We all get anxious at some point. It is a completely normal reaction to certain situations. Our heart rate elevates, we have increased alertness, and occasionally fear. For a few individuals, anxiety can get out of control affecting their ability to participate in day-to-day activities and impacting their relationships with others.
A person with an anxiety disorder may experience repeated episodes of panic or terror that peak very quickly, and these feelings can be difficult to control and can grow out of proportion to the actual danger.
Identifying the reasons behind feelings of anxiety can be helpful in treatment. While there are countless triggers for an anxiety response, we will focus on the nervous system reaction and psychological responses, as these are core area to consider in identifying triggers for anxiety.
Nervous System Reaction
Although the manifestations are different for each person or situation, anxiety can affect all of the six major areas of the body: cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, respiratory, genitourinary, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems.
When it comes to the central nervous system, symptoms may include feeling on edge, poor concentration, insomnia, trembling, tension headaches, and other physical reactions. Under enough physical strain, a person can build up to panic attacks if they struggle to learn how to control their physical response to anxiety or work through the original cause.
Normally, you’re not even aware that your automatic nervous system (ANS) is functioning. It works in the background, automatically adjusting and responding to your immediate environment to keep your body functioning properly. When the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, your heart beats faster, pupils dilate, your mouth gets dry, and you start to sweat.
Your body perceives that you are in some sort of danger. For example, when you’re out jogging and see a large unleashed dog running toward you – causing you to slow down and question the situation. The sympathetic nervous system can kick in instantly then you may realize it is okay and jog on or you panic due to fear or true danger. One second, you’re sitting down enjoying a television show, and the next your heart is pounding and you can’t make it stop.
You could be an individual whose body seems to be in a steady state of “high alert”, constantly detecting threats, whether they’re actually there or not.
Reasons Why This May Happen
- Some experts feel that we “train” our brains to be anxious: once you worry about any one thing too often (like morning traffic), your brain automatically begins to perceive that thing as a threat.
- Another explanation could be that you’ve taken a drug (either recreational or pharmaceutical) that causes an adverse reaction in your nervous system.
- Or, you are in real danger and need this reaction to move quickly. Normally the body will reset after the danger is over but for some of us we get stuck in a loop of worry and it does not stop, it repeats.
Regardless of the cause, a body’s physical reaction to anxiety can go beyond merely feeling nervous or uncomfortable and could impact life in a negative way.
With a psychological response to a trigger, we often associate a past traumatic crisis or event with the present. This type of anxiety is more of a behavioral response, which will often bring on many of the same physical symptoms and also lead up to full-on panic attacks. It can even lead to fears that have nothing to do with the original situation such as fear of driving, flying, going certain places, to name a few.
Disconnected From Surroundings and Self
This behavioral reaction may leave a person feeling disconnected from the world around them. Being disconnected doesn’t necessarily mean that you lack connection to others. Thinking you are can certainly lead to feelings of anxiety. . . so can being disconnected from self. When you’re not in touch with your true thoughts and feelings, due to starting to believe the thoughts associated with the anxiety and worry, you lose connection to the true essence of “you”. This can cause an immense amount of stress, and lead to anxiety symptoms such as the psychological response to the pressure.
Disconnected From Others
You can become anxious due to being disconnected from your self in relations with others. You want others, to notice you and understand you. It is a basic emotional need to be heard and understood. Many of us did not get that so we leave our true nature to try and find it. This causes great anxiety in our system. It also can cause great conflict in relationships. We have lost our internal roots. Take for example the child whose parents think they should be in a certain profession like being a doctor or lawyer but they want to go to art school. Or, for example with myself, when I told my father I was going to Social Work school and leaving the business world he advised me against it and said I would never get far. Had I listened to him I believe I would have remained depressed, as I was not living from my authentic purpose. I also would not be here with you.
And then there is the person who feels lost and keeps trying in a relationship to make things better and the more they try the more anxious they get and eventually they are left by the person they were hoping to please. These and other examples are ways we leave ourselves to try and get love, approval, acceptance.
A Skill to Reconnect Within
I often show people what this can feel like by using my hands. I put them together, saying if this represents you, then slowly separate them moving my right hand away. I suggest the right hand represents the part of you which moves towards others for acceptance and approval, disconnecting from yourself. I then suggest they see the space between my hands as the anxiety, as they have separated from themselves, and the separation from self creates anxiety. Next, I say watch what happens as my right-hand returns to the left, representing your core self. They often feel a sense of calm and grounding.
You may want to try this as an exercise. Move your hands apart slowly and see the space between the two. See the right hand as representing a part of you that is lost, confused, anxious, too worried about something, or whatever you feel now is upsetting you and drawing you to this exercise, and your left hand is your grounded wiser self often known as your core self or your higher power. Now slowly look at one and then the other. Notice how you are feeling as you look at each. Notice the space between the two. Now slowly when you are ready, move them together being aware that part of you has been separated from your core and with intention, focus and your breath you are bringing your hands together and feeling into coming back home to yourself. Life possibilities are endless when we are connected within.
Or you can find a series of grounding exercises to help you get connected and reduce stress here: https://www.cynthasis.com/grounding-exercises-to-reduce-stress
The bottom line is a range of factors can work together to cause an anxiety disorder. If you have unexplained symptoms of anxiety, it’s best to speak to a professional who can recognize and treat the underlying cause.
Brainspotting therapy is a key modality I use to help clients come back to their core self and live fully. Brainspotting is a Dual Attunement process–that creates attunement between the client and the therapist, as well as the client and their own neurophysiology. It works deep within the mid-brain and the brainstem, helping to relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety–even when other treatments have failed.
If you are ready to address your own anxiety or to learn more about how Brainspotting therapy can help, reach out today by booking a free phone consultation