When Anxiety Strikes Without a Cause
Sometimes, we experience anxiety because of an anxiety trigger. People can be diagnosed with different types of anxiety disorders, each with specific symptoms and causes. Additionally, people can experience situational anxiety where something in particular causes anxiety symptoms to flare. A student might experience test anxiety severe enough to negatively impact performance or a parent's anxiety might become heightened and nearly debilitating when he/she thinks about the various harm that could come to the child. The anxiety that is triggered by something can be painful, limiting, and downright awful, especially when one can't avoid anxiety triggers. Equally painful, limiting, and downright awful is when anxiety strikes without a cause whatsoever.
Experiencing Anxiety Without a Cause
A common complaint among people who live with anxiety is that it is all-encompassing and even paralyzing. It impacts thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It limits what people feel able to do in their lives. The worry and fear, as well as the physical symptoms of anxiety, can nearly shut us down.
When anxiety strikes without a cause, it's confusing and maddening. Sometimes things are made worse because people around us want to know "why." Why do we have panic attacks? Why can't we breathe correctly? Why are we avoiding the world?
When we're anxious but can't explain why, either to ourselves or to others, we feel even worse. Sometimes, as we wrack our brains for a reason for our anxiety, our anxiety increases. When this happens, it's not uncommon to shut down even further, nearly becoming paralyzed by anxiety and our struggle to explain it.
Let Go of Needing to Know the Cause of Anxiety
A reason anxiety increases when we struggle to answer the elusive question "why" is because in searching for that answer, we become caught up in anxiety. We expend a whole lot of time and negative energy fighting.
Even more important, when we are consumed in trying to find an anxiety cause we are anxious, we become hyper-focused on anxiety. The concepts that are receiving the brunt of our attention are anxiety, worry, fear, panic, and the like.
When we hold on to the need to know why we are holding onto anxiety itself because that is what we are thinking about. Chances are, those thoughts are not peaceful. To reduce the grip of this vague (but strong) anxiety, it's important to let go of the need to know the anxiety cause. We don't have to enjoy anxiety, but we can be at peace with the fact that there's no apparent cause for it.
To Find Peace, Shift Your Attention and Intention
Ruminating about anxiety and anxiety's cause means that's where our thoughts are. The more we think about anxiety and what it's doing to us and how paralyzing it is, the stronger it grows. Like anything (a child, a garden, whatever), what we attend to is what flourishes. In constantly wondering "why" we are giving our precious attention to anxiety and its strengths.
What if, instead, we were to ignore anxiety's strengths and pay attention to our character strengths? You're sitting at work and are suddenly struck by a feeling of intense anxiety. The more you focus on how it feels and the more you focus on wondering why it happened, the stronger and longer it will be. Instead, think of the fact that you are stronger than your anxiety.
Pay attention to what's been positive in your day thus far. Remember what you're great at and do something within one of your strengths. Perhaps you pride yourself on your kindness; you could take a quick break from what you're doing and do a small random act of kindness for someone nearby.
Will you still feel anxious? Probably, at least at first, anyway. But because you've shifted your attention to your strengths rather than anxiety's strengths and because you're doing something intentional to shift your thoughts and actions, you'll find that anxiety lessens its grip just a bit.
When we stop focusing on our anxiety's cause, we free up our minds to do other things. We really are stronger than anxiety, and when we play to our strengths rather than to anxiety's, soon it won't matter if anxiety strikes without cause because it will begin to shrink. Then, we won't have to wonder "why" at all.
NCC, T. (2015, February 12). When Anxiety Strikes Without a Cause, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2015/02/when-anxiety-strikes-without-a-cause
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
I'm sorry to hear that currently your anxiety is so bad. I noticed a sentence that indicates you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself: "...I currently shouldn't have any worries." Imposing "shoulds" and "should nots" on ourselves (which we all do -- it's a bad habit more than a character flaw) can make anxiety worse because you're judging yourself for something that's just there. I noticed something else that can be helpful in reducing anxiety. You mentioned that your life is great. That's helpful! You can have a great life that you love (for the most part) and still have anxiety. You can concentrate on all that is good -- even write it down -- and use mindfulness to stay in the good moments. When you notice anxiety, breathe deeply and return your attention to what is going well in the moment. Doing that repeatedly helps train your brain and emotions to be in the present moment rather than in anxiety.
