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Mariah's avatar

Can anxiety be a personality trait, and if so, is treating it turning one's back on oneself?

Asked by Mariah (19225 points ) February 5th, 2012

I never realized anxiety was such a problem for me until I didn’t have it anymore. Now that I’m on an antidepressant I feel like a whole new person. Mostly in a good way.

I’m a lot happier now, I don’t get nearly so nervous and I don’t dwell on negatives as much. I’m also less driven (I don’t put in the same kind of effort into my classes anymore now that I’m not wracked with terrible fear of failure) and more apt to settle for mediocrity.

I like being happier, but the old me didn’t value happiness so much as she valued the idea that I could make a positive impact on the world. The old me would shake her head at the state of my priorities these days.

Personal advice as well as general philosophical pondering is welcome. xD

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20 Answers

YARNLADY's avatar

Working to improve one’s personality is no different than taking care to eat healthy and get enough exercise. Keeping your body and your mind in the best shape possible is a good thing.
Personality traits are not us.

There is no such thing as the real me – but rather I am the sum of all the experiences I have had, both good and bad. Example; I used to bite my nails, but now I don’t. Am I still me?

It took me three years after I was first born to learn to use the bathroom facilities correctly. Now that I no longer need diapers, am I still the real me?

Sunny2's avatar

People change all the time, if they continue to learn. Those who stay the exact same person they always were, never grew up. And, unfortunately, they are arrested in development and don’t even know it. You can look at it as being many different selves or you can look at it as a continuing evolving person. I prefer the latter.

Coloma's avatar

I don’t think anxiety is an innate trait, it is a mind created nervous system reaction to false flight stimulus. It would be “normal” to fear a lion attack in coming face to face with the actual lion. It is a false fight or flight reaction to only THINKING about the lion when no clear and present danger exists. Stress and traumas can cause feelings of anxiety, and, again, often the anxiety arises in relation to the THOUGHTS of such.

It sounds like the medication is helping, but, it is also possible that you are ready to make some adjustments in your thinking and priorities and are willing to let your ideas of perfectionistic strivings fall away a bit. This is a good thing, nobody can single handedly save the world nor should they try. Accepting what you can and are realistically able to do is healthy and non-neurotic discernment, and happiness truly comes when we fully accept ourselves for ourselves rather than our performance.
“Shift” happens, and while the pharmeceutical intervention may be a boost, perhaps, psychologically speaking, you are also just READY to let go of some idealisms that are no longer serving you.

We change many times over in life, and big change is usually accompanied with some measure of anxiety. Growing pains. You grow girl! :-)

ninjacolin's avatar

stress consumes calories. Something to keep in mind. haha.

Coloma's avatar

@ninjacolin LOL…nothing like the stress diet.

auhsojsa's avatar

Anxiety is a natural part of life. It’s a prehistoric human way of surviving. I feel your ideas on conquering the trait is one step closer in making humans less animalistic which has it’s pros and cons, mostly pros in our society today but back in the day humans needed anxiety to survive the wild life. Going with gut insticts and being paranoid about not getting eaten by wildlife was a major defensive trigger and development for the humans species. Anxiety + Territorial Behaviors = Countries

augustlan's avatar

It seems to me that some people are more prone to anxiety, but that it’s not just a matter of innate personality. As with so many things, it’s probably a nature and nurture situation. Two people with the same level of anxiety as children may, after any number of experiences, widely differ in anxiety levels at a later date. As for myself, even if it is part of my personality, I’m so much happier now that it’s under control, that I really don’t care. Anxiety really crippled me for a long time, so I’m glad to let it go.

You may have to push yourself a little harder to accomplish your goals, but you can still get there! You’ll just be much calmer and happier while doing it. ;)

Bellatrix's avatar

Stress also produces cortisol and excess cortisol can lead to weight gain.

Cortisol has been termed the “stress hormone” because excess cortisol is secreted during times of physical or psychological stress, and the normal pattern of cortisol secretion (with levels highest in the early morning and lowest at night) can be altered. This disruption of cortisol secretion may not only promote weight gain, but it can also affect where you put on the weight. Some studies have shown that stress and elevated cortisol tend to cause fat deposition in the abdominal area rather than in the hips. This fat deposition has been referred to as “toxic fat” since abdominal fat deposition is strongly correlated with the development of cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and strokes. (Medicine.net)

Mariah, I think people can be more prone to being anxious than others. Some people are just naturally wound more tightly. In saying that though, and as @Yarnlady said, there is no reason why we can’t work to change how we react to situations. We can adapt. Being calmer and less fraught about your success has got to be healthier for you. Which given everything you have been through, can only be a positive. Perhaps you can check into meditation? So when you are ready and can leave the anti-depressants behind, you have an alternative method for dealing with any anxiety?

marinelife's avatar

Anxiety is a chemical imbalance.

