Causes of anxiety disorder

Something that I think affected people are really interested in. How did it come about? What is it? Where did it come from?

For a neurosis to develop, two conditions must be met. First, our brain should be sensitized to stress in some way. Here nutritional deficiencies and illnesses play their part, and of course genes and childhood traumas that can permanently distort the personality. Second, there should be chronic stress. Of course, when any of these factors are present in really high intensity, that is enough to cause illness. Both very severe disorders (e.g., severe hyperthyroidism or extreme magnesium deficiency) and very severe and prolonged stress can trigger panic attacks on their own.

The physiological factors are too complex and there are too many to analyze in detail, so I will focus only on the mechanism of stress.

I will now use colloquial language, so those with medical training please forgive me. The inaccuracies in the following paragraphs are meant to simplify the message and help visualize it for people without such a background. There is something in our body that has the name “autonomic nervous system”. This is the part of the “brain” that works, so to speak, independently of us, all those nerve cells that are responsible for our emotional state. It consists of two elements in balance, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

In very simple terms, every animal on earth can be in one of two states. One is arousal, occurring during a fight or flight, and the other is relaxation, when you can eat peacefully, unconcerned with your surroundings. Energy reserves that animals can use to live are very limited, so nature “invented” this division. At the moment when we fight, we stop digesting, while when we calmly eat and rest, we do not lose strength for constant looking around and watching for threats. This “stimulating” phase is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, while the “relaxing” phase is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system.

Anxiety disorder can be defined as an excessive, constant stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. We are constantly in the “fight or flight” phase, constantly nervous, constantly looking for threats. We are on the verge of a panic attack (their mechanism is described in the chapter devoted to them), sometimes this permanent stimulation is described as “generalized anxiety syndrome”.

How does this “vicious circle” of neurosis arise? Let’s imagine a stimulus. For example, it could be a garbage truck passing by your window every morning. A healthy person would not react to it, but when the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, we look for threats everywhere. Even when they are not there, we are subconsciously convinced that something is lurking right behind us. That garbage truck becomes for us what a tiger or a bear used to be. Or a warrior from a neighboring tribe.

We stay up all night because we “know” that if we fall asleep, the threat will surprise us. Because of this, we become more and more irritated and we become even more screwed up, we become angry at ourselves because we can’t fall asleep. As a result, our anger is focused on that garbage truck, making it occupy our mind even more and associate it even more strongly with the threat! A kind of vicious cycle is created.

The situation is even worse with the people around us. When we are stimulated by the sympathetic nervous system, we see a potential enemy in everyone. Every conversation turns into an argument. We simply become incredibly annoying, pumped up with some kind of aggression that is incomprehensible to others. As a result, people become more or less openly hostile toward us. Through constant quarrels and conflicts we become even more irritated, we constantly feel attacked by those around us. It does not matter to the brain that we ourselves have caused the aggression, it just sees the threat and stimulates the secretion of hormones responsible for the “run away or fight” attitude.

By the way, here is also a place for obsessive neurosis. With such over-stimulation, patients often rationalize their subconscious fear by repeatedly performing the same actions or, for example, biting their nails. The objects on which their obsession is focused become the personification of this subconsciously felt threat, and their behavior becomes a symbolic “struggle” or taming.

My main focus on the site is the impact of nutritional deficiencies and medical conditions. These are the ones that can cause stress hormone levels to rise significantly, that stimuli that normally don’t matter suddenly throw us off balance. But I hope that by now everyone clearly sees the other treatment option, which is to break this “neurotic circle” through behavior change. If we force ourselves to behave sympathetically, the environment will stop “attacking” us, and as a result the sympathetic nervous system overactivation will gradually begin to extinguish. Meditation, stretching and relaxation, described in another chapter, have a similar effect. It is enough that we relax our muscles, and stimuli that normally “turned us on” suddenly become indifferent, and gradually we move towards balance with the parasympathetic system.