Excerpt from the book “The Truth About Fear and Depression” by Heather Denkmire
Mental disorders causing biological changes in the brain as a result of fears that are out of control. Anxiety is a feeling similar to fear but, unlike fear, it may be a result of an imagined danger.
Everyone experiences anxiety at one time or another. When people are frightened and are not sure how to respond to a situation, they feel anxious. Anxiety becomes a mental disorder when the symptoms are so severe and long lasting that they have a negative effect on a person’s life–he or she may lose sleep, have trouble at school (work), or have difficulty maintaining friendships and other relationships. Anxiety has physical symptoms such as headache, stomach upset, or perspiration.
Anxiety disorders may develop gradually over long periods of time or appear suddenly. No matter how they develop, they are relatively common psychological conditons and are treatable.
The book goes on to describe common contributing factors. I will list them in summary:
Learned Behaviors – Anxiety is a learned behavior. It may originate in family interactions. For example, parents may set very high standards of achievement for their child. If children interpret their parents’ whishes as harsh demands, they may develop an anxiety disorder in the struggle to meet thos expectations.
Specific Experiences – Specific events can activate anxiety disorders, but usually only individuals who already have psychological, inherited, or physical predispositions, such as a certain kind of brain chemistry are susceptible. However, frightening experiences, such as a house fire or being bitten by a dog, can lead to anxiety in similar situations in the future.
Psychological Factors – Anxiety is not always caused by an event. More often than not, self-talk stirs up anxiety and makes it stronger. Self-talk is what people say to themselves when everyday stresses occur. Negative self-talk can intensify anxiety. Those who learn to deal effectively with stressful situations are less likely to turn symptoms of anxiety into full-fledged anxiety disorders.
Physiological Factors – Anxiety has physical and biological causes. Your body is designed to respond to threats. This natural response is often called the fight or flight response. It originates in the brain, especially the region of the lower brain called the locus ceruleus, which controls emotional responses. During this automatic, involuntary response, the brain releases increased quantities of adrenaline, which speeds up your heartbeat and breathing. You can also suffer from panic attacks – episodes of extreme anxiety that can include heavy perspiration, feelings of suffocation and a rapid heart rate.
Drug Use – Artificially stimulating the body with chemicals can also cause anxiety. Drugs such as caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine provoke anxiety reactions. Anxiety is also likely to occur as people withdraw from drug use, including alcohol.
Environment – Certain environmental toxins (such as insecticides, mercury, and lead) can cause anxiety. These toxins affect the brain and can activate the fight or flight response that my lead to a panic attack. Threats to safety, the death of a loved one, the breakup of a relationship, difficulties at home, or failing grades can all cause high levels of anxiety or even an anxiety disorder in the short term.