At times we feel anxious for no particular reason and it is difficult to pinpoint what is going on. Instinctively we want to find out why anxiety happens, but where do we start from?
If you search on the Internet “causes for anxiety”, you will mainly find what the medical terms: symptoms, types of anxiety, diagnosis and treatment. The do not really tell you why anxiety happens, but they give you a very good description of what it anxiety is. They tell you that some complicated things happen in your brain when you are anxious. We have pills that “correct” what is happening in the brain if you are interested. The catch is that we don’t know why the brain starts behaving this way.
For a more “human” understanding of why anxiety happens, it is best to look at the world of psychotherapy. Mental health professionals have explored the link between our life and the feeling of anxiety. There is no agreement among different schools of psychotherapy, but their ideas are a good starting point.
What psychotherapists say about why anxiety happens
CBT therapists say that anxiety arises when we want to do something important, and we believe we cannot make it. For example, when I am preparing myself for an exam and I do not feel prepared, I will feel anxious because of the risk of failure. They also say that, is something is very important to us, and we feel very little confidence, this maximises anxiety.
CBT also helps to identify how out thinking gets distorted when we are anxious. You can find a pdf here with nice illustrations of the most common distorted thinking styles.
Psychodynamic therapists believe that the reasons why anxiety happens come from our past. Anxiety is the first emotions that a newborn baby feels. If the parents support the child when he or she feels anxious, then the child grows up learning how to cope with anxiety.
Relational therapists believe that anxiety arises from our interaction with other people and society. Hence, anxiety comes from the quality of our relationships. Many theories agree that we all have our own attachment style that we develop over the years. When people trigger our fears, we feel anxious.
When we know why anxiety happens, it transforms into something else.
It is up to you to decide if any of the above ideas feel right for you. You will know it because you will feel a shift in your anxiety. For example, if the idea of distorted thinking makes sense to you, go for it. You will see that, by acting on those patterns, anxiety will change. Perhaps, after a while, you will feel anxious again and you go back to this list. You discover that your relationship with your parter is making you anxious, and see if it transforms into something else.
If you feel overwhelmed though, please see a doctor or contact a mental health specialist.