Personally I love living without it.

Did it have “benefits”? Yes, I was hypervigilant so I didn’t miss much, if anything, that was going on around me, But the negatives far outweighed the benefits. All that time and energy wasted on fear.

LostInParadise's avatar

Some time ago, the book Listening to Prozac came out, asking similar questions about relieving the symptoms of depression. There has been some question as to the effectiveness of Prozac and similar drugs, but the questions asked are still of interest. Is mild depression a disease? Our society values self-assertiveness. If taking Prozac makes someone more assertive, is that curing a disease or promoting a personality trait? Is it a good or a bad thing if Prozac makes someone less empathetic? The author said that many people felt that their newly acquired personality was more their “real self” than the one they were born with.

A certain amount of anxiety is useful. It causes people to be more vigilant. Who is to determine how much is too much? Psychotropic drugs have not been around for that long, and one has to believe that they will continue to improve. I find the idea of designer personality to be unsettling, a move toward Brave New World (“a gram is better than a damn”).

Coloma's avatar

I agree with you @LostInParadise

I feel Psychotropic drugs should be the last recourse when other forms of psychological and spiritual interventions fail. They have their place in certain situations but the whole Prozac nation mentality is a very dangerous one IMO. I think organic and holistic approaches should first be exhausted before bringing out the big drug guns.

auhsojsa's avatar

Well now that you have your priorities straight and are confident get off the pills! Dependency on medication is harsh on liver over a long period of time. I’m glad for you.

wundayatta's avatar

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this, myself, with respect to depression. Depression gave me a number of gifts. It made me look deeper into life’s underbelly. It motivated me in certain ways, similar to what you spoke of.

I did not merely fear I was no good; I knew I was no good so that any success was ephemeral. I had to keep on working just to make sure people would pay me any attention at all. No chance anyone would actually like me in any way, but there was a chance I could get to the point where they wouldn’t wrinkle their noses when they saw me.

Well, that’s a motivator. Lot’s of people have told me they like my writing, and I still don’t believe it. Well, on one level I do believe it, but on another, I can’t believe it. It doesn’t fit my sense of self. I am not someone who actually could do anything that anyone else would think was excellent. So I have to keep on trying. What’s different now is that I know I am attempting the impossible and that will never succeed. So I’m trying just because I enjoy the process, not because I expect anyone will every like anything I do. And if they do like it; that’s great, but I don’t believe it for a second.

The thing I value is that being depressed and wanting to die taught me a sense of deep empathy for others in similar situations. I can understand now, what it is like to have so many different afflictions, because I know what goes through people’s minds at these times. I know because I’ve spoken those thoughts and had them confirmed by others. It doesn’t matter whether someone has anorexia or cuts or experiences plain old extreme low self esteem. The thought process is the same.

I know things I never would have known had I not been depressed, and I can understand things now that I never understood before.

I wonder, sometimes, if I will forget this if I stay ok for too long. Will I need to be depressed again to remind me of the value of life? To remind me of how to connect with others in pain like mine? Hell, there were times when I wanted to be depressed (if I couldn’t be manic), just so I could feel things intensely. My mind craves intense feelings. Oh yes it does.

I see others are talking about drugs. I haven’t read it all yet. But it makes me wonder what will happen. I, too, want to get off drugs. I’m off two of the three. Only lithium is left. It has been known to cause serious kidney problems, but they say modern day therapeutic doses don’t have those problems.

Will I go back to my intensity seeking ways if I get off drugs? No. The drugs never kept them away. What has kept them away is my own mental health. Understanding myself and what I need and allowing myself to have enough of what I need that I don’t seek out depression if I can’t find euphoria. I am managing my own mood now, using meds and my own coping techniques.

The problem, if you want to call it that, is my own desire for intensity. I need it in my life, but it has a tendency to cause a lot of repercussions. Maybe others would say it is something I should control. Maybe others can control it. I don’t know if I can or not. I don’t. I’m not even going to try. I’ve tried to control this before, and it sent me into a depression that almost killed me. I have accepted this about myself. This is who I am. If I allow myself some of what I want, maybe I can keep myself from destroying myself. If not, then eventually I will be unable to control it, and they say that these things get worse each time. Last time nearly killed me. There’s not a lot of “nearly” left.

So I think we need to balance these things and sometimes I think it may be necessary to do things others may not approve of in order to save your life. So, anxiety may be something you need. It may be a part of you that is very valuable, even if it is dangerous, as well. The trick is to learn how to manage it, and if you get into trouble, to go back to the shrink sooner, rather than later, in order to get help.

