Anxiety disorders and depression are NOT caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, brain abnormalities or by genes. These disorders are caused by unhealthy behaviours – the unhealthy behaviours are at the root of anxiety disorders and depression. See news or science and research.

Many people are confused when I say I help people recover from anxiety. I and other mental health professionals use the term ‘anxiety’ meaning an ‘anxiety disorder’ but because many people have not had anxiety as a disorder they are often confused and wonder what we mean by this term.

They often say things like “but how can you get rid of anxiety when we need anxiety and we all experience it?”

Yes all humans experience anxiety its a natural response to a perceived threat or worry.

Every human experiences stress. Some stress is good for us and some isn’t. Stress is a normal part of the human experience.

Stress, whether it be from working many hours, relentless exercise, food allergies, chronic pain, inflammation or the perception of danger cause our bodies to activate the stress response (also called the “fight or flight response”). The stress response causes specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that help us better deal with the stressor or threat. Furthermore, worries regarding sitting exams, waiting for medical results, worrying about finances etc, can cause the same response.

This in turn can cause appropriate anxiety, this is natural and normal. However, when the threat, danger or worry has passed, the stress response eases off and the anxiety calms down, we then go about our normal lives. This is the normal appropriate anxiety all humans experience, its part of life.

So how does anxiety develop into a disorder?

Research has shown that when people come from unhealthy backgrounds, they have an increased risk of developing anxiety as a disorder and/or depression.

It is common knowledge that the backgrounds we come from and the behaviours we’ve learnt and use have a massive influence on our emotional health.

Unhappy relationships, childhood trauma, neglect, bullying, divorce, money worries, job problems, drug abuse, bereavement, sudden loss and other similar sudden life changes can put an individual at risk of developing anxiety disorders or depression.

In the event we continue to worry and stress, we can begin to develop unhealthy thoughts and our reactions and behaviours to these thoughts contribute to the continuation of the stress response.

We need to address these unhealthy behaviours that may be causing us problems. While there isn’t much we can do about the backgrounds we came from or situations that have arisen, there is a lot we can do to address our unhealthy behaviours and the problems that stem from them.

This combination of underlying factors cause us to live more apprehensively and more stressfully than others. Living apprehensively stresses the body, and a stressed body produces symptoms of that stress. As the body’s stress level increases, so does the type, number, frequency, intensity, and duration of stress sensations and symptoms.

For example, a small stressor or fear mildly stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which then produces a milder form of stress hormones that include adrenaline and noradrenaline. Adrenaline and noradrenaline produce a milder stimulation with a relatively short duration. Like other hormones, their effects are very targeted, meaning that they can only affect certain parts of the body and only for so long.

If a stressor or fear is perceived as being more threatening, or persists for more than a minute or so, the body produces a more dramatic stress response by secreting the hormone cortisol into the bloodstream. Cortisol has a more dramatic effect on the body, and its effects last much longer. Cortisol produces a greater response because its effects are broader and more powerful than those of adrenaline and noradrenaline. Because of these two degrees, higher levels of stress and fear, or feeling stress or fear for more than a minute or so, will have a more dramatic effect on the body.

Stress-response hyper stimulation can cause the body to act erratically and more involuntarily than normal. This behaviour can cause involuntary spikes in stress hormones which trigger high degree stress responses, such as those associated with anxiety disorders. When living apprehensively, its consequences interfere with living a normal life, your hormones change. The more you worry then the more hormones are secreted and if this continues and not addressed, you will begin to feel anxious or depressed. If this continues it will begin to affect everyday life and anxiety is said to have become a ‘disorder.’ Therefore anxiety disorders occur when our overly apprehensive behaviour and its consequences interfere with a normal lifestyle.

Stress responses change how the brain functions. When stress hormones are active in the bloodstream, the rationalization areas of the brain (cortex) become suppressed and the fear centre (amygdala) becomes more active. This change causes our minds to think less rationally and more fearfully.

Although anxiety is not hard wired, the processes still takes place in the brain – both when you start worrying and when the stress response begins. The thalamus is the main communication and interpretive part of the brain, while the amygdala serves as a warning area and is sometimes referred to as the ‘fear centre’. These areas of your brain are stimulated when you are anxious. When an anxious message is received by the thalamus, it is seen as threatening which activates the amygdala (fight or flight response), which then sets off a stress reaction in the rest of the body.

So as long as the body is stress-response hyper stimulated and for too long, it can initiate involuntary intrusive thoughts, fears, panic attacks and so on. This creates a cycle of more worry, stress and more hormones secreting which in turn keeps these disorders ongoing.

In many cases people have “out of the blue” panic attacks, when this is the case, you need to understand that it was not anything you thought or did that caused the sudden burst of a high stress response. But that it occurred because of your bodies overly stressed state because of underlying anxiety and stress hormone hyper stimulation.

Since anxiety disorders are NOT caused by biological problems with the brain, the root cause of anxiety unwellness is unhealthy behaviour, and since behaviours are closely tied to our system of beliefs, which are learnt, as well as our unhealthy behaviours. Yes, we’ve learned to live more anxiously than others. That’s the bad news.

The good news, however, just because we’ve learned to live more anxiously than others, we CAN ALSO LEARN TO LIVE LESS ANXIOUSLY. By changing our behaviours and how we respond to our thoughts, the body becomes less stressed and eventually returns back to normal. Behaving in healthy ways doesn’t stress the body abnormally, and a body under normal stress doesn’t exhibit symptoms of abnormal stress. We can return to and maintain normal health by learning and using healthy behaviour.

Healthy behaviour diminishes the anxiety we experience, and consequently, the stress we experience. By default, anxiety disorders and depression are eliminated and the body returns to normal stimulation. But not only is anxiety and depression eliminated by adopting healthy behaviour, we also gain a number of other benefits, such as being happier, being content, being more engaged in life, enjoying healthier relationships, and attaining a more fulfilling life experience.

Key points:

Our System of Beliefs are learned. Our System of Beliefs motivates our behaviour (the ways we think and act). The root of anxiety is learned unhealthy behaviours (thoughts and actions) that motivate apprehensiveness. These unhealthy behaviours, and the situations and circumstances that stem from them, make up anxiety’s underlying factors. Each of us constructs our system of beliefs based on our inherent personality, life experiences, influences from the people who raise us, the relationships we have, the environment we grow up in, and the things we say to ourselves about our life experience. Consequently, each of us has a unique system of beliefs, resulting behaviours, and a unique mix of underlying factors.

Research indicates that there is a high incidence of the following characteristics in people who have anxiety:

Creativity – creative people are top of this list

Being able to think outside the box more often than not

A perfectionist approach – things must be ‘perfect’

A strong desire to be successful in life

Little time for relaxation

High expectations of themselves and others

Thinking analytically

Tendency to always be in a hurry

While some of these personality characteristics are good qualities, the behaviours that stem from them can cause the development and the perpetuation of anxiety disorders.

 

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