OCD and Parental Anxiety

by Ambro freedigitalphotos.net

by Ambro freedigitalphotos.net

When asked if obsessive-compulsive disorder or anxiety disorders are caused by genetic or environmental factors, the standard answer has always been, “A combination of both.”

While there’s not much we can do about our genes (at least not yet!), there is a lot we can do about various environmental factors that might contribute to the development of OCD.

In this wonderful article, Dr. Suzanne Phillips addresses the question, “Is parental anxiety contagious?” I highly recommend reading this informative article, which  discusses everything from recent research to anxiety reducing strategies for parents of teens. The bottom line?

“Yes, parental anxiety is contagious. The greater our anxiety–the greater the anxiety of our kids.”

Yes, my heart sank too when I read this conclusion, which to many of us is not really new information. But, as Dr. Phillips points out, this is actually good news. If we parents can learn how to reduce and control our own anxiety, our children will benefit as well. We have the power to break the cycle!

In fact, a recent study conducted by Dr. Golda Ginsburg (a psychiatrist at the University of Connecticut Health Center) and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University concluded that with appropriate family intervention (which includes, not surprisingly, some exposure exercises), anxious parents can actually raise calm children:

“Only nine percent of children who participated in a therapist-directed family intervention developed anxiety after one year, compared to 21 percent in a group that received written instruction, and 31 percent in the group that did not receive any therapy or written instruction.”

According to Dr. Ginsburg, the focus here needs to shift from reaction to prevention:

“In the medical system there are other prevention models, like dental care, where we go every six months for a cleaning. I think adopting that kind of model — a mental health checkup, a prevention model for folks who are at risk — is I think where we need to go next.”

The main thing I take away from these articles and research is the fact that anxiety is  indeed very treatable, and parents who learn to manage their own anxiety are not only helping themselves but helping their children as well. While we might not be able to prevent their developing OCD, we can teach our children the skills needed to respond appropriately to anxiety, and model these behaviors ourselves. Laying this groundwork will certainly prove helpful should our children find themselves face to face with obsessive-compulsive disorder.






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12 Responses to OCD and Parental Anxiety

  1. Mr. Militant Negro says:

    Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™.

  2. CatherineK33 says:

    I’m excited to look at these links and studies… I am VERY convinced that my husband’s OCD was born out of childhood trauma. A good book to read is “How we Love our Kids” by Milan and Kay Yerkovich.

    • Thanks for the comment and book recommendation, Catherine. I do want to make it clear that I don’t think growing up with anxious parents necessarily translates into trauma. Each situation is different, of course. I wish you and your husband all the best.

  3. Em Jack says:

    This post is quite timely for me.

    I am in a place personally, maybe due to where I am at with my level of acceptance in regards to my dd’s life with OCD. Thus my life with OCD as her mom.

    She has been living with this monster since 2nd grade but the last 3 yrs have been quite severe for her. A 3 mos stay at Rogers Memorial Hospital’s residential child center OCD program the fall of her 8th grade year was what got her through the hell & has helped her continue to fight with her ERP since. Plus she has been working with an OCD/ERP therapist immediately following her return home. She’s a sophmore in high school this yr. Over these past 3 yrs I have been riding her emotional roller coaster then add in my own fear & frustrations. Shall I say I’ve been a “hot mess” …

    Currently I am working on maintaining my equilibrium & am finding that I am feeling better & recentlly during a major anxiety attack/OCD meltdown I maintained my parental/adult role & was empathetic yet calm. My dd thanked me the next day for staying calm & said it helped a lot. 😊

    Thank you for this post & links to these helpful sites. This is a constant work in progress & sound resources plus support are what get us through.


    • Hi Em, Thank you so much for sharing. I’m so sorry your daughter (and YOU) have had to deal with severe OCD – it is truly horrendous – but what a wonderful role model you’ve become for your daughter, and for all of us. It’s not easy (as you know as well as anyone I’m sure) but we parents can change our behavior to benefit our children (and ourselves). You should be very proud of yourself!

  4. tracy296 says:

    I am proof that managing your own anxiety definitely will make a difference with your kids. Neither of my boys (ages 16 and 13) show signs of OCD. I was showing signs by 9 years old. I got help at Rogers Memorial (praise God I live only 30 minutes away as I was 8 months pregnant while doing this!). For the most part, my OCD is in control, but as all of you know, there are waxing and waning times. Times where the anxiety does come back and I use what I learned at Rogers to get control quickly.. When my kids were little, I do not think they knew anything different during those times. Now that they are older, they know mom worries more than the average person, but they also know I work hard at it.

    My oldest son is exactly like my husband — “worry, what’s that?” LOL Absolutely, the calmest people you will ever meet. My youngest son has his moments but it’s all well within the realm of completely normal.

    So, a parent with OCD does not have to pass those traits on to their child. The genetic part of it, that we cannot do anything about, but the environment – YES we can! 🙂

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