There appears to be no one specific cause for anxiety but a number of possible contributors or combinations of – these being environmental, substance use, genetics, stressful events, psychological, and physical determinants.
Environmental factors are the external events and experiences that are stressful such as trauma, stress at work, accidents, financial difficulties, issues in relationships such as marriage or bullying. There isn’t a firm understanding why some people can develop anxiety from these stressful situations and others don’t. It maybe that individuals who have better internal coping strategies and access to support have an increased capacity to integrate their experience.
Substance abuse of alcohol, amphetamines, cannabis and sedatives can lead to anxiety, especially during the withdrawal effects of these drugs. When a drug is used to counter the effects of withdrawal this can further exacerbate anxiety by making it worse. In general terms, the withdrawal from a substance is usually the opposite from the effect of the drug, so when a sedative is used, which provides a calming relaxed feeling, the withdrawal can be experienced as restlessness, agitation and possibly anxiety.
Genetics has been suggested as a contributor to anxiety. Where there’s been a family history of mental health difficulties there is an increased propensity to the possibility. Twin studies have shown where an identical twin has anxiety there is an increased likelihood the other twin can also develop anxiety. It’s important to mention that there is no certainty if mental health difficulties are prevalent in one family member or a number of family members that future generations will develop the same difficulties.
With respect to physical factors certain medical conditions can generate anxiety such as asthma, heart conditions, hormonal imbalances and infections, to name a few. Stress from chronic or acute illness can lead to anxiety issues, as can the side effects of certain medications.
Imbalances in certain neurotransmitters in the brain can also lead to anxiety. If certain neurotransmitters are not functioning correctly there can be a breakdown in the communication pathways within the brain that can lead to misinformation, which may play a role in the development of anxiety.
Psychological factors that possibly contribute to anxiety are negative thought processes where some schools of thought have postulated that particular personality types are more prone to anxiety such as being perfectionist or there is a need for high levels of control.
In Gestalt Therapy anxiety is viewed as the flip side of excitement where excitement usually leads to embracing life. Anxiety however, can lead to getting stuck in the completion of an experience. In Gestalt we describe experience occurring as a cycle. This cycle starts when we notice something through our senses via our awareness and this leads to a mobilisation of ourselves to attend to it, which then continues via an action of some sort. From here the cycle continues to the final stages of accomplishment and integration. What can happen when anxiety is present people can get stuck between the mobilisation and action phases. Fear and worry can stop the full integration and achievement of an experience which can lead to aspects of our personalities becoming fixed and stuck in particular beliefs and ways of being with oneself and others.
Why this happens from psychotherapy perspective can relate to someone’s history and the development of particular beliefs and core themes, such as safety issues, which are played out in the present moment. An event/s from the past that has not been fully integrated can still have repercussions in the here and now. These echo’s from the past can be experienced as a nagging apprehension or a full blown panic attack. The causative factor is probably out of awareness taking up residence in the unconscious, but still exerting its influence in day-to-day situations. This maybe the reason why some people don’t have a rational reason for feeling anxious.
If anxiety is part of your experience and you would like support please contact one of our counsellors.
May this day find you well,
Counselling and Psychotherapy.