There are new drugs coming out that are faster acting than current anti-depressants. The katamines and their relatives look promising. They help people in hours, not weeks and months. Our job, now, is to learn to balance our own moods. We need to do this responsibly. We need to honor our commitments to our family, friends, and community, but we also need to honor our own needs. I think that often, we deny ourselves too much, and I’ve learned how dangerous that is.

So I’ve learned to give myself a little more. I don’t want to hurt anyone in doing this. But it is important to me to allow myself some of the things I need that can raise eyebrows. I am convinced it is necessary for my survival. Playing it the other way around nearly killed me. And the lesson I learned there is that people value me more than I thought they did. I may not do things the way they want, but they’d rather have me here. The implication to me is that they’ll take a little drama if that’s what it takes to keep me around.

Nimis's avatar

This is tricky.

The real you isn’t about whether you’re anxious or not. If you were to decide that you were going to work to become less anxious, that would still be the real you. It would just take longer and more work to get where you want to be.

The drugs help you get there quicker and easier which is a good and bad thing. Life doesn’t hit pause while you’re working on yourself. The drugs allow you to move forward with your life and goals now. But it’s important to feel like the real you in your own skin.

I think the issue is that you’re missing the period of change with the drugs. That time to adjust to new aspects of yourself.

Is there a way to do a more gradual dose? Or just set some time aside to get to know this side of yourself? I know. Sounds totally cheesy. I think it would help though.

Mariah's avatar

@auhsojsa Thanks for your encouragement, but right now would be a terrible, terrible time to try and get off my medication.

Thanks so much for your thoughts, everybody.

lonelydragon's avatar

I would define anxiety as a state of mind, not a personality trait per se. So you wouldn’t be betraying your essential self by taking the medicine. You’d just become a calmer, happier version of yourself. If you’re not as driven as you were, you may have to work a little harder to achieve your goals, but being more relaxed isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, you may be surprised by what you can achieve when valuable energy isn’t being wasted on fear and uncertainty.

@ninjacolin If that were true, I’d be a size 1 by now.

Paradox25's avatar

This is a difficult question to answers for various reasons. We as individuals are always changing in some way whether the changes are too gradual to notice or not. I’m not the same person now that I was ten years ago, or even last year for that matter. I still disagree with some of the above answers however because I still think that we have core personality traits. Not all of us are going to be like Mr. A+ Johnny wearing the leather jacket riding his Harley who has ‘no fear’.

Some of us will always have a more natural tendancy to be nervous or anxious because of our core personality traits regardless of what we do. In the end it all comes down to personal motivations for our actions or inactions. Fear along with anxiety are natural feelings that actually serve a useful purpose, but the problems arise when we allow fear/anxiety to cripple our progress and our lives.

The best way that I can answer your question is to say that while many people have core personality traits that may force them to be more anxious/nervous than other people, I don’t see anxiety or nervousness as personality traits in themselves. I don’t see improving one’s self to lessen their anxiety as turning your back on the type of person you are. When I talk about core personality traits one of the most major things about them are what we like and dislike, and how we respond to these. When we start to avoid what we are passionate about doing and/or start forcing ourselves to take part in what we aren’t passionate about doing, due to fear, then that is what I consider turning our backs on ourselves. Also like I’ve said above, our passions and motivations can change with time, age and life situations.

Coloma's avatar

Well…good example over here at the ungodly hour of 4:04 am. lol
Couldn’t find one of my cats at bedtime last night. Missed the delta lockdown, so, went to bed leaving the garage door cracked for the wayward son to come in from some moonlight catting around on my mountain. Instant anxiety because I live in the killer Coyote/Cougar zone over here.

Woke at 2:36 am and Myles was still not in the house. Oh shit! Get up and go out and start looking for him, noticing my anxiety producing thoughts, ” Oh please, oh please, don’t let him be dead.” Lo and behold he emerges from the darkness and I breathe a sigh of relief. But…too late. Go back to bed and toss and turn until 3:45 when I give in to the adreneline hit that sent me into the wild an hour before. haha
Good morning, it’s gonna be a looong day. :-/

kitszu's avatar

@auhsojsa Yes, anxiety is a survival trait, so is fear. Both become maladaptive when it keeps us from living normal lives or drives us to destructive behaviors.

kitszu's avatar

@Coloma It’s a uniquely horrifying feeling to not know whether your loved ones are ok. Whether family, friend, or junglefriend. I grieve for people I know who have lost loved ones at this time of year. From Thanksgiving to New Years is a special time, meant to be spent with family and friends. I think loss has a different type of impact when it occurs this time of year. At least it has for me.

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