3 Different Causes of Anxiety

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Anxiety is a normal response, but it can come at unusual times and is often entirely unnecessary.

I say often unnecessary because, this may be surprising but, we actually need anxiety.

It's not just a pointless experience we have that is horribly uncomfortable, it's a built-in survival system to help ensure that we don't put ourselves in danger, it's what keeps us alive and has done so for thousands and thousands and thousands of years.

The unfortunate part is that this system is pretty outdated.

It responds to things way more than it should, after all in modern life we are very rarely in real danger once we start to feel anxious, and therefore it is often unnecessary.

So what causes anxiety to begin with?

We know that it's a built-in survival mechanism, but why does it begin to sound the alarm when we are perfectly safe?

Today we are going to explore 3 types of anxiety and what each of those tells us about the causes of anxiety.

The causes may appear quite different at first glance, but you may be surprised at what they all have in common.

Also, we'll take a look at how 1 simple technique can help reduce anxiety regardless of what causes anxiety.

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One of the causes of anxiety is having a specific phobia.

A phobia is a deeply rooted fear that causes panic-like symptoms whenever it's encountered, or even thought about!

Phobia's come in all shapes and sizes but someone who has a phobia always experiences immediate fear and anxiety and actively avoids the phobia despite knowing that the actual danger is far lower than the response to it.

In other words, even if the person knows that what they are afraid of is completely harmless, they react to it as if it is about to kill or very seriously harm them.

One comical example is from the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer; one of the characters (who plays the part of a "vengeance demon") is absolutely terrified of bunny rabbits.

Imagine, a terrifying monster is petrified with fear around a soft, adorable, and harmless little bunny.

But, that's what phobias do, they are irrational fears that cause significant distress.

The most common phobias are a fear of spiders, snakes, needles, the number 13, and flying; but some people have phobias of bald people, paper cuts, moths, and more.

We have an evolutionary fear of spiders and snakes and some snakes due pose a legitimate threat to life.

But even those fears are largely overblown and the vast majority of both snakes and spiders are harmless to people; not to mention the wide availability of medical services available in the most severe cases.

Hopefully, these examples demonstrate the wide range of phobias out there.

But let's take a look at a couple of other causes of anxiety.

Social Anxiety

Phobias definitely account for very specific causes of anxiety, but let's broaden out a little bit to see what other causes of anxiety exist.

One of the most common causes of anxiety is called Social Anxiety.

Social Anxiety is the fear or worry that you'll be perceived negatively by others.

Nobody wants to be seen negatively by anyone, but people with Social Anxiety can't stop thinking that everything they do is being judged by everyone all the time.

Imagine grabbing lunch somewhere and you're standing in line to order and there are people at most of the tables.

Now imagine that every single person is looking right at you, you start to wonder what you did that got everyone's attention, then you start to feel like you must have done something wrong, really wrong that everyone heard and saw and are judging you for it, and all you want to do is run out of the line as quick as you can and hide in your bedroom.

Seems farfetched that something like that would really happen, but that's what it feels like to have Social Anxiety.

The cause of Social Anxiety is usually an overactive fear center in the brain, the amygdala, that turns that fear into self-perception.

The brain tricks itself into thinking that instead of a threat outside, the threat is inside.

That there is something wrong with you that other people won't like and therefore you are in danger.

So we have now looked at a couple of causes of anxiety, like specific phobias that aren't a threat but we see as a threat and Social Anxiety where we think something is inherently wrong with us so we shouldn't be around other people.

But what about something more general, what explains the causes of anxiety that seem random?

Generalized Anxiety

For some people, anxiety is a common experience and there seems to be no pattern or specific trigger that makes them feel anxious.

For example, has anyone described you as being a "worrier"?

People like this seem to be on edge about most things in life and can't seem to relax.

They worry about making the right impression, how much money they make compared to others, their social standing, what they're going to have for lunch or dinner, whether they're funny or not, and on and on.

No specific phobias, some overlap with Social Anxiety maybe but, in virtually every part of their life they find something to worry about.

What accounts for the causes of anxiety that are seemingly random?

Remember that region of the brain we mentioned earlier, the amygdala?

Well, you can thank that part of the brain once again.

The amygdala is a very old part of the brain, and when its activity level is pretty normal you experience anxiety to the degree that is appropriate for the situation.

If you have an overactive amygdala, that causes not only more intense anxiety but more frequent anxiety about more things also.

And, it's also the cause of specific phobias.

What makes the real difference as to why some people develop phobias, others Social Anxiety, and others more general anxiety has to do with the combination of genetic factors and the environment they were raised in.

But, all the causes of anxiety come down to how active the amygdala is.


So, if all the causes of anxiety come down to the activity level of the amygdala, and the more active it is, the more intense the anxiety, what can you do?

There is a very simple and short exercise you can do every day that will lower the activity level of the amygdala regardless of the causes of anxiety that you are experiencing.

It takes 5 minutes but it needs to be done every single day.

Here's how:

  1. Find a comfortable, quiet, place to sit or lay down and set a timer for 5 minutes
  2. Close your eyes and focus on finding your heartbeat
  3. Your mind will get distracted by different thoughts, simply refocus your attention on your heartbeat over and over
  4. Repeat this process until the timer goes off.

That's it.

Do this exercise for 5 minutes every day and it will suppress the activity of the amygdala allowing you to feel more relaxed more often.

The more you do it the better it works.

You can do this first thing in the morning, right before bed, during your lunch break, it doesn't matter.

Just be consistent and notice the incredible changes it will provide!

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May 28th, 2023

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