American Psychological Association (APA), defines anxiety as an “emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”
Anxiety is uncomfortable and can be debilitating to live with.
Looking back, I remember distinctly, two periods in my life, when I struggled with anxiety without even knowing it. I would have repetitive thoughts running through my head, I would become hyper focused on my problems, loosing touch with bigger picture. Physically, I felt a constriction in my throat and tightness in my chest.
When I talked to my medical doctor, he told me that I had anxiety.
I responded to him with: “….but I do yoga and I meditate”, hoping to convince him (and myself) that it wasn’t possible.
Over the years, as I continued to do my “inner work” and as I worked with clients, I discovered these 3 top reasons for anxiety.
#1 Practical Reason
“People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns.” (APA)
This type of anxiety can arise when you’ve been ignoring facing a truth or reality of your life.
For example, when I was laid off from a corporate job due to our branch being closed, I decided to devote all my time to growing my coaching practice.
I felt excited and inspired to finally pursue my passion “full time”.
Well, after a few months of seeing my savings dwindling as I was figuring out how to attract clients, as I paid two coaches to support me and paying them money.
As time went on, I dipped into my 401K account to continue supporting myself through this transition.
My anxiety was telling me: “One day you will run out of savings. What will happen then?”
I tried to push these thoughts away. I didn’t listen to my mom nor brother who were concerned about me. I dismissed them, telling myself “they don’t understand”.
One day, I had to face the truth.
I needed to generate another source of income and my anxiety was trying to protect me from being completely broke. Now, I am making a living by doing what I love and by sharing my gifts and expertise with people.
#2 Underlying Spiritual Message
Yes, at times anxiety wants to give you a message. I learned this one from a mindfulness teacher, Tara Brach, whose course I took on anxiety.
When you hold your anxiety with care and warmth, it starts to transform into an ally or guiding spirit.
If you ground yourself, create enough spaciousness in the present moment awareness, you can gently approach your anxiety without overwhelming yourself. You can embrace it and ask it questions such as:
“What do you need?”
“What do you want to tell me?”
“What do you want me know?”
Then, you listen.
Be patient with yourself.
The answer might come right away or it might come when you are going about your day or when you are taking a shower in the evening. The message might even come to you in your sleep, when you are dreaming.
#3 Unprocessed Trauma
Another reason why anxiety arises is due to unprocessed trauma.
Dr. Gabor Mate, drug addiction and mental illness expert, defines trauma in the following way:
“Trauma is not what happens to us but what happens inside of us as a result of what happens to us, and that trauma is manifested in a disconnection from self.”
Traumatic events can be horrific, such as experiencing a war, violence, or sexual exploitation. These types of events often leave a major imprint on our nervous systems, our hearts and our bodies.
Another type of trauma that you might have experienced is called developmental trauma. It’s more hidden and it gets created if you were growing up in an environment that was dysfunctional. Dr. Gabor Mate, for example, states that, “In the young child’s early life, anxiety is an attachment alarm.”, so it initially shows up through your relational dynamics with caregivers.
The roots of anxiety can go deeper than personal trauma, though. Intergenerational trauma that is passed down from your parents or grandparents can also have an impact on you.
You might experience an underlying sense that you aren’t safe or that the world is a dangerous place to live in. I was inside of that energetic imprint when I became a refugee at the age of nine.
Remember that you are not the only person going through this struggle. Anxiety is prevalent and it’s a part of our shared human experience.
If you are holding judgments against yourself, let them go. Instead, turn towards compassion, use coping skills (i.e. deep breathing, meditations, etc.) or see a mental health professional to receive additional support. The only way out is through.