What to Do if Anxiety Disorders Run in Your Family

With crazy career expectations, overcommitted social lives, and more health crazes than we know how to keep up with (what the heck is the latest coco craze?!), it’s no wonder today has been called the Age of Anxiety. But did you know that your stress levels might have more to do with your DNA than your demanding boss?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders run in the family. A 2014 study published in Molecular Psychology found a link between anxiety disorders like OCD and genes that are passed down from our parents, much like the way eye and hair color are passed down. So stressed out parents could be to blame for a stressed out upbringing and adulthood. (Don’t forget to thank mom and dad for the 5 Weird Traits You Inherit from Your Parents too.)

Of course, in many ways, our anxious fear is a good thing. That tight-wound feeling is what keeps us sharp as we prep for a big presentation, and it’s what motivates us to outrun the competition as we cross the finish line of our 10K. But with an anxiety disorder, healthy stress gets blown out of proportion and becomes a serious problem.

And if you’ve got anxiety in your genes, you could deal with all kinds of nasty health side effects, like headaches, sleep problems, or a shot sex drive. No thanks! But even if you have anxiety-addled parents, you’re not doomed to stress forever. Here are six tricks to calm yourself down.

1. Face your fears. Some therapists have found that one key weapon in the fight against stress is the ability to face your fears. Anxiety, in large part, is a mismatch between the perceived threat and your perceived ability to handle it. So learning how to face your fears early and often can help you deal. Afraid of heights? Sign up for a rock climbing or bouldering gym and get yourself accustomed to conquering challenges. (And read up on 9 Fears to Let Go of Today.)

2. Take a time out. The ADAA recommends taking a breather when anxiety starts to set in. Whether it’s making time for some sun salutations each morning or pausing for a five-minute meditation break when you start to stress out, taking time to stop, breathe, and clear your head can be huge. (Maybe try The ‘F*ck That’ Meditation Video Helps You Breathe Out the BS.)

3. Get your Zzzs. A study from the University of California Berkeley found that skimping on sleep heightens your anticipatory anxiety. When your brain lacks enough shut-eye, it tricks the different regions that process emotion into thinking you have something to be worried about. And worrywarts are even more vulnerable to this effect, so be sure to get a solid seven to nine hours every night. (Guarantee yourself a full eight hours with Science-Backed Strategies on How to Sleep Better.)

4. Tame your inner control freak. News flash: You can’t control everything. Anxiety arises when we try to control situations or outcomes we really don’t have any influence over. So take a cue from Elsa and Let. It. Go. Focusing on the outcomes you can control can help taper rising angst.

5. Watch what you drink. If you’re already facing a brewing storm of anxiety, the last thing you want to do is add a cup of joe. Too much caffeine has been shown to cause a spike in anxiety and depression levels for the super stressed among us. If you struggle with keeping calm, keep it to one cup a day. (We’re wondering: How Much Coffee is Too Much?)

6. Ask “what if?” What are you really so afraid of? One popular technique therapists use to curb negative emotions is to have their patients ask themselves, “what if my worst fear really does come true?” How likely is that to happen? How would you handle it if it did? Walking yourself through the worst case scenario can make the reality seem a lot more manageable. (Also try these Anxiety-Reducing Solutions for Common Worry Traps.)