Where does anxiety stem from?
Anxiety and anxiety related conditions are on the increase. According to research statistics, there has been a significant increase in the number of young people seeking help for anxiety and depression. Let’s take a look at what anxiety is and some of the reasons for this worrying trend.
Why do we feel anxiety?
We all want to live a happy and stress-free life. That’s the dream, right? But for anxiety sufferers, that dream can feel like it’ll never come true. Worries, stress and negative thinking patterns keep getting in the way. It’s important to know that anxiety is a really common condition that can affect us all from time to time. We know what it’s like to feel anxious when we are anticipating a big event or because of stressful life situations.
If you experience anxiety, you might wonder if there’s really any point to it. Anxiety, particularly if you suffer from an anxiety related condition, can be totally debilitating and disrupt day to day life.
But anxiety does have a point. There is a reason for it. Anticipating future events and considering consequences is necessary for our survival. The job of anxiety is to prompt us into taking action. But when thinking about the future gets out of control, we can find ourselves worrying about every possible potential outcome. Whether this is related to work, relationships or our health, it negatively affects our quality of life and leaves us in a state of uncomfortable stress.
Anxiety is a symptom of stress. When we feel anxious, our body is in fight or flight mode. In states of high anxiety, we just can’t think logically and clearly. But taking control of our negative thought patterns is possible. There are ways to take charge of our internal voice and interrupt the negativity. Some people are able to cope more successfully with anxiety. The reasons for this vary. It could be a case of our upbringing, our genetics or simply how we’ve learnt to deal with stress.
Focus on the present moment
We feel anxious when our minds become clouded and overloaded with concerns about the future. Some of the negative thoughts that fill anxious minds might be ‘It won’t work out’ or ‘I can’t do it’. Bringing our minds back to the present moment can be difficult when we are consumed with anxiety. A popular technique is to engage all five senses to help you feel more grounded. You can try this by focusing on:
- 5 things you can see - a picture on the wall or an object nearby.
- 4 things you can feel - the texture of your clothing or rubbing your hands together.
- 3 things you can hear - the noise of passing traffic or a ticking clock.
- 2 things you can smell - the scent of perfume or the air outside.
- 1 thing you can taste - some chewing gum or a cup of coffee.
This grounding activity creates space to transport you away from the negative thoughts that cause anxiety and into a more chilled-out state.
Where does anxiety stem from?
Genetics and personality
Although no actual ‘anxiety gene’ has been identified, studies have indicated that anxiety and related issues, such as depression, can be inherited. This means a family history of mental health related disorders can increase our risk of experiencing anxiety. Certain personality traits can also make it more likely a person will develop anxiety. These traits include perfectionism, low self-esteem and nervousness.
Anxiety can be a learned behaviour. If we witness others behaving in anxious ways, we can pick up on that behaviour and adopt the anxious habits for ourselves. When we start to live with these unhealthy habits, it begins to feel natural to respond to situations with worry and stress. We can learn to recognise these patterns of behaviour and choose a different response. But, as we know, habits are really difficult to break. It takes focus, dedication and commitment.
Some prescribed medications - for example, antidepressants - can cause feelings of nausea and unease. These feelings can trigger anxiety as they are physical symptoms associated with anxiety. Other medications that can trigger anxiety include birth control pills and weight management medication.
Poor self-care means not looking after yourself. This can include skipping meals, not prioritising sleep and ignoring personal needs. All of these things can trigger anxiety. Adopting a regular self-care practice is totally essential for easing the pressure of anxious thoughts. Another trigger for anxiety is sugary foods and caffeine. Relying on your afternoon coffee fix to boost you up might actually be making your anxiety symptoms worse.
People who have experienced upsetting and traumatic events can become constantly alert to danger. This means they are hypersensitive to threats. This presents as anxiety. Studies have shown a strong correlation between childhood trauma and adult anxiety. The experience of trauma changes neural pathways in the brain associated with fear. This creates a network that contributes to anxious thinking. Trauma and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are incredibly complex issues. Treatment options for trauma-based anxiety include medication, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and hypnosis.
Recreational drugs include nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine. The use of these recreational drugs can appear to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. The initial high from nicotine, for example, creates sensations of calm and relaxation. The problem is that long term use can lead to addiction and an increase in feelings of anxiety. Smokers are more likely to experience mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Quitting nicotine and waving goodbye to cigarettes is one of the best things you can do to support your body, mind and whole wellbeing.
When life gets stressful, we can feel anxious as a result. Some situations that can switch on anxiety include:
- Relationship issues
- The death of a loved one
- Sudden shock and traumatic events
- Work-related stress or job changes
- Moving house
- Having a baby
These are all really common triggers for stress. Recognise when you need some support to prevent your anxiety worsening.
Anxiety doesn’t stem from one particular cause. It is often a result of a combination of factors. Everyone is different and the important thing is getting some support to tackle the symptoms and help you get back on track.
Anxious thinking is connected to the future. But the present moment is the only moment we have. When we connect to the present moment it helps us realize we have power. We don’t always have power over events and situations in the future, but we do have power in the now. In the current moment we can decide to focus on the present rather than the past or future. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to really appreciate where we are right now.