Top three reasons why people have an anxiety disorder
Unfortunately, one in ten people suffer from too much anxiety.
Another two in ten suffer from occasional anxiety that is less of a
problem, but still not fun.
In my twenty-year (+) career as an outpatient psychologist,
I run across eight conditions or ailments every day. Anxiety is
one of them. Anxiety permeates our daily lives in greater or lesser
degrees and touches every situation and relationship. It can be
mildly annoying or crippling.
The more minor but still noteworthy versions of anxiety are what
I call the Worrisome Personality, then the recognized but still
relatively minor clinical categories--Generalized Anxiety Disorder,
and Adjustment Disorders with Anxiety. These are significant
conditions that we psychologists see daily, but they are weaker in
subjective experience relative to the next four. The clinical and
notably stronger versions of anxiety (Panic Attacks, Phobias,
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) are
the most serious and can be debilitating.
What causes anxiety? The psychological explanation is that one
feels at a loss of control over something. It could be an event or
situation or it could not be obvious at all what sets it off.
In the latter case, the fear of losing control is over something
internal to the sufferer. This is usually about losing control over
one's feelings, but memories and associated thoughts are a close second.
Figuring out what these feelings and/or thoughts are is the reason
psychologists remain in business. Recognizing the cues that set off
anxiety episodes and backtracking is the subject of my ebook on this
There are many reasons people become anxious. The most common
ones probably will not come as much of a surprise. The first reason
is that we learned to deal with stress in the manner characteristic of
having an anxiety attack. We learn it, probably from parents or early
caregivers. Parents who are high suppressors teach us to bury our
feelings and thoughts. This is the psychological breeding ground for
anxiety. It spawns dynamics that later produce anxiety symptoms.
How many and how severe are the symptoms depends upon the training in
one's early environment and the personality learning the lessons.
I have seen very robust individuals withstand severe stress and later
show very little signs of anxiety (perhaps depression,
but not much anxiety). On the other hand, I have seen very weak
individuals experience minimal early anxiety training, yet later in
life have horrific anxiety symptoms.
The second reason is that there has been some severe enough
negative event in our past that we do not want to remember, yet
traumatized us enough to suppress or repress. This could be an
accident, being trapped in an elevator or other venue, loss of a
relative or a history of child abuse (emotional, physical or sexual).
Adult traumas produce anxiety disorders. The same things that happen
to children might have the same impact on an adult. Being victims
of a crime (rape, burglary) or a near-death experience from an accident
can all produce panic and/or phobias later.
The third reason is because of substance or alcohol abuse, either
in our parents or currently. Drugs produce huge anxiety symptoms,
especially the "speeds" ("X" or "E" as it is called now, amphetamines,
Black Beauties, Cocaine, Crystal Meth ...). One might not think
alcohol can elicit an anxiety reaction, but it can. It has to do
with that feeling of relaxing, which for some people is a cue that
they are about to lose control. Losing control is very negative and
can trigger tension. Alcohol in one's early family life engenders
lots of anxiety. Kids learn very early to be on guard when one or
more of their parents is an alcoholic or substance abuser. This keeps
them on alert, which has survival value. The earlier one can
ascertain in what state an arriving parent is in, the better the chance
of figuring out how to cope with that parent. That anticipation does
not go away just because kids grow up and move away.