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  • Writer's pictureAnneka Barrett

The Causes and Signs of Anxiety, part 2 of the anxiety series

This is the second of my three part series on anxiety. Last week I gave you a brief history of anxiety. You can read that here. This week I want to deep dive into what causes anxiety and what the signs are.

Quick refresh on some of the ground covered last week. Anxiety at its core a malfunction of the ‘fight or flight’ reaction. When we first roamed the earth this reaction kept us safe from danger. It was the instinct that told us not to pet the fluffy saber-toothed tiger. When your fight or flight is malfunctioning your mind is alerting you to danger that is not there.

The causes of anxious feelings are different for everyone. Anxiety can seem to come out of nowhere or, there may be a traumatic life event that triggers it. There is a lot of research still to be done in this field, however from studies carried out to date we do know there are some characteristics that can lead to predisposition towards anxiety.

Those who suffer with, or have a history of, depression are often diagnosed with anxiety as well, or tend to suffer from anxious thoughts. Negative thinking can often lead to catastrophic thinking, i.e. worst case scenario, which triggers anxious thoughts.

Those who had adverse childhood experiences such as abuse or neglect have a tendency towards anxiety. The reason is that maltreatment can indelibly alter the stress system so that it is hypersensitive to danger, and it reacts with an outpouring of alarm signals that overwhelm the capacity for emotion processing, leaving those with childhood trauma with the faulty ‘fight or flight’ system I spoke about earlier.

If a history of anxiety exists within your immediate family there are some studies that show you can show a higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder yourself. This isn’t due to a genetic component but how we learn as children. We learn to deal with situations through our primary caregivers; they are our first teachers in the world. If your primary caregivers became overwhelmed at certain things, or suffered panic attacks when going on a plane for example, you would pick up on these signs and associate them with danger.

As I have previously mentioned anxiety can come at any time and may have nothing to do with the above examples. It is fickle, sneaky and is often upon you before you realise. The signs of anxiety can be split into those that are physical and those that are emotional. You may suffer from just one, or a number of different symptoms when it hits.

Physical symptoms are just what it says on the tin, they are the ones happening within your body. These can range from mild like your heart beating a little faster than normal, to a panic attack which many describe as feeling like a heart attack. Below is a list of some of the more common physical symptoms of anxiety:

  1. Upset stomach

  2. Heart beating faster to palpitations

  3. Insomnia

  4. Lightheadedness

  5. Pins and needles

  6. A sense of restlessness - often people experiencing this will bounce their feet or legs

  7. IBS

  8. General aches and pains, everything from headaches to leg aches

  9. Panic Attacks

Often our body is the first to tell us something is wrong, however we tend to ignore physical symptoms or brush them off as something that will pass.

As well as the physical there are the emotional symptoms of anxiety. These encompass the impact anxiety has on your mind. These include:

  1. Feeling tense or nervous

  2. Mood swings

  3. Fearing the worst

  4. A sense of ‘overwhelm’, as if things are moving too fast

  5. Fixating on issues or rumination

  6. Catastrophic thinking

  7. Low mood and depression

  8. Worrying about how other people perceive you or needing validation from others

  9. Disconnection from your body or mind - as if you are looking down on yourself

If you have experienced any of these symptoms it’s likely you have suffered from anxiety. Anxiety can be mild and a one time thing, or it can be more chronic which is why an awareness of the signs and symptoms is key to supporting your well being. Next week I’ll be looking at treatments of anxiety, from things you can do at home to those that involve medical intervention or taking therapy.

Remember, whatever you are going through you aren’t alone.

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