What causes someone to develop anxiety to begin with? This is what we will discuss in this article . We will also discuss some things you can do to help you unravel these ongoing anxiety provoking thoughts.
If you're interested in this keep reading.
General Causes of Anxiety
So what causes a person to develop anxiety? Anxiety and anxiety disorders develop for a complex set of reasons. Basically, the cause is an interplay and intermingling of things like:
- Life events
- Medical conditions
- Brain chemistry
- Even genetics
All these things play a role in why someone might develop anxiety or an anxiety disorder. This should make some sense to most people, but let's unpack this a little bit more so you can better understand what you can actually do about it.
We use the term anxiety all the time, but what is anxiety? Is it worry about the future in general or worry about a specific event? I would say, that's probably not the best way to describe anxiety. Mainly because we all have those worries from time to time. A better way to define anxiety is an ongoing fixation about future events or potential negative things that might happen to you or your loved ones. It is that ongoing nature of the worry or anxiety that defines somebody as having an actual anxiety disorder. Periodic intermittent concern about something that might be coming up is not an anxiety disorder. We might say it is an anxious or stressful state.
However, it is the ongoing nature of this state and to a certain degree the amount to which this state interferes with your life circumstances. The duration part makes sense to most people with anxiety, because it is that continuous pattern of fixation and rumination about potential negative things. Whereas the rest of us have periodic anxious states on any given month or week but not every single day, all day. The other thing is that there are different ways that this ongoing fixation or rumination manifests.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
These are different ways to categorize anxiety disorders. There is Panic Disorder which is more a matter of amplitude of the anxiety. With Panic Disorder the anxiety comes on in short bursts. People with panic disorder usually have ongoing anxiety as well called Generalized Anxiety Disorder along with the Panic Disorder. There is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder also known as PTSD. There is also Social Anxiety which is pretty self explanatory. Phobias are also a common anxiety disorder and lastly there is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD. So all these are different ways that your anxious traits or fixation about the future manifest.
Daily Causes and Development of Anxiety
In almost all cases of anxiety disorders there is a predisposition or some genetic or medical predisposition coupled with a triggering event or experience. It is this predisposition that causes a person to frame that event or experience in a negative way and to ruminate on it. This rumination will supposedly help the person solve for not having this in the future, or figure out a way to minimize the impact in the future. However, the rumination seems to amplify the effect of the negative experience. As you remember and run through the experience in your mind over and over again, it deepens this neural network in your brain.
A neural network is a group of nerves that fire together. When you are remembering the negative events the recall deepens and colors the experience and neural network. This makes it easier to remember this experience in the future. The positive part is this allows you to recall the event and avoid similar bad types of situations in the future. The negative side is if you are worrying about avoiding negative things and trying to avoid those negative things, you will tend to interpret your day-to-day experience in a negative light. This occurs even when that day-to-day experience is not that negative. Let's look at a clear example of this playing out.
Picture yourself walking in a somewhat dark or dimly lit street and imagine you are already disposed to feeling bad, frustrated, or worried for whatever reason. Then you see a faint shadow in your peripheral vision. If you are already disposed to these negative emotions it primes negative thinking. As a result, you are going to interpret that shadow as if it is an assailant or something negative. On the other hand, if you are in a good mood, enjoying life, heading to do something positive, you will interpret that as something less ominous. You may think the shadow is friend or something less ominous, for instance.
This is the idea that the memories through which we observe things can change how we experience them. So if you are looking at a book, for instance, your eyes visually tell you what that object is. If you have a positive experience with that book, you associate that with positive experiences, as that visual stimulus is coming through your brain. If it is a negative thing you observe it in a negative way. The same type of thing can happen when we have not quite figured out what they are yet.
Causes of Anxiety and Some Tools
So the way that we observe the world is through our own memories couple of on top of the new experience. In Quantum Physics we see this manifest as the observer having an effect on what is observed. When you get down to subatomic particles the observer actually has an effect on how the experiment plays out. The experimenter actually changes the outcome of the experiment. This is why mindfulness as a practice actually helps people with anxiety.
Specifically, mindfulness helps by breaking up cyclical (ruminating) thinking patterns. The idea with mindfulness is that your moment-to-moment awareness is focused on the thoughts, feeling, reactions occurring in your inner state. For someone with an anxiety disorder, it's helpful for them to recognize how often they're fixating on these future events. It is important to note that this is not a goal oriented practice. The idea of having a goal or end in mind is the antithesis of the practice. Rather the focus should be more about learning and recognize what your mind is full of.
Recognize what is actually occurring from moment to moment. Through that recognition you're able to see where you are at now. Understand your current state is key and projecting where you want to be is not. For instance, you might image a thought pattern like this for someone that has an anxiety disorder.
"I am anxious. I wish I was non-anxious. Why am I always anxious?"
The projection of the non-anxious state takes the person further into rumination and worry. Accepting and observing the anxiety, the corresponding feeling and thoughts, stops it. This pure (nonjudgemental, non-projected) observation allows you to see a different path forward. The observation of the actual interrupts that continuous loop. Mindfulness allows us to see how much of your daily bandwidth is spent on ruminating or thinking about potential negative things that might happen to you. The key is to start with where you are at. When you start to recognize and quantify this, you may think to yourself I spend most of my day thinking about other things other than what's in front of me right now. This is actually okay. It is the first step in breaking down some of the habitual thinking patterns and negative thoughts and emotions. It is only from what is actual that you can see and understand what the path forward might be.
Hopefully that gives you a deeper understanding of what causes a person to develop anxiety and some tools to move through those ongoing thoughts. There are biochemical and medical reasons for anxiety and things you can do to calm the anxious thoughts and make mindfulness easier. This will be the focus of future videos and blog posts. For now you might find this beneficial.
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