While the root causes of anxiety aren’t fully understood, experts tend to agree on the fundamental five most accepted reasons for it. Anxiety is one of the leading causes of mental illness in our country. Traumatic life experiences from childhood through adulthood have been found to culminate in anxiety. Genetics, loss, extreme grief, and for some – medical conditions – can trigger anxiety disorders in people who are already prone to nervousness, uneasiness, and dread in their daily lives. Generally speaking, each of these contributing factors can be summed up by one of the following five causes:
- Worry – Often, when feelings of dread or misapprehension fester over a present or pending situation, worry takes hold, paralyzing an individual with overwhelming preoccupation and rumination on negative thoughts, ideas, and potential scenarios and outcomes, forming a habit. Left untreated, this condition can create immeasurable stress, making a person obsessed with making the smallest decisions and unable to effectively live a healthy, productive daily life.
- Fear – Fear is one of our basest instincts. Fear can be either a healthy response and motivator in a given situation, elevating our heart rate, producing an incredible adrenaline rush, and heightening our keen mental acuity in a moment of great risk or danger. Conversely, fear can overtake our thoughts and arrest our ability to react defensively and reflexively in fight-or-flight situations, experiences of extreme discomfort (like public speaking, flying, or separation anxiety), crippling an individual to the point of a near-fugue state of inaction. Fear need not be rational to be real; the mere perception of peril can shut down basic decision-making capabilities entirely.
- Stress/Tension – Stress and tension are both mental and physiological responses to situations and conditions beyond our natural state of being. Neither is unnatural nor irrational, and both are a fact of life that all people experience to varying degrees throughout their lives. Whether our job proves over-taxing of our time, energy, or physical stamina or our interpersonal relationships and professional acquaintances create tense or hyper-critical dynamics, stress and tension can have severe influences on our minds and our bodies. Extended stressful situations put our physical health at risk with symptoms such as high blood pressure, acute insomnia, heart disease, and chronic illness due to compromised immune system functionality. Likewise, illnesses and/or certain medications can trigger anxiety in persons otherwise not inclined to depressive or anxious behavior. In the same way, poor communication, self-deprecating repression, and verbal (or physical) abuse left untreated and unacknowledged can quickly manifest in a variety of psychological problems, including anxiety.
- Shame – Being human means making mistakes. At times, the consequences of our choices can replay like a broken record in our minds, creating and perpetuating a narrative of shame and feelings of guilt. While these emotions can serve as healthy motivators, pushing us to behave differently and/or correct our errors, they can also drive us to darker habits of comparison or self-ridicule. Clinging to feelings of shame or worthlessness quickly spirals into depression and can manifest in truly unhealthy, impetuous emotional and physical decisions with even further-reaching dire consequences.
- Angst – Confusion and befuddlement can appear out of nowhere; life events like sudden death, a change in job status, an accident or illness, or other traumatic experience can thrust an otherwise comfortable life into chaotic uncertainty, causing us to question our decision-making ability and our place in the world. Such an existential conundrum challenges our belief systems and disrupts our confidence and our forward momentum. Interruptions of this nature can cause us to question our purpose, our identity, and our future and leave us in a state of confused mental gray.
With few exceptions (such as a family history or genetic predisposition), there is no possible way to predict whether you will develop anxiety, however, there are things you can do to reduce the impact of anxiety creeping into your life:
- Meet anxiety head-on. As with other mental health conditions, anxiety can easily take over if you wait for it to “get better” on its own. Get help from a therapist or trained professional. Speak with your clergymen or trusted advisor. Call a helpline or consult a school counselor – whatever you do, seek help. Doing so is NOT a weakness! It takes great strength to seek the help you need, and you are worth doing the hard work.
- Put one foot in front of the other. Stretch. Stay active. Engaging in physical activity of any level – walking, yoga, jogging, shooting hoops – helps keep your brain, heart, and body engaged and improves your physical well-being and emotional health. Further, finding a buddy or partner to whom you can be accountable for these habits fosters caring, trusting, and healthful relationships.
- Make good choices. Choosing nutritious, enjoyable food and beverages rather than fatty, highly-processed fast food and sweets, alcohol or other substances can make a world of difference in your emotional state. Studies have shown that children placed in detention settings for high-risk, disruptive behavior who then receive a steady diet high in fresh fruits, meats, and vegetables show an appreciable reversal in their disorderly and troublesome habits. Being kind to your body is as important as taking good care of your mental fitness.
To be human is to experience difficulty. You are not alone in your struggle with anxiety. The key to a healthy life is seeking out the healthy habits needed to deal with life as it happens. If you recognize that you are experiencing anxiety and feel that you can benefit from treatment for it, Dr. Nisha Todi is available to help. No one should live with crippling anxiety. Contact the office of Dr. Todi today for your initial consultation; help is just a phone call away.