What causes anxiety?
Updated: Mar 31
Anxiety is not just about being worried, it's so much more than that.
It's about being so worried, for such long periods of time, that it begins to affect everything you do all of the time. Mentally it can be debilitating and frightening, physically it can leave you exhausted, angry and panicked.
However, it originates in our natural survival response. When our caveman ancestors were living out in the wild, they were always on alert for the next danger, maybe another tribe or a wild animal. They had to be on alert a lot of time. And this was a perfectly appropriate survival response. No caveman would wander out into the wild whistling happily and feeling on top of the world. They would have, in fact, not been too far away from their panic button.
All we have done though is taken that primitive response and transferred it into modern-day symptoms of anxiety.
We don't live like cave-people anymore but our mind doesn't recognise this - our mind is just trying to look after us by being on alert for the next danger. And it's totally irrational so that next danger could be the overflowing email inbox, being called in for a meeting with the boss, or those bills that have just arrived.
So if we are now relatively safe, how come we still go into this response?
Well, I believe that it's not the actual events in our life that cause this but our thoughts around them, because, let's face it whose email inbox is not overflowing right now?
It's namely our negative thoughts that create this worry and we think negatively in 2 main ways;
1) We can think negatively about the past. These are our regrets; "why did that happen to me, why did that relationship break down, why did I lose that job?"
2) We can negatively forecast the future. These are our worries; "I'll never have the job I want, I'll never get the house I want, I'll never find the right life-partner."
All these negative thoughts about the past and the future just accumulate over time and really begin to drive that anxiety survival response from the brain. The mind senses danger and so it wants to react appropriately in order to keep you safe and to survive.
This constant overthinking of past and future events really does fuel more anxiety symptoms, so now you're in a bit of a vicious circle. You start to worry about why you're worried!
Mindfulness and meditation teach us to stop your thoughts and just be present in the moment but it's not really that easy. Buddhist monks go on retreats for 13 years to learn how to do this!
So keep practising but for now, here's my advice on how to deal with those negative thoughts about the past and the future:
Accept your past. Everyone has a past and the truth is we don't need to change it but we can learn from it. The past has shaped you to be the person you are today but it's your choice if you want it to be something that continues to dictate how you move forward or something that you can leave behind where it belongs.
The future hasn't happened yet. Most of the things we worry about don't even happen so be cautious, but there is no need to keep imagining it all going wrong. Instead of that try and fill it with thoughts of possibility and change. Whenever issues arise you will be prepared to deal with them but focus on a more positive future for yourself.
Following these guidelines will ensure you remain more Solution Focused and will help reduce your overall anxiety. Good luck, you got this!
Gin Lalli firstname.lastname@example.org
Gin Lalli is a Solution Focused Therapist specialising in anxiety, depression, stress and sleep. She is based in Edinburgh, Scotland