What causes anxiety is one of the most common questions that anxiety sufferers ask themselves. It is also not an easy question to answer. One pertinent answer is who cares? After all, what caused it is not as important as what stops it, and the cause and the cure may or may not be linked.
The basic answer to the question though is that anxiety is not caused. It just is. It is an integral part of what it means to be human, or indeed any other animal. Anxiety is part of the system which protects us from danger by making us aware and allowing us to react quickly. It is present in everybody.
Therefore, anxiety disorders are not like diseases that enter the body and cause disruption. They are merely an over reaction of one of the basic parts of the human being. People who “have anxiety” are in fact the same as everyone else but with part of their brain working overtime unnecessarily.
So the question “what causes anxiety?” should be replaced by “what causes unnecessary anxiety?”.
Unnecessary anxiety may be caused by several things. Most people believe that anxiety is learnt, caused by unresolved trauma, or genetic.
As I said earlier, the cause is not necessarily important and looking for it can be an expensive waste of time. But let me say a few words on each of the above three possible causes. In truth, most people’s unnecessary anxiety is not likely to be caused by one individual thing, more likely it will be caused by a combination of the above.
Anxiety responses can be learnt. If as a child you often felt car sick but were travelling with unsympathetic people then cars may well come to have a very negative association that appears as anxiety. There may well be a genetic factor here, as some people may be genetically programmed to learn faster. This can be seen as a good thing in many areas of life. Some people will argue that in this case the best approach is to “unlearn” the anxiety reaction through exposure with cognitive therapy. Others will argue that the traumatic memories may need to be reprocessed. Personally I think both of the opinions are valid and the people who get the best results will do both.
Never let it be said that there is a genetic cause of unnecessary anxiety that can not be cured. This is not true. While genetics may predispose us to something they don’t make it inevitable. If you are genetically prone to feeling a lot of anxiety, you can learn to react to these anxious feelings in a different way. Ultimately the anxiety itself is harmless, and the less you react to it the less you will feel it.
So, don’t worry about what causes anxiety, think about what you can do about it!
See also: Anxiety Causes discussed.