What Causes Anxiety?
The anxiety cause? There’s no one anser. But there are three main theories about what causes anxiety. The first is a belief that anxiety is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. The second is a theory that anxiety is caused by having an overly sensitive temperament, especially to anxiety. Still others believe anxiety is caused by unresolved physical, mental or emotional trauma.
Let’s look at each of these individually.
This theory is held by those who are also recommending neurotransmitter drugs or herbs as the anxiety cure.
This theory says that there is a chemical imbalance in the neurtransmitters of the brain. The purpose of the drugs is to return the neurotransmitters back to their “normal” level.
The common types of medications prescribed for this are tranquilizers and anti-depressants. Tranquilizers include Xanax, Ativan and Valium. Typical anti-depressants are Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft.
The intention of the doctor is to prescribe the medication until the problem with anxiety goes away. This requires going off the drug to test whether the anxiety will still be present.
I acknowledge that drugs are helping many people cope with their anxiety.
However, I have difficulty with this anxiety cause theory levels.
For people who are anxious 100% of the time, maybe a drug will be effective.
But, most people have times when their anxiety is completely absent and they feel calm and confident. They function in a normal and resourceful way.
Then, something acts as a trigger and the anxiety is present.
This refutes the chemical imbalance theory because the imbalance should be constant, causing 24 hour a day anxiety.
And secondly, I’m not a fan of drugs. Man-made chemicals are not natural to the body and can actually cause unforeseen chemical imbalances themselves.
But most importantly, taking a drug to control anxiety removes the power and responsibility from the individual. This just doesn’t fit my view of what we humans are here on earth to do.
Sensitized to Anxiety
Becoming sensitized to anxiety is the second anxiety cause theory.
Have you heard of the highly sensitive temperament?
Some people are simply much more sensitive than others. They are more sensitive to sound, smells, emotions, air, visual cues, physical sensations – anything.
Highly sensitive people are often more prone to anxiety. Whether they actually experience more anxiety than a non-anxious person, or whether they are simply more sensitive to the anxious state is not known.
Anyone can become sensitized to anxiety – and to anything – from many different causes.
Physical, mental or emotional exhaustion increases sensitivity to anxiety. This can explain how a person can go through a traumatic situation and develop chronic anxiety afterwards.
It could be that the body and mind, in its constant goal of keeping us safe and alive, heightens its safety guards when we get physically exhausted. This can manifest itself in looking for and perceiving danger everywhere.
And in the body, that hyper-vigilant state becomes anxiety.
This overly sensitized state can feel like being jittery in the body. It can cause a feel especially sensitivity to sounds, smells, thoughts – anything.
A dog barking, door slamming, the phone ringing – all could have the effect of causing a spike in anxiety.
It’s as if the body is looking for danger and is perceiving everything as a potential source of danger.
When in this state, things that would not normally be noticed, nor cause for alarm, become startling and trigger the anxiety response.
What happens next is caused in part by the way habits are formed in the body and mind.
Once you’ve had a reaction several times, the body gets trained to respond in the same way in the future. Know the story of how Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate when he rang the bell?
It’s the same with all of us.
After we’re awakened a few nights in a row by a dog barking, and we respond with that panicky racing heart each time, we can become sensitized to dogs barking. We can respond with anxiety from a dog barking at any time, even on television.
It becomes a habit – a programmed response.
This overly sensitized state can last for hours, days, weeks, years or a lifetime.
Sometimes it just naturally fades and the chronic anxiety is gone.
But sometimes a person can get caught in the cycle of anxiety with no end in sight.
The third anxiety cause theory is the mental, emotional and physical effects of unresolved trauma.
Problems with anxiety can be the result of one or more past traumatic incidents like terror, physical or emotional abuse, neglect or abandonment. It can be the result of a traumatic incident that results in PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Often the person knows which incidents brought on the anxiety. They may be troubled by memories and thoughts of the event.
When a person has a string of traumatic events, chronic anxiety is sometimes the result. I recently worked with a client who had a serious illness, then a car accident, then a terrifying incident involving heavy machinery and heights.
After these three incidents, he was left in a state of nearly chronic anxiety and frequent panic attacks.
Those are the primary three theories of anxiety cause.