Anxiety. We hear it a lot these days. In fact, in our culture it seems almost normal to be stressed and anxious about everything, but it most certainly doesn’t FEEL normal. It doesn’t feel good at all and it’s not something that we want to continue to experience.
What’s normal vs abnormal when it comes to anxiety?
Everyone experiences some level of anxiety in their lifetime in response to situational stressors. It might present as fear, worry, nervousness, or muscle tension. However, it becomes problematic when it is persistent and recurring, and affecting daily functioning. Problematic anxiety goes far beyond what is expected from the trigger and may even occur without a trigger or present/perceived danger.
What causes anxiety?
There can be several risk factors to consider when exploring the causes of anxiety:
1. Trauma History—trauma disrupts the nervous system causing the sympathetic nervous system to go into overdrive.
2. Genetics—some research suggests that anxiety is genetic, and those of us working in mental health often see that anxiety runs in families.
3. Gut Health—the gut has been coined the “second brain” because it is full of nerves similar to those in the brain. When the gut is unhealthy (i.e. inflammation) it can cause distress resulting in anxiety.
4. Underlying Health Conditions—anxiety can absolutely be a symptom of some underlying condition. For example, if you thyroid isn’t functioning properly, or if your blood sugar is low, you may experience symptoms that are similar to anxiety. It is important to check with your medical provider to rule out any medical conditions that may be a contributing factor.
5. Side effects of medications—symptoms such as restlessness and nervousness might be anxiety, but they could also be caused by side effects of medications. Talk with your prescriber about possible connections between your medication and symptoms of anxiety.
6. Chronic Stress—stress affects both physical and mental health, and can cause an array of problems if left uncontrolled. Chronic stress can lead to mental health problems including anxiety.
The good news is you don’t have to live with uncontrollable anxiety—there is hope! In fact, anxiety is the most treatable mental health problem. Understanding your nervous system and the flight or flight response is incredibly helpful. Taking a “bottom up” approach in counseling allows you to learn to manage your flight or flight response so that you can calm your body and then be able to work on changing thinking processes (top down). If you’re feeling anxious most days and having trouble coping, connect with a trusted counselor in your area to learn how therapy might be helpful to you.