Causes and Effects of Anxiety: the Chicken vs. the Egg
The causes or the effects of anxiety: which came first: the chicken or the egg? Anxiety has both causes and effects. It seems straightforward, but to those of us who have experienced it, it’s not always so clear which comes first, the causes or the effects of anxiety. It can be a frustrating chicken-and-egg conundrum.
The idea of causes and effects of anxiety implies that anxiety marches along on a nice, linear, straight path. An event happens and we react to it with anxious thoughts and feelings. Anxiety has been caused and now we feel miserable, end of story. If this seems like an oversimplification of what happens with anxiety, that’s because it is, indeed, an oversimplification.
The Idea of Causes and Effects of Anxiety can be Misleading. It's a Chicken-and-Egg Enigma
A while back, I was going along, living life, when bam, I realized I was anxious. I felt keyed-up, as if I would jump out of my own skin, my heart rate had increased, I was tense and irritable, plus I had a horrible headache and my acid reflux flared. I had no idea why.
Sometimes, people can experience anxiety without being able to identify why. The cause of anxiety isn't always clear. An effect certainly must have a cause, though, right? Probably. However, that cause isn't always obvious or direct. This is where the chicken-and-egg puzzle applies to anxiety.
When I suddenly realized I was experiencing anxiety and attempted to identify a clear cause, I discovered that, this time, there wasn't a single, obvious cause. I traced things back and discovered that days before, I had started to feel vaguely anxious. As the anxiety increased, I started worrying more about various things in my life, which, of course, fueled the anxiety.
In this instance, I didn't have an identifiable cause to my anxiety. However, as I started to pay attention to my anxious feelings and thoughts, my thoughts became focused on things in my life that I could legitimately worry about. This fueled the symptoms, which fueled the thoughts that were no longer just an effect of anxiety but had become a cause.
This is a conundrum indeed. Anxiety is frustrating and confusing enough as it is, and when there are times when the causes and effects of anxiety blend together, overcoming anxiety can seem impossible.
It Doesn't Actually Matter Which Came First, the Cause of Anxiety or the Effect of Anxiety
Thankfully, overcoming anxiety is never impossible. It’s convenient when anxiety has a discernible cause, because then we can work on that cause and thus reduce anxiety. That, though, is absolutely not a requirement for getting rid of anxiety.
Forget the chicken and the egg. Become a figurative vegan. Don’t worry about what is happening or where this ambiguous anxiety is coming from. Move on to the fruits and veggies, because fruits and veggies are healthy. Letting go of the need to separate the causes of anxiety from the effects of anxiety can be good for your mental health.
When a Cause of Anxiety Can't be Found, Work on Easing the Symptoms of Anxiety
It’s okay to make it a goal to simply feel better in the moment. Actually, it’s more than okay. It’s a very healthy goal to have when reducing anxiety.
Tune into your symptoms. While there are general symptoms that define anxiety, different people can experience different effects. What does anxiety feel like for you? Once you’ve pinpointed this, you can target the specific effects you’re experiencing.
Activities such as mindfulness to calm anxiety, deep breathing, identifying and replacing automatic negative thoughts, and eating foods that are easy to digest, are just a few ways to target the specific anxiety symptoms you’re experiencing.
Sometimes it’s just not possible to determine which came first, the chicken or the egg. It’s not always possible or even necessary to know which came first, the causes or the effects of anxiety. Sometimes, it’s only necessary to know what anxiety symptoms you’re feeling so you can work directly on those feelings to feel better in the moment.
Peterson, T. (2015, April 16). Causes and Effects of Anxiety: the Chicken vs. the Egg, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, March 4 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2015/04/anxiety-chicken-and-egg-causes-and-effects-of-anxiety
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Thank you for sharing your insights on this subject, What wonderful ideas!! Thanks for the great round-up and linking up.
I appreciate your feedback. Thank you! :)