In a fit of anxiety, or in the throes of a panic attack, our minds sometimes chastise us for being so anxious. Our brains are consumed with worries, fears, and thoughts of going crazy, and our bodies overcome with agitation, sweating, trembling, aches, and pains. And yet our minds produce another thought that slaps us painfully across the face: “What is wrong with me and why am I like this?” To add insult to injury, sometimes when we turn to someone, perhaps a friend or a family member, in search of understanding and help, the message we receive is “What’s wrong with you? Why are you so anxious?”
Personally, I have never found this line of thinking and questioning to be very helpful. It certainly doesn’t make my anxiety disappear or even lessen it a touch. If anything, it makes it worse because now I think it’s my fault that I’m anxious. My mind tells me it is. Much of society tells me it is. Therefore it must be, and I should get over it. Right? Wrong!
Anxiety is Not Your Fault, And Here’s Why
Psychological research is beginning to shed some light on what causes anxiety (if we understand the cause, we can treat anxiety by getting to the root of the problem); however, thus far researchers haven’t been able to definitively pinpoint exact causes. That said, we do know some things:
- Genetics can contribute to anxiety, and sometimes anxiety runs in families.
- Someone’s environment (stress level, lifestyle, etc.) can contribute to anxiety.
- Neurology, things happening in the brain, play a role.
- Learned behaviors can make someone anxious (For example, if a parent responds to the world in an anxious fashion, a child can learn anxious patterns. This does not mean, though, that parents cause anxiety in their kids. Modeling a behavior might be a contributing factor in anxiety’s development, but it’s not a single-handed cause.)
- Psychological factors can increase anxiety, particularly unhealthy thought patterns.
The Most Important Information Experts Know
The above list delineates what scientists know about the causes of anxiety. Even more important is what they know about what does not cause it: you. You are in no way the cause of your anxiety and living with anxiety is not your fault.
Sure, many times we develop behaviors that can perpetuate our anxiety, such as avoidance of things that make us anxious or the tendency to interpret things negatively (those pesky unhealthy thought patterns). These are not causes of your anxiety. These are merely coping mechanisms that people develop to deal with their anxiety; coping mechanisms that lead to a vicious cycle of worsening anxiety. The good news is that coping skills can be changed. We can learn new ways to deal with, and thus reduce and even eliminate, anxiety.
When anxiety or panic has you in a choke hold, don’t let your mind, or the minds of others, tighten the grip. Remind yourself that anxiety is something you’re dealing with for the time being. It doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you, and it certainly isn’t your fault.