5 causes of anxiety - and what you can do to get better

Can you have anxiety for no reason? No. There’s always a reason for your anxiety. But it might not be what you think. In this article, we'll discuss the 5 most common causes of anxiety. If you suffer from anxiety, you may recognize yourself in some of these causes - maybe even in all of them.

Top 5 most common causes for anxiety:

  1. You worry a lot.
  2. You don’t know how to stop worrying.
  3. You are constantly aware of uncomfortable and dangerous things.
  4. You spend a lot of time analyzing your anxiety.
  5. You often try to dampen your anxiety.

There you have it.

Naturally, you might be thinking, "Wait, these sound more like symptoms than causes." However, new studies now clearly show that these symptoms aren't just symptoms, but are, in fact, what sustains your anxiety over time. They thereby become the core problem of anxiety. Why is that? To find out, we will take a closer look at each of these five common causes for anxiety.

1. You worry a lot

It’s nearly impossible to suffer from anxiety without worrying a lot. A typical response to this statement is something along the lines of: "But what can I do about it? I can’t exactly just stop worrying about my problems."

Actually, you probably can!

Studies demonstrate that worrying is a thought process within our control. It’s just that not everyone knows how to effectively exert that control. We'll discuss this in greater detail later in this article – first, we'll continue explaining the next common cause for anxiety.

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2. You don't know how to stop worrying

Once we realize that we are worrying excessively, our natural response is to try to stop it. And to do this, we create our own strategies in our own way. However, if you suffer from anxiety today, chances are that your current strategies are ineffective. This often leads to a new and even more radical strategy, thus quickly becoming a self-reinforcing cycle where your worrying tends to spin out of control. It’s like trying to extinguish a fire with gasoline.

The result is that you are left with a sense of the anxiety being uncontrollable. It may even feel dangerous. This is possibly the most common cause of anxiety.

Thankfully, feeling like you can’t stop worrying does not mean that it’s impossible. It just means that you don’t know how. Further down in this article, we'll talk about what you can do to break this cycle

3.  You are constantly on high alert for uncomfortable and uncontrollable events

Most people who suffer from anxiety are highly attentive to feelings of discomfort and danger. This can be seen in many ways. Let's explore a few examples of dangers that you may be paying attention to:

  • Feelings of unease and symptoms of anxiety (common if you have panic anxiety)
  • Bodily symptoms and signs of disease (common if you have health anxiety / hypochondria)
  • Signs that other people don’t like you (common if you have social anxiety)
  • Scary people on the street (common if you have been assaulted and have PTSD)
  • Nausea (common if you have a fear of vomiting)

And there are, of course, many more. We call scanning for such dangers threat monitoring. Staying attuned to possible dangers. Being aware of things that are uncomfortable or scary is understandable. However, it is rarely helpful. And instead of helping, it will likely further increase your anxiety.

You experience more of what you pay attention to. So, when you pay attention to anxiety and discomfort, you'll find more of it.

You become really good at spotting all potentially discomforting situations. In turn, this causes your brain to strengthen the neural pathways that allow you to experience the symptoms of discomfort, thereby causing you to experience more and stronger symptoms than you did before. Also, it doesn’t make a panic attack or vomiting less likely to happen when you are looking out for them. In fact, the opposite seems to be true.

The problem is that those that suffer from anxiety usually don't know how to stop the negative cycle.

The good news is that it's possible to learn! You can learn how to turn your focus away from the symptoms you are experiencing - and bring it towards other everyday things you want to pay attention to. This teaches your brain that these negative thoughts aren’t important and that they don’t need to take up as much space. With this method, you can break the cycle and reduce your symptoms quickly.

(TIP: The GAD Workshop is our 12-week virtual workshop where you learn these methods)

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4. You spend a lot of time analyzing your anxiety

Many who struggle with anxiety will often think about it and analyze it regularly for many hours a day. The goal is typically to identify what triggers periods of increased anxiety, and what lies behind good and bad days. This is very understandable. But it's also incredibly exhausting and uncomfortable.

Of course you want to find out how to minimize it. This makes sense, however, it rarely works as intended. Instead, by paying it so much attention, you give anxiety more space and power over your life.

