There are many theories as to what lies behind anxiety and panic attacks, and what initially causes phobias. Some experts believe that it is not necessary to know the cause, arguing that dealing with the problem in the present is the important thing. Are they right? Well, in some cases. That said, understanding the cause may help to chose the right therapy.
Before we examine the main causes though let’s remember that feelings of anxiety and panic are natural feelings which almost everyone experiences at some point in their life. So the question is not so much: What causes anxiety? So much as: What exaggerates and perpetuates the natural anxiety inherent in everyone?
Theory 1: Anxiety, Panic and Phobias are caused by traumas suffered in childhood.
Some people believe the cause of all their anxiety problems lies buried in the past. When you were young, the theory goes, a trauma occurred that you were unable to react to suitably at the time. You were unable for some reason to express whatever anger, fear, or sorrow you experienced and therefore that emotion has remained trapped in your mind or body somewhere. The theory goes that if you uncover the memory and release emotion your anxiety will evaporate or dramatically lessen in intensity. The analogy of releasing steam from a pressure cooker is often used. There are many therapists, and in particular hypnotherapists, that espouse this theory with missionary zeal. I have still not met, or even heard from an impartial source, of one person whose anxiety was helped to any extent by regressing back to their past or for that matter to a past life. It definitely did not work for me. That said, there is marginally more peer reviewed evidence to support regression for the treatment of a simple phobia. If I were you I would discount regression from your list of treatment options. Therapists that offer such services are not cheap and very seldom worthwhile. I advise you to look at the other therapies discussed on this site.
Theory 2: Anxiety Phobias and Panic are caused by genetic factors.
To a certain extent people who subscribe to this theory are right, anxiety is a natural emotion and we all have the genes that allow us to feel it. While geneticists believe that some of us have genes which push us towards self-protection and away from adventure, it is highly unlikely that anyone has genes which dictate that they must have unavoidable high levels of anxiety and panic all their life. No one has a genetic predisposition to phobia of shopping centres, aircraft, or anything else artificial and we all have a phobia of jumping off cliffs. If nervousness runs in your family maybe you have a genetic predisposition to such things as anxiety and panic (and therefore phobias). Does that mean you have to live with it? Of course not! There is much that you can do, and you can recover like everyone else. Investigate the therapies discussed on this site and chose which is best for you. For those that feel their anxiety and panic issues are genetically inherent I recommend the approach pioneered by Dr Claire Weeks.