Your question: Why does my anxiety act up randomly?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Through this article I would like to explain to you how anxiety works, specifying why it can feel “random” by presenting itself at the least unexpected times and with varying symptoms, as well as psychological solutions you can implement to improve your condition.

I empathize with your situation, as anxiety is an unpleasant and upsetting experience. However, it is a natural and even necessary feeling in our daily lives, when experienced in a non-excessive manner. Anxiety is a response to external pressures that puts our body in a state of fight or flight, bringing with it uncomfortable physical and emotional sensations.

Although it may seem so, anxiety is not “random”, that is, it does not appear for “no reason”, and always has an origin, whether we can identify it consciously or not. Anxiety becomes a problem when it is intense and repetitive, appearing at unexpected moments and generating a conflict in our daily life.

Find the source of your anxiety

It is a problem when anxiety symptoms appear without warning, and seemingly without any stressful situation occurring to cause them. Anxiety can be caused by a number of reasons. Often people can easily identify the source of their anxious feelings: family, work, school, etc.

An effective strategy for this is the so-called “panic diary” (1). Basically, it consists of writing down in a notebook the situations that make you anxious, detailing what physical and emotional sensations the specific situation caused you.

Everything that goes through your body and mind is important to record in this journal, to understand what are the daily events that cause you anxiety and then work on those events to decrease the symptoms.

It is important that you write down in detail all the events related to your anxiety episodes in this diary. Writing down at what times of the day they occur, doing what kind of activities, surrounded by what kind of people. Knowing the origin of your anxiety will result in a relief that will make you understand that it is not “random” and therefore, it can be treated in a direct way, addressing the areas of your life that generate anxiety.

What happens if you don’t find a cause?

You may find the journaling task difficult or impossible for you and it may not yield results. Perhaps the anxiety occurs in unspecific situations, not associated with a particular situation. In that case, your anxiety may be related to intrusive thoughts (2) that appear without warning at any time of the day and trigger your anxious symptoms.

So even if you aren’t aware of it, there is a cause for your anxiety symptoms. Intrusive thoughts are characterized by:

  • Being uncontrollable, they appear at any time or situation of the day.
  • Being unpleasant, the message they give you is always negative, catastrophic and exaggerated.
  • Being disturbing what you are doing at the moment.

In my experience…

It can take time to recognize your intrusive thoughts, but with practice you will learn to identify them by writing them down in a notebook. These thoughts are dysfunctional and illogical, so you must constantly test them for veracity. For example, if your thought is “my boss is going to fire me” you should ask yourself questions to refute that idea: Have I been scolded by my boss recently? Has anyone criticized my work performance? These questions seek to question the intrusive thoughts, and decrease the anxiety related to them.

If even applying these techniques you feel that you do not have an improvement, you can see a mental health professional to help you in your specific situation to reduce your anxiety symptoms and control the feeling of randomness. Cognitive behavioral therapy in my experience has proven to be extremely effective for the treatment of anxiety, as it provides tools for people to have control over their emotions and thoughts.

I hope that with these suggestions you can improve. I recognize and applaud you for seeking professional counseling, because it shows that you want to feel better and you are on the right path to change the things that make you feel bad. I believe that we all have the capacity to improve, although sometimes our mind makes us believe that we have no solution. It was a pleasure to write to you.

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