What Causes Anxiety?
Besides many medical issues, which should be ruled out first, anxiety shows up in the lives of many healthy people. Things like environment, genetics, substance use, and brain chemistry play a major role in causing ANXIETY.
Environment, Stress, and Anxiety
Let's focus on environmental factors with special attention on STRESS! Environmental factors such as stress due to work and/or school as well as stress in our personal relationships can lead to an array of unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Life transitions also play a major role: a new baby, a new job, loss of a job, moving to a new area, beginning or ending a relationship, or retirement can all be a source of stress. Additionally, ongoing financial burdens can be a major source of stress and anxious racing thoughts. Finally, there are also the deeply stressful and anxiety provoking traumatic events such as natural disaster, abuse, victimization, or the death of a loved one. Everyone experiences some source of stress and anxiety in their lifetime from one or more of these environmental factors. Can you can relate to one or more of these?
Anxiety and Stress Response
Anxiety is a response to situations that are out of our control. Stress can make an individual feel out of control or feel as if they are “going crazy”. Stress can have an emotional or physical effect, for example, feeling nervous, worried, or experiencing muscle tenseness. Often racing thoughts leaving us feeling nervous, frustrated, or even angry. Although the stress response is helpful when we're really in danger and need the extra energy to get safe, most of us don't experience life-threatening situations every day - but we respond as though we do! Chronic stress related to generalized anxiety keeps us in a constant state of alert that eventually just wears us out. This can leave you feeling lost, hopeless... you might even tell yourself “I need help”.
"Grounding" Technique to Cope with Stress and Anxiety
One way to deal with stress is to use a technique called grounding. Grounding is a technique that helps keep you focused in the present (instead of worrying about what happened yesterday or might happen tomorrow).
Try this technique now: Look at yourself in a mirror. Smile. Yes. Smile, even if that’s the last thing you feel like doing! How does that feel? What can you see? Take a minute and just relax while you do this. If negative thoughts come to mind, write them down to look at later but, for now, just let them go. Many people find intentional smiling causes a positive change in their emotions. Here's an article in Scientific American about the research.
Techniques are great tools; I hope this one works for you! Stay tuned for more blog posts on coping with anxiety.
If coping tools aren't working or you want deeper insight into your own anxious thought patterns as well as more robust tools that work specifically for your situation consider consulting a counselor. Working with a professional can assist you toward "feeling like yourself" again.
Lisa Castaneda, LMFT
Providing anxiety, stress, and relationship counseling in Manteca, CA