What does this look like? Let’s look at an example many can relate to: You wake up with anxiety, and start to wonder, "Why do I have anxiety today?" or "Did I do something different yesterday?"

Did I:

  • Sleep too little?
  • Not take good enough care of myself?
  • Stress too much?
  • Overdo something?

Or is it related to my:

  • Relationship?
  • Childhood?
  • Life choices?
  • Job?

Taking this last case as an example, we see a lot of people evaluate whether or not they should quit… or switch to another department. They further debate whether they should move or workout more, what caused the anxiety, and what causes more or less of it.

Analyzing your life in this way, searching for answers, is called brooding.

If brooding worked, then you would probably have less anxiety already. Rather, the opposite is almost always what occurs. You start doubting whether or not your life is how it should be, causing you to be caught up in your own world and be less present in your life. If you often think about sad and unpleasant events from the past that could explain your anxiety, you might actually start feeling sad and hopeless.

Brooding is one of the most prevalent reasons for anxiety to turn into depression.

Many people think that if they can find out why they have anxiety, they can get well. Or at least better. Though there is little evidence supporting that claim. This is an idea stemming from traditional psychological theories (more than a century old) which appears to not hold water.

It is a myth that anxiety can be cured by an improved understanding of yourself, a sudden insight, or through discovering memories from your childhood.

The reality is that if you make changes in your life with a goal of ridding yourself from anxiety, it usually ends up hanging around instead. Understanding yourself more is not what reduces your anxiety.

What will reduce your anxiety is engaging less with your thoughts and more actively in your life, and by seeing thoughts and emotions as passing events in your mind that you don't necessarily have to do anything about.

5. You often try to dampen your anxiety

You have probably heard that you should find ways to lessen your anxiety. Maybe that you can get rid of your anxiety through changing your habits.

You’ve probably heard that the following will help:

  • Working out more
  • Drinking less coffee and alcohol
  • Sleeping better
  • Living a calmer life
  • Stressing less
  • Doing breathing exercises

This is only partially true. You can reduce your anxiety temporarily with the help of breathing exercises, handling stress, and similar actions. However, in some cases, dampening your anxiety can actually increase anxiety in the long term. Why is that?

When you try to diminish your anxiety, you tell your brain that anxiety is dangerous and that it’s crucial to keep your symptoms under control. The brain has evolved to avoid danger, so it will try to alert you more to symptoms of anxiety and prompt you to be fearful of them. This then becomes an evil cycle. You become more and more anxious about your own anxiety.

The more time and effort you spend dampening your anxiety, the more anxiety you experience.

So, dampening your anxiety leads to more anxiety. When you start designing your daily life around lessening your anxiety, it becomes easier for your anxiety to control what you can and cannot do. Due to this, life becomes limited. You’ll start to feel like you can’t do what you want. Many experience that daily tasks, like taking the bus or going to the grocery store, become daunting.

This is not a pleasant mindset to have. If you start to notice that you are starting to increasingly avoid certain things, it is an indicator that it's time to break this cycle.

So, how can you experience less anxiety?

We have now discussed the five most common causes for anxiety and gave tips about what you can do to break the negative cycle. And if there's one sentence you ought to remember from this article, it is this one:

"What reduces your anxiety is engaging less with your thoughts and more in your life, and seeing thoughts and emotions as passing events in your mind that you don't necessarily have to do anything about."

The best way to achieve this success is to do the opposite of what causes and maintains anxiety. So, in order to reduce anxiety, you should:

  • Spend less time worrying.
  • Spend less time analyzing your anxiety.
  • Focus less on what makes you anxious.
  • Let symptoms come and go without dampening them or attempting to get rid of the discomfort.
  • Don’t let your anxiety decide what you should or should not do. You decide!

Consider giving it a try and, hopefully in a few weeks, you'll notice that anxiety starts taking up less space in your head - and in your life!

Want to learn more?

If you liked this article and want to learn more then consider downloading our free PDF '3 steps to less worry and anxiety' where we present our favorite strategies on how to reduce anxiety.

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