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Anxiety in my 23-year-old son

 

Question

Hello, (Parenting question)

My children are 20 and 23 and I notice in my 23 year old a lot of the anxiety that I projected on him because of my anxieties. My younger son not so much, because he attended private school during high school and was not around me as much as my older son. I know that the formative years have passed me by, but now that I know better and have worked on my anxiety levels, is there anything I can do to assist my son.  He, of course sees anything I say now, as anxiety produced, and not about him, but about my anxiety.  I feel terrible about the fact his anxiety levels are high, and that a lot of these anxieties were learned by a master worrier. Thank you so much for your input.

Sandra

Answer:

Diagnosing anxiety is typically the easy part. Understanding the underlying cause is a bit trickier and quite important as depending on the underlying cause, the treatment will differ.

As you rightly notice, the behaviour of the parent can be picked up by the child. Hence an anxious parent can give rise to anxious behaviour in the child. However, what is left out of your equation is the reason for your anxiety. I would wonder if it were caused by real life events, perhaps scary or upsetting life circumstances or if you seemed to always be somewhat anxious in the absence of any causal events of experiences.

If your anxiety is caused or triggered by life events, then counseling may be the best intervention to address the symptoms. In this scenario the counseling would explore the past events that gave rise to your anxiety. If however, you just seemed pre-disposed to excessive worry, then medication may provide better relief. Here too though, counseling may be helpful but typically the kind of counseling that would be helpful here is called cognitive/behavioural. With this counseling, you learn how to manage your thoughts, feelings and behaviours associated with the anxiety response.

As for your son, while he may not be open to your input at present, you can still act as a role model. Whereas you may feel badly about yourself for possibly contributing to his anxiety issues, you can go about your life attending counseling and/or taking medication as prescribed by your physician and then simply informing your son of your choices to cope more effectively with your anxiety.

At some point, your son may then pick up on your choices and when ready, explore them himself.


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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
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