Therapists explain common causes of anxiety
Updated 31 October 2014
by Sarah Graham
Friday 31 October 20141426 5814
We all experience moments of anxiety from time to time but, if you find you are unable to stop or control feeling anxious, this can have a serious impact on your life.
Anxiety UK's Amber Smith says: "Anxiety is a feeling of unease or fear when faced with a situation that is perceived to be threatening or difficult. It is a normal, if unpleasant, feeling that everyone will experience from time to time. It becomes a problem or makes life difficult when a person feels anxious all of the time or for no reason. There is still a great amount of stigma associated with feeling anxious, mostly due to people not understanding the condition."
We asked five RSCPP therapists to explain some of the common causes of anxiety and how they may affect your ability to function.
In modern life a common cause of anxiety can be a life change. This could be anything from a house move, career change, entering a relationship or a change in our health. Change can often be a time of exploration and personal growth, but it is also a time of doubt and uncertainty. Imagining what the future may bring, you may try to think of difficulties ahead of time and plan how you can manage them. But when you're not sure what may happen, you may find yourself bogged down with a thousand "what if...?" questions. This worry about the future distracts you from your present, can distance you from loved ones and may leave you feeling tense and anxious.
Depression can lead to symptoms of anxiety. Feeling down, depressed and hopeless, having little energy or enthusiasm for life, tiredness, and that fuzzy feeling of being cut off from the world can have a big effect on your functioning. This may mean that you are not able to live as well as you would like, and this can then lead to feelings of anxiety. You may have thoughts such as: "Will my partner leave me?", "I'm no good as a mother", or " I can't manage at work". This anxiety makes the depression worse and you may isolate yourself more and more as a feeling of hopelessness develops.
Anxiety is regarded as a condition that is caused by lack of communication and interaction with others. You may have low self-esteem and lack self-confidence in the face of everyday situations that involve engaging with others to plan and make decisions. As an interpersonal problem, anxiety may be experienced in your personal life, but can also include difficulties finding work and going to interviews, cooperating with others or meeting deadlines.
Being at the receiving end of unjust discrimination is a frequent but often overlooked cause of anxiety problems. You may routinely experience yourself being at a disadvantage in your family, community or society for having certain characteristics, which could be your race, gender, disability, sexuality, religion or any other human characteristic. As a result, you may be constantly trying to adapt to the expectations of others. As a gay man you may be monitoring your behaviour to appear 'manly' and avoid ridicule in the workplace; as a woman you may feel pressure to be a 'supermum' with a full-time career and doing all the home care. You may adapt to oppressive expectations to avoid the threat of being devalued, excluded or attacked, but the price for such adaptation can include chronic anxiety problems.
One cause of anxiety is uncertainty. It's normal to want to know what is going to happen in the future as it can give a sense of control and mastery over life. Unfortunately, because no one can see into the future, life will always have an element of uncertainty - whether that's to do with a relationship, a job or a house move. If you cannot tolerate a reasonable level of uncertainty then you may attempt to remove it by over-thinking and worrying, trying to fill in the gaps by guessing what might happen, and planning how you would cope with it. This may lead you to devoting lots of time and attention to unrealistically catastrophic scenarios, which only increases your anxiety and uncertainty.
How common is anxiety?
Along with depression, anxiety is one of the most common of all mental health problems. Approximately three million people in the UK live with an anxiety disorder, and more than one in ten people will have a 'disabling anxiety disorder' at some stage in their life.
You can find out more about symptoms and causes of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
, including how to find a therapist. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.