What Causes Anxiety Disorders?
A New Perspective
To have anxiety is to be human; everybody gets anxious at times. And most people experience high anxiety frequently since things
like exams and tests, interviews, public speaking, first dates and competitive sports can make anyone pretty anxious.
Evolved over millions of years, anxiety is a self-protection instinct, a series of reflexes, reactions and responses in our
mind and body that help to protect us from danger.
We think about dangerous situations and get scared – this keeps us away from them. And when threat or danger is near, the
fight-or-flight response 'kicks in' to prepare us for action. Our heart speeds up, breathing quickens, all our senses are
heightened and we feel shaky, jittery, on-edge – totally energized, in order to fight our way out of danger or flee from
In the past, anxiety and the fight-or-flight response served us well. Physical threat and danger were everywhere and, for our
ancestors, the ability to fight or flee quickly really was a life saver.
But the world we live in today is very different from the one we inhabited thousands of years ago.
Wild animals, poisonous snakes and insects, strangers, heights and confined spaces... being confronted by any of these could have
been life threatening.
In the modern world we no longer face the direct threats of our ancestors. They still exist of course: wild animals, dangerous
strangers etc., and could potentially kill us in certain circumstances, but they don't impact our lives as they did.
Today, the things that make us feel scared are more subtle and vague. Their effects build up slowly over time, and
include such things as:-
• Conflict with partners in relationships
• Conflict with family members
• Trouble with work colleagues or the job itself
• Money, bills and fear of debt
• Health, diet and the fear of illness
• The violence in the world as reported daily on the news
All of these can make us feel bad, unhappy and miserable for a long time. They make us uncomfortable, generally discontented and in a very
real way, insecure.
Feeling insecure and vulnerable indicates danger, so these things arouse anxiety within us – only small amounts initially, but
nevertheless it's anxiety.
These life situations, common to us all, make us anxious. And the more situations we encounter, the more our anxiety builds up. But
it's not anxiety we can release by avoiding, fighting or fleeing. Here, the fight-or-flight response isn't appropriate for we aren't in
real physical danger – so slowly but surely our anxiety increases.
This explains the undercurrent of increased anxiety that flows through vast swathes of society today and why many people live their lives
ruled by intangible feelings of insecurity.
But there's more, something else, something that turns this anxiety into a greater problem.
Being anxious represents a threat, we are in danger... and seemingly for no real reason. We can't live like this, over-anxious, our mind
won't let us. There must be a reason for this threat, this thing that is making us scared.
But there is no wild animal, no dangerous stranger, no tangible threat, so it must be something else.
Eventually, our subconscious reaches a conclusion... it must be something about us. We are, in some way: 'not good enough'/ 'wrong'
/ 'bad' / 'weak' and therefore vulnerable to attack.
It is this turning of anxiety into 'something about us' (rather than the result of any external threat or danger) that signals the start of many
anxiety disorders today.
When we look at the backgrounds of large numbers of people with anxiety and depression problems, they are often strikingly
similar in many ways. Negative life experiences and subsequent feelings involving self-worth and insecurity occur across the board with such
regularity, and are so similar, that it is hard to see how these factors cannot play a major role in anxiety-related problems.
Currently, with an answer that involves labels such as 'disorder' and 'mental illness' and provides treatments that
offer no real control, it's easy to be drawn into a self-defeating belief system about these problems – one that only makes them worse.
But it doesn't have to be like this.
If we look at anxiety disorders through the lens of evolution and survival, and see how they can develop step-by-step from a bombardment of negative
life experiences, a very different picture emerges.
Not diseases, disorders or mental illness, anxiety disorders (and depression) involve natural survival instincts common to us all – normal
self-protective thoughts, feelings and behaviours that become over-sensitive, intensified and grossly exaggerated due to negative life
Life experiences that condition us to be afraid.
If you're struggling with an anxiety disorder (GAD, OCD, social phobia, panic disorder, PTSD) or severe depression get the full story
in 'Evolving Self Confidence...'. Learn what happened to you and why... and how to put things
Evolving Self Confidence:
How to Become Free From Anxiety Disorders and Depression
Read the First Chapter
The Collins English Dictionary describes anxiety as "a state of uneasiness or tension caused by apprehension of possible
misfortune, danger etc."
And to be anxious is to be "worried and tense".
Latin anxietas gave anxiety in English; the base is Latin anxius, from angere 'to choke'
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