About your increased anxiety and medication, you might want to visit with your doctor to see if there is a connection. I'm not a doctor and wouldn't try to advise you, so this is just sharing a piece of information: Sometimes, people have the opposite reaction to anxiety medication, and their anxiety increases because of the medication. Also, some treatments for other medical conditions like pneumonia can cause or increase anxiety. That might not be the case with you, of course. If you think it might be the case, talk to your doctor to see what to do about it. Don't just stop taking anxiety or any other medication or on your own to see if your anxiety improves. That can be dangerous.
Whatever the cause of your current spike, it doesn't have to be permanent. You can take steps to reduce anxiety.
No matter what is behind your current anxiety spike
I'm sorry to read of your panic attacks and how they're currently affecting your life. You've described panic and what it does very well, and I think your description will help people who are frightened about what's happening. In answer to your question, yes, you will be alright. Panic attacks (and possibly panic disoder -- although I am not in a position to diagnose) are treatable and don't have to last forever. There are both immediate and long-term actions you can take to overcome this. There isn't a quick-fix, but with time and persistence, you'll get past it. Going to see your doctor is a very good idea. He or she will help determine what, exactly, you are experiencing (panic disorder or something else) so you can treat it properly. Also, this link will take you the Anxiety-Panic homepage on HealthyPlace. It has an overview of information and lists of articles on various topics, including panic. You might find these useful. And always remember that even though it's a process that takes work, you will definitely be alright.
I forgot to include the link to the Anxiety-Panic articles. :) Here it is: https://www.healthyplace.com/anxiety-panic
From outward appearances you could never see or sense what I am feeling or thinking. In some settings am perfectly fine and seem to feel really comfortable, but for some reason Social and Work settings are the very worse for me.
I cope the best i can, but what I've managed to do best is use the anxiety and panic to obsess about being ready for the worse and most unlikely cases. We save money like nobody else can and I take over preparing to a crazy absurd level. So oddly enough my condition has brought me some forms of success along with the 1000 awkward cringe worthy memories I can't escape.
I see people who don't stress over the unknown and let things roll off their backs and I seriously envy them. If I could do this I feel i would be unstoppable... but sadly I can't even fake that. One interesting thing I've notice though about myself , when cornered or forced with no escape and confronted bluntly with a real and direct enemy if i can hang in there long enough for the anxiety and fear to subside, the person that emerges is incredibly powerful and effective. So though i don't often practice this, I do agree with the 80's Van Halen lyric "Might as well Jump" !
Today I find myself at 50yo considering early retirement just so i can crawl under a rock somewhere and live out my remaining days modestly but in peace. It's all i think about lately.
It sounds like you have faced many challenges from a very early age. It also sounds like you have created success in many different areas of your life. You have been advancing despite anxiety or help for anxiety, and that's amazing. What you notice about yourself hanging in there and then becoming powerful and effective is inner strength, grit (which, in part, is a combination of perseverance and resilience), and the real you emerging from anxiety's trap. You have evidence from within and from your actions that you can reduce anxiety and live the quality life you want.
If I had to guess, I'd say that the quality life you envision isn't under a rock. I do understand that feeling first hand so what you're describing makes perfect sense (and many people with anxiety have that same thought, so know that you're not alone and, despite how you were raised to believe, your anxiety is not a defect nor is it something inherently wrong with you). Have you given yourself the chance to envision what you want your life to be? What is your idea of a quality life? Odd as it may seem, answering that question (take your time to explore it) may be the best starting point for you. Any number of the things you mentioned may be the root of your anxiety (probably it's a combination of several or even all). The cause doesn't always matter. What matters most is where you are right now and where you want to go. Once you determine what you want your life to be like, you can take steps to make it happen plus steps to reduce your anxiety along the way. It's a process that doesn't happen in an instant, but it will open your life a great deal. You can find peace and happiness in your world.
Thx for your article and your reply.
