Anxiety is a common human experience. Each of us are likely to experience anxiety at least once a month. Everyday occurrences can cause anxiety – a car jumping into our lane, a dog that snarls as we approach, a presentation we have to give at work. These causes of normal anxiety can fall into five major categories.
1. Feelings of inherent bodily harm
No one is likely to feel calm if faced with a robber or gunman. There are situations that actually require some anxiety, bringing the body into the proper state of readiness for quick action. There are situations people seek out because they like the feeling of risk, such as extreme skiing or skydiving. While some anxiety can be helpful, an extreme reaction that causes you to be “frozen in fear” is often counterproductive.
2. Feelings of risk to lifestyle and self
Giving a public speech can cause anxiety because if it doesn’t go off well, the speaker could be humiliated or even fired. It is natural to have anxiety in these situations. Many theater companies have a bucket right behind the stage for opening night stomach upset. A little anxiety can help with things like speeches and performances by sharpening the senses and focusing the mind. Too much anxiety, other hand, can render the speaker tongue tied.
3. Situations that trigger memories of childhood trauma
Everyone has experienced some trauma as a child, which can range from dealing with an abusive parent to something as commonplace as a trip or fall. Those memories are locked into our brains. The point is to remember the offending circumstance as a way to be prepared for a similar occurrence in the future. However, memories of a traumatic event may be distorted and thus unhelpful as a reference. When you are a child, these types of traumatic events are rooted in a time of true powerlessness. Those feelings of powerlessness, while no longer applicable, can be disturbing, and even overwhelming, when you become an adult. Although the adult does have the power to handle the situation, he or she may respond as the traumatized child because of a memory. Therapies such as neuro-linguistic programming might be especially useful with this kind of anxiety.
4. Free-floating anxiety
Sometimes it is not easy to identify the source of anxiety. particularly when the anxiety comes more from an internal state than an external stimulus. While most anxiety has a target, free-floating anxiety is that which troubles our mind without any clear method to address it. It may be mild, as a vague feeling of foreboding, or it may be crippling, such as feeling that the world will end or that death is around the corner. Free-floating anxiety may also be caused by a physical condition within the body (see paragraph on Medical Causes of Anxiety).
5. Feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness
At the foundation of most causes of anxiety is a basic feeling of inadequacy or powerlessness. If one feels powerful enough, then a situation won’t be as likely to have a negative outcome. For example, if competent enough, the speech won’t lead to humiliation. If big and wise enough, then childhood trauma can’t be repeated. Feeling inadequate and powerless is not only natural, but accurate. Sometimes it would take “super powers” to overcome a situation. Having a healthy respect for what we are capable of, and accepting and embracing our human limitations, can avert many incidences of anxiety.
Medical Causes of Anxiety
In addition to the psychological causes of anxiety, there can be a medical orphysical cause. Chronic anxiety (anxiety disorder) falls into this category. Imbalances of neurotransmitters can result from many medical conditions. Use of stimulant drugs such as amphetamines, or excessive caffeine, can cause anxiety. Lack of oxygen can cause physical and emotional anxiety. An overactive thyroid, among other medical conditions, can cause a person to feel anxious. Hormonal fluctuations can cause anxiety. Many of these conditions can be treated so anxiety is reduced.