiar with how your nervous system communicates with your body via electrical signals, your endocrine system communicates by using chemical messengers. Hormones are an example of chemical messengers and travel through your bloodstream. The chemical messengers that work in your brain are called neurotransmitters.
Adrenaline and noradrenaline are chemical neurotransmitters that fuel your body for action by increasing your blood pressure and heart rate. CRH is a stress-related hormone. Research has shown that high levels of CRH activates your HPA axis, which is the crux of your body’s stress response system. It is believed that individuals with anxiety disorder have a CRH dysfunction.
If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, this risk factor is part of your DNA and that of your child’s, but it’s not a deal-breaker. While your child may be genetically predisposed to developing an anxiety disorder, there are several other factors that can trigger it, many of which you have a level of control over.
Any number of stresses can contribute to your child developing an anxiety disorder. These include:
- the level of emotional stress both parents experience before pregnancy
- the mother’s exposure to stress during pregnancy
- the health of the mother’s and father’s relationship
- the stability of your child’s home, school, or daycare environment
- the loss of a close family member
While stress is a part of everyday life, there are several things you can do to help protect your child from developing an anxiety disorder:
- provide a warm, stable home environment for yourself and your family
- make sure your child gets enough sleep
- instill a sense of purpose in life
- practice a form of spirituality
- offer a feeling of social connectedness
In our digital society, social media is a growing contributor to the development of an anxiety disorder. Some risk factors are:
- too much exposure to pictures and posts that can cause your child to measure their self worth by comparing themselves to others
- using the internet as an escape from strong emotions which can impede their ability to handle real-life emotions
- relying solely on technology to maintain friendships, which can cause a lack of confidence in real-life relationships
- worrying about online connections
- becoming a victim of cyberbullying
Tips to help prevent your child from falling into a digital trap include:
- limiting the time your child spends on social media
- use of parental controls
- encourage and support real-world friendships
As a parent with an anxiety disorder, setting the example of self care is critical. This includes more than taking any anti-anxiety medication that your doctor has prescribed. Here are some positive parenting behaviors that will help lessen how much anxiety your child may develop:
- If you see a therapist, make it a priority to keep all of your appointments.
- Practice anti-anxiety behaviors at home.
- Demonstrate understanding of your own potential triggers.
- Let your child see you face your fears.
- Limit your own time on social media.
- Maintain your own real-world relationships.
- Get involved in community-based activities.
A family history of anxiety disorders does not automatically determine your child’s destiny. Emphasizing wellness in the face of your anxiety disorder helps your child to learn positive, effective emotional coping skills that will set him or her on the road to a productive, fulfilling life.