While the pain you describe can definitely be associated with generalized anxiety, it could be part of many different physical and mental health conditions. Seeing your doctor could be a good idea and a logical place to start. He or she can help rule out any physical problem and can help you explore anxiety. Doctors can often recommend therapists, too. Getting to the bottom of your pain will help you know exactly what to do to treat it.
I have been experiencing random anxiety/ panic attacks everyday, the sad thing is there is no specific reason. I have been worried about my health for awhile however I did all the necessary test and they came back almost perfect.
I also, get headaches, faintly, and feelings of losing control I've been to a psychiatrist but meds have great side effects.
How do i cope?
It's frustrating when there isn't an obvious reason for anxiety and panic! When there's a reason, at least there's a starting place, something tangible to work on. That said, you can do something about anxiety and panic without knowing why they're happening.
Two approaches that are especially useful for this are acceptance and commitment therapy and mindfulness. (Mindfulness is a component of ACT, and it also stands on its own). With these, the emphasis is on grounding yourself in the present moment (which helps you minimize the symptoms in the moment as well as lasting negative effects). The other emphasis is on defining what you want and taking action to move toward those goals. Rather than stopping anxiety and panic, you're creating the quality life you want. In doing this, anxiety and panic will wither. It's not a quick fix, but it is an effective one.
These articles briefly explain ACT and mindfulness. Also, I've added a link to resources for finding a therapist in case you'd like to work with someone, whether you like the sounds of ACT and mindfulness or wold like to take a different approach. There are many approaches to mental health!
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Stop Avoiding Anxiety (note: It doesn't sound to me like you're avoiding anxiety, but there's good into about ACT in the article) https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2015/07/stop-avoiding-anxiety-acceptance-and-commitment-therapy
Using Mindfulness for Anxiety: Here's How: https://www.healthyplace.com/self-help/anxiety/using-mindfulness-for-anxiety-here-s-how
Types of Mental Health Counselors: Finding a Good One: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/mental-illness-overview/types-of-mental-health-counselors-finding-a-good-one
Even without a cause to target, you can overcome this anxiety and panic. Think about how free you'll be without them!
I'm so glad you discovered some helpful information! You have a great deal of insight into yourself and your anxiety. This is great because it can help you overcome anxiety, but at first it can make anxiety worse. When you know a lot about your anxiety, it becomes easy to overthink it. At least at first. That will get better. Have you considered talking with a therapist? Mental health therapy can help a lot. Just a thought!
Welcome to HealthPlace and Anxiety-Schmanxiety! I'm very glad you have found a fit -- but I'm also sorry that you feel a fit. :) Anxiety can be rough, but as you've seen already here, you're not alone. Feel free to respond to others' comments as you want to (no obligation). You just might find tools and ideas to help overcome anxiety.
Your symptoms are very much a part of social anxiety (although I wouldn't do you harm by stating that you or do not have a certain type of anxiety. Anxiety is too complex to truly pinpoint in this setting.) That disclaimer aside, your symptoms do fit social anxiety. It has a way of perpetuating itself and even making itself worse because people want to avoid letting others see the physical symptoms. So they withdraw more and more and become increasingly isolated. It's very good that you recognize what you're experiencing and want to stop it. Sometimes people just want to isolate until things just get better; sadly, things don't get better that way.
Many things can help (so don't give up hope). Two things in particular are proven useful: exposure and mindfulness. With exposure, you put yourself in social situations and learn to stick with it despite discomfort. Your brain learns that there's no real threat and that you can do well. You want to do it gradually to avoid increasing anxiety and even panic. Maybe enlist the help of a trusted friend to practice having conversations. When you can do it without anxiety symptoms, up the ante. Enlist another friend. Work your way to more. Practice going in after school to talk to a teacher. Gradually increase your interactions. This is a common practice in therapy for fears and phobias (social anxiety disorder is also called social phobia). It might be beneficial for you to do this with the support of therapist.
The other practice is mindfulness. Get into the habit of being mindful in all that you do. With mindfulness, you pay attention to what you're doing and where you are in the present moment by focusing on all of your senses. It pulls you out of your anxious thoughts. Given what you're experiencing, you don't want to focus on your body because you'll hone in on your physical symptoms. Instead, pay attention to the sights, sounds, and smells around you. Mindfulness calms mind and body. Both of these tools are things you can begin using now, unless you'd rather to exposure with a therapist. It can wait until you find one. You can overcome this -- your social interactions won't stay crippled.
