Your question: Why does my anxiety keep coming back?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Anxiety is a universal experience. All of us at various times in our lives will feel anxious to a lesser or greater extent. Although it sounds strange, in a way anxiety is necessary, since it is a kind of alert from our brain to warn us that something is wrong, and that we are facing a situation, thing or person that could put us in danger.

However, anxiety is not necessarily rational, and it can become too recurrent and intense generating problems in daily functioning. When this happens, your anxiety has become chronic, and therefore, you need strategies to learn to control it and decrease the bothersome symptoms associated with it.

Your anxiety can “keep coming back” for a multitude of reasons. Naturally you may go through periods of “quiet” without feeling anxious, until an event triggers your anxiety and makes you feel worried and overwhelmed again. 

If there have been no recent stressful events in your life that would cause your anxiety to “come back”, it is likely that your anxiety problem is related to automatic thoughts that overwhelm you and make you feel constant discomfort. It’s not that your anxiety goes away and then comes back, it’s that when you feel it, you are distracted or busy with day-to-day activities and chores.

Therefore, by learning specific strategies and getting professional help from a psychologist or therapist, you will be able to control your anxiety and prevent it from taking power over your life. You have the strength to do this, and the first step is to know the source of your anxiety.

Why does your anxiety “come back” constantly?

There are different situations that keep anxiety present in people’s lives. All of these are related to your coping strategies and external pressures. Basically anxiety is a process in which the body and mind become dysregulated because the demands and pressures from the outside are greater than the coping strategies. Some of the most common causes of anxiety are:

Stressful changes

It is normal to feel your anxiety constantly returning if you have recently experienced changes. A move, new job, love breakup and the death of a loved one are the changes that usually produce more anxiety in people. You are in a process of adaptation, learning and unlearning things to adapt to a new lifestyle, therefore, it is common to feel that your anxiety appears constantly.

Work and economic problems

Job stress is one of the main causes of anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. If you are in a job that is constantly demanding, it is common that your anxiety appears recurrently, especially in periods when you have more demands and work activities to perform, for example, the Christmas season for workers in shopping malls. On the other hand, if you are going through economic problems, you will be constantly anxious thinking about the debts you need to pay off.

Health problems

People who have recently suffered accidents or medical diagnoses may experience recurrent episodes of anxiety. This is due both to the adaptations that the person must make because of their medical problem, as well as the worrisome thoughts that invade the person regarding their health.

Identity and self-esteem

Anxiety is also related to your perception of yourself and your identity. You may experience anxiety because there are things you don’t like about your body or personality or because you feel that you are generally dissatisfied with your life in more ways than one.

Interpersonal relationships

Whether they are family relationships, friendships or couples, socialization causes anxiety because it often involves conflict and natural arguments between human beings. Interpersonal relationships are the cause of your anxiety when you have experienced many stressful encounters, which make you feel frustrated, annoyed, frightened or sad, with important people in your life.

Automatic thoughts

If there is no specific cause that makes your anxiety appear constantly, then the origin of everything is automatic thoughts. These are thoughts that arise spontaneously at any time of the day, bringing negative emotions and annoying physical symptoms, thus provoking anxiety. You can be calm during the afternoon and out of nowhere, you have a thought about your work or your family. That thought overwhelms you and leaves you feeling worried for the rest of the day. That way the automatic thoughts cause your anxiety to keep coming back, even at times when you were feeling calm.

What does it feel like to have anxiety?

Psychology(1) has studied anxiety as a complex phenomenon, which has specific characteristics that affect people in different areas. Some characteristics of anxiety are:

Cognitive symptoms: fear of losing control; fear of death; fear of “going crazy”; fear of negative evaluation by others; frightening thoughts.

Physiological symptoms: increased heart rate, palpitations; shortness of breath, rapid breathing; chest pain or pressure; choking sensation; dizziness.

Affective symptoms: nervous, tense, wound up; frightened; sadness; irritability.

What can you do to prevent your anxiety from recurring?

Anxiety cannot be completely eliminated, you must learn to control it and prevent it from taking power over your life. For this, it is important that you first learn to identify what is causing your anxiety to be recurrent, to eventually employ techniques to reduce these symptoms and confront the automatic thoughts. It is also important that you see a psychology professional for support and even more specific strategies to deal with your anxiety symptoms.

Question your thoughts

Anxiety is inevitably related to your way of thinking, so you need to modify it in order to reduce anxious symptoms. When you have automatic thoughts that overwhelm you, you should question them and modify them for a positive and functional one. For example, if during work you have an abrupt thought that tells you “you are useless”, you should respond to it internally by saying “I do the best I can to improve in my work, and although I am not perfect, I learn to be better every day”. In this way every negative and hurtful thought that appears during the day, you must confront it and replace it with a more positive and functional one.

Physical exercise

Physical activity is necessary because it allows you to train both your body and your mind. Whether in a gym, playing a sport or from the comfort of your home, physical exercise helps you release hormones and neurotransmitters related to happiness, allows you to feel more focused and helps you drain negative emotions.

Breathing and relaxation

Inhale through your nose for three seconds, exhale through your mouth for another three seconds. This while you close your eyes and feel how slowly the tension in your body decreases. You can apply this exercise for at least 10 minutes a day at different times, and just after experiencing an episode of anxiety.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

This technique consists of using your senses to dissuade emotional discomfort at a given moment. It is useful when you experience a lot of physical agitation or when you feel you have a lot of unpleasant thoughts, and you find it difficult to control your emotions. Wherever you are, you will focus on identifying 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. This will allow you to focus your attention on specific things during the period of anxiety, and slowly, the feeling of intense worry will diminish.

In my experience…

Anxiety is recurrent when people have multiple pressures and situations that make them feel constantly worried or when their automatic thoughts take over and make them feel that there is always something they should be worried about. While this may overwhelm you, there is a solution. You have the power to control your anxiety and stop it from ruining your life. Anxiety will never go away completely, but by employing these strategies and consulting with a professional, the next time it appears, you will have better tools to cope with it.

I believe you have the ability to improve and heal these feelings of discomfort you are experiencing now. The fact that you are seeking professional help through this medium proves it to me, and I applaud you for making that decision and being on track to improve your mental health and overall, your physical health

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