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Anxiety! What's Wrong With Me?

Denise Griswold, MSc, LCAS
Anxiety! What's Wrong With Me?

When people suffer from anxiety, they often blame themselves. They internalize everything they're feeling and wonder why they are the ones that have to suffer from anxiety. The question, "What is wrong with me?" is common. Many people with anxiety can't figure out why they have these symptoms.

How You Got Anxiety

You may be wondering if you even have anxiety, why you can't stop it, or if something is wrong with you as a person.

But today, we're going to try to explain how and why you suffer from anxiety in the first place - and why logic alone doesn't stop it.

Anxiety is Behavioral, Chemical, Mental, and More

The most important thing to understand is that there is rarely a specific origin of anxiety. With a few exceptions (like post-traumatic stress disorder and the rare times anxiety is caused by a health condition), the exact origin of your anxiety may never be known.

That's because there often isn't only one origin. Anxiety is something that grows over time, through a combination of genetics, experiences, feelings, reactions, and more. You can get anxiety from:

These are only a small number of reasons you may develop anxiety, and most likely every single one of them play a role in your anxiety. It should be noted that even if you are genetically predisposed to anxiety, you are not doomed to live a life plagued by anxiety. Anxiety is both preventable and able to be managed once present. A genetic predisposition neither guarantees you would have developed anxiety nor prevents you from treating it.

Many who suffer from anxiety, experience thoughts, fears, and feelings that they know are irrational. They know that they shouldn't be having them and they shouldn't be suffering but they cannot seem to turn it off.  This reason often results in a person asking “What is wrong with me?” It's also this feeling that something is wrong that lead many with anxiety to visit the doctor - because they cannot believe they would be suffering from these types of symptoms. It's also why so many people with anxiety develop depression - they feel helpless, and do not understand why their anxiety continues to spiral out of control.

So why does that occur? Why can't you use logic to stop your anxiety? There are several reasons for this, including:

Neurotransmitter Changes

The most important thing you need to understand is that anxiety occurs on a chemical level, as a result of imbalances of serotonin and other brain chemicals. Those that have a predisposition to anxiety often have naturally low serotonin levels, and those that develop anxiety without predisposition may have their serotonin levels decrease over time. Factors such as low serotonin levels are difficult to change and often feel out of our hands—that we do not have control over it. This is because when your chemicals are imbalanced it leads to your emotions and feelings changing. 

There's no way to know which one came first - whether you were genetically predisposed or developed anxiety which then caused low serotonin - but studies have also shown that it doesn't matter. If you can learn to properly cope with stress, you can increase your serotonin even if you were genetically predisposed to low levels. 

Weak Coping Mechanisms

"Stress Coping" is an often misunderstood term. People think of it in terms of activities, and when you struggle to cope with stress they claim it's because you're not doing things that are effective for stress coping. While there are activities that are helpful to control stress, true stress coping is more like a muscle. The more you use it effectively, the stronger it gets.

People that struggle with anxiety often have poor stress coping because they've been unable to put themselves in a position to cope with stress effectively. For example, they may spend too much time alone, drink to cope with stress, not have the friends and support around them necessary to give them the mental strength to move forward.

It's more complex than this of course, but the basic idea is that people develop weaker and weaker coping ability, almost like they're not working out their muscles, and that's why anxiety becomes so hard to control - because your coping muscle is weak, it gets weaker while you have anxiety, and it takes a long time to strengthen that muscle back up.

Mistakes/Lifestyle Choices

Finally, even when people are aware they have anxiety, very few people know the right to do to help overcome it. According to the National Institute of Health, fewer than 20% of those with anxiety ever seek an effective treatment.

Many people use placebo treatments, or they don't seek any treatment all. Many more skip sleep, drink alcohol to cope, spend too much time alone, avoid exercise, watch horror movies - they do all of these different activities that fuel poor coping and make it harder to control anxiety.

Making these negative lifestyle choices are problematic for those with anxiety, because they keep your coping ability weak (and in some cases can make it even weaker). Remember while there is no specific coping strategy, it's still a muscle, and if you're not exercising it correctly it doesn't get any better.

NOTE: Not all of these choices are your fault either. Remember that anxiety changes your thought processes, your desires, and more. So sometimes you'll be making mistakes that you think you want because of anxiety (such as wanting to spend time alone) that are actually damaging to your coping ability.

Anxiety is Self-Sustaining - But Treatable

You may still be asking “What is wrong with me?” The answer is nothing. You have anxiety and the reason that it's so hard to stop - and why it seems to lead to more difficulties - is because of the reasons above.

As much as it can seem impossible to stop your anxiety, it's also one of the most treatable conditions, provided you make the right choices and follow known evidence based practices.

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