Where does anxiety come from?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 24, 2023, 7:45 PM | comments: 0

I had an interesting chat with my therapist recently about the origin of anxiety. The short story is that anxiety isn't exactly causal the way that stress is. A difficult situation can cause stress, but anxiety is more about what might or could happen. It's an interesting distinction, because stress is something that you can avoid in many ways, by just not engaging with things that cause it. I imagine that involves never leaving the house or doing anything though, so not ideal. Anxiety can be a little like that, sort of, but it's up to your brain to figure out how to rationalize the probability, or lack thereof, that something might happen.

Why does this matter? Because if you're experiencing anxiety, and you don't want to, you have to figure out what the source of it is. That's tricky since sitting up right can invite anxiety, and the things that you worry about could be subconscious. How is that for some psychological bullshit? Something that you can't even point to can mess with your sense of being.

There is some emerging data that Americans have been experiencing more anxiety since the years leading up to the Covid pandemic, and of course, that whole thing just blew the doors off of things. The reasons are harder to pin down. Things that were pushed outside the realm of polite conversation have come back into the mainstream, including racism and hateful discrimination toward all minorities. These things were there before, but at least people engaging in them were marginalized. We elected a president who did it. Then millions of people died of an illness we did not anticipate, and while that was being sorted out, we had an insurrection. We have book bans and healthcare restrictions and it's harder to vote, and all at the hands of people who do not constitute a majority. If a straight white guy can be anxious about that, I can only imagine how others feel.

Much of my own anxiety is related to my age. On one hand, I feel more qualified than ever to do life, because I've seen some things. That instills confidence. But celebrities from childhood are dying, I'm feeling a little weight from financial irresponsibility in my youth, I have to take medicines for my thyroid and cholesterol, and my eyes get tired at night. On top of that, I'm a parent to a teenager, which is exceptionally hard, and I feel like I need to be doing more to leave the world in better shape than we found it (that's not going well). Oh, and I don't know how long it will take me to reconcile life with autism and ADHD or what it means for me the rest of my life. Oh, and the time that passed since I graduated from high school might be the same amount that is left. Cheerful, right?

Despite all of that, I'm actually fairly optimistic about a great many things. I'm more content than I was a few years ago, by a lot. I'm doing a bunch of things that I enjoy. I have the best possible partner in the world. I get to travel. So why is it that anxiety can creep in sometimes and I can't get up and move beyond it? I mean, suggesting meditation when I'm SQUIRREL! is not really helpful.

Certainly I've lived with anxiety my whole life, but I'm not sure why it ebbs and flows as it does. I guess that's on the agenda for my next session.


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