What causes anxiety and stress?

What can cause anxiety?

Anxiety triggers can be as wide as they are tall but basically can be anything that is perceived as threatening or dangerous.  What is safe for one person might be a threat to another.  Additionally, when we are not anxious, things that we usually find threatening might not cause us to feel anxious.

Most of these learnt associations are formed in earlier experiences, as children or adolescents, but they can be more recently made in adulthood.  Common examples of learning about threats in adulthood are found in PTSD, where most people usually function perfectly well until the traumatic event.

Following the trauma, this teaches people something new about others, themselves, situations, and their future – it doesn’t matter when and how it was learnt the recovery is all equal.  Also, the events that caused the learning can lead to specific anxiety disorders. You can find out what are the main anxiety disorders here.  When we are feeling low in mood or even depressed, we can feel anxious.

Triggers to Anxiety

Triggers are influenced by emotion, so when we are feeling more relaxed events don’t bother us as much.  On the flip side, when we are struggling (e.g. in times of work-related stress, hangover, illness) small things can start to trouble us.  We can have fears of objects like spiders, dogs, dirt, etc. However, fears can be more abstract such as a fear of the dark. Other abstract thoughts can be related to other people, of how we might come across to others in the future, e.g. thinking about a presentation or social situation in the future where we might look anxious.   Bodily reactions of anxiety can become triggers, running up the stairs could get our heart rate up, and this can become a trigger to a thought “I am going to panic”, and that can be enough to set off anxiety.

Stress and Anxiety

Periods of high stress can raise our baseline anxiety, we would have all experienced occasions like this.  If this is prolonged, we might start to dwell on there being something wrong with ourselves for feeling this way.  When the events that caused the high stress resolve we can be left with the unhelpful thoughts, such as “I cannot cope”. Additionally, we can develop unhelpful ways of coping, such as taking precautions that become habits, e.g. avoiding certain situation or drinking.  Elevated stressful periods can leave us with exaggerated coping mechanisms that previously worked before.  Going on unchecked (or not updated) our precautions and strategies that are no longer needed can maintain an anxiety disorder, such as striving for perfection or worrying – in places and at times when the opposite may be needed.

Which condition do you require support with?

Learn which conditions are treatable with CBT therapy.
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