I appreciate your feedback about my message. Thank you.
I say this with sincerity: congratulations for coming as far as you have in overcoming social anxiety. It's possible to overcome social (and other) anxiety in high school, but it is difficult given the nature of high school. But add prolonged bullying to the mix, and it becomes even harder because of the way a bully affects the person he/she is bullying. You clearly have many strengths and a great deal of grit (a combination of resilience and passion).
You have been able to come far, and you will make even more progress. Because of where you are and what you have been able to do, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) comes to my mind. It involves learning to accept certain things, separate yourself from them, practicing mindfulness, being able to observe yourself, determining your values/what's important to you, and taking committed action to work toward those values. That's just a quick overview. What it does is, even while you are still doing things to reduce your anxiety, let you move forward and live the life you want to live despite some social anxiety hanging around. It doesn't mean giving up or giving in. It means moving forward regardless.
Here's a link to an article wrote here on the HealthyPlace Anxiety-Schmanxiety blog. If you're interested, it gives you a better overview of how you can use it. If you decide you don't like ACT, keep searching for what works for you. You're not done overcoming. :)
Anxiety can absolutely start when someone stops drinking, smoking, or both. Quitting these things isn't easy, and the brain goes through changes during the process. It is highly possible that your anxiety stems from neurochemical activity in the brain (which is probably why your doctor prescribed Sertraline -- and you're right in that it takes time to feel the effects). Many times when people quit drinking and smoking, they experience changes in their environment and activity, too. People who typically drank in a bar, at parties, etc. might stop going to those places or continue to go but not drink. These changes can cause anxiety, too.
Stopping drinking and smoking (both at once is even more intense) can cause people to develop anxiety. This anxiety is often temporary and will subside once your brain and lifestyle habits adjust to the change.
If, after several months, you are still experiencing significant anxiety, you might consider going back to your doctor and/or seeing a therapist. You'll get strategies for overcoming your anxiety.
There is almost always a reason anxiety disorders develop, but it's not always obvious. In some cases, people never pinpoint a cause. It could be brain activity or something in their past or present life that they don't realize is making them anxious. But you don't have to know a reason. Just know that it's there, recognize what it's doing to you, and discover ways to overcome it.
I just discovered your comment, and even though it's been three months, I'd like to reply. I'm happy that you liked the article. You are so right in that anxiety attacks aren't easy. Keep reading to learn things you can do to bring them to an end, and keep trying new things. While there are no quick fixes, you can overcome anxiety attacks.
I just now discovered your comment (It's March!). Although it's a bit late, I just wanted to thank you for your comment. I'm so glad that this article was helpful. And I hope this perspective is still working well. If not, it's okay to try it again. And then again. :)
Anxiety comes in many forms, and there are specific anxiety disorders. Each is very unique, including PTSD (which was officially classified as an anxiety disorder until the release of the DSM-5 with its reclassifications). Every individual is also very unique. In some cases, there is absolutely an underlying cause to anxiety, especially with PTSD. While for some people, exploring the root can lead to further trauma, for many people, identifying and processing what happened leads to healing. Some people experience anxiety or an anxiety disorder but there isn't an obvious cause (that doesn't mean that there isn't a cause at all, but it's in the background). In some cases, people become stuck trying to figure out what is causing the anxiety, and that actually increases the anxiety. In these cases, it's helpful to let go of trying to find a cause because that will free up more energy to find solutions. I'm very glad you shared your thoughts. I wish you continued success as you work through anxiety and PTSD.
<b>I have just learned that panic attacks and anxiety attacks are different. <b>Panic attacks are neurological, whereas anxiety attacks are mental. I suffer from the latter.
Thank you for the article.
Thank you very much for reading and for commenting. I'm very glad you found this helpful and worthy of passing along to others! I appreciate your letting me know that. Like you, I've seen many people dealing with this ambiguous, yet very real, anxiety so wanted to address it.