Understanding Anxiety: Causes and Coping Mechanisms

Picture of Nokha Dakroub, MSW, RSW

Nokha Dakroub, MSW, RSW

Registered Social Worker, Psychotherapist

Anxiety is a complex and pervasive emotion that affects millions of people worldwide. It manifests in various forms, ranging from generalized anxiety disorder to specific phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety, and more. While occasional feelings of anxiety are a normal part of life, persistent and overwhelming anxiety can significantly impact one’s quality of life. Understanding the nature of anxiety, its causes, and coping mechanisms is crucial in managing this common mental health condition.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety can be described as a state of apprehension, worry, and fear about future events, often accompanied by physical sensations such as increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, and difficulty breathing. It can manifest as a response to real or perceived threats, whether they are physical, emotional, or social. While a certain level of anxiety is adaptive and can motivate us to take action in challenging situations, excessive or chronic anxiety can interfere with daily functioning and overall well-being.

Why Do We Experience Anxiety?

1. Evolutionary Perspective: From an evolutionary standpoint, anxiety is believed to have served a protective function, helping our ancestors detect and respond to potential dangers in their environment. While modern life has significantly changed, our brain’s response to perceived threats remains deeply ingrained.

2. Genetic Predisposition: Research suggests that genetics play a significant role in predisposing individuals to anxiety disorders. Certain genetic factors can influence brain chemistry and functioning, making some people more susceptible to developing anxiety disorders than others.

3. Brain Chemistry and Neurobiology: Imbalances in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders. Additionally, abnormalities in brain structures involved in regulating emotions and stress responses, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, may also play a role.

4. Environmental Factors: Environmental stressors, such as trauma, childhood adversity, chronic stress, major life changes, and socio-economic factors, can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders. These experiences can shape how the brain responds to stress and increase vulnerability to anxiety.

5. Personality Traits and Thinking Patterns: Certain personality traits, such as perfectionism, neuroticism, and a tendency to overthink or catastrophize, are associated with a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders. These traits can influence how individuals perceive and cope with stressors in their lives.

Coping Mechanisms:

1. Therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, mindfulness-based therapies, and other evidence-based therapeutic approaches can help individuals understand and manage their anxiety symptoms.

2. Medication: In some cases, medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), benzodiazepines, or beta-blockers may be prescribed to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. If you believe your anxiety may require medical treatment, make sure to discuss that with your doctor as soon as you are able.

3. Lifestyle Changes: Engaging in regular physical activity, practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation, maintaining a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, and avoiding alcohol and drug misuse can all help reduce anxiety symptoms.

4. Social Support: Building strong social connections and seeking support from friends, family, or support groups can provide emotional support and practical assistance in coping with anxiety.

 5. Self-Care Practices: Engaging in activities that promote self-care and stress management, such as hobbies, spending time in nature, journaling, or practicing gratitude, can help individuals cultivate resilience and reduce anxiety levels.

In conclusion, anxiety is a multifaceted emotion influenced by a combination of genetic, neurobiological, environmental, and psychological factors. While it can be challenging to navigate, there are various coping mechanisms and treatment options available to help individuals manage their anxiety and improve their overall well-being. Seeking professional help and building a support network are essential steps in addressing anxiety and reclaiming control over one’s mental health.