Nature vs Nurture

Label False Alarms to connect the dots

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 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 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.

Have you heard the saying “neurons that fire together wire together”? Neuroscientists have found that the brain is more amazing than we ever knew and they call it 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.  

And the way we do this is by:

  • Labeling our anxious and worrisome thoughts and feelings false alarms.

  • Over and over, every time we have those thoughts or feelings.

And with this continued and repeated practice, you’ll out-do 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 experienced professional, in addition to following these strategies, to help you see the results you deserve.