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“Why Am I Anxious for No Reason?” Recognizing and Treating an Anxiety Disorder

By Olivia Guy-Evans, published March 25, 2022

by Saul Mcleod, PhD

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Why am I anxious for no reason?

Anxiety is an emotion which is characterised by feelings of worry, fear, and tension. For some, anxiety can also be so severe that they cause panic attacks and extreme physical symptoms such as chest pain.

Anxiety is often caused by a trigger, which is an event, emotion, or thought which provokes an anxious response. Many people are not aware of their triggers and believe they have become anxious for no reason. 

Anxiety has evolved as an alarm bell to move us into life-saving action. The limbic parts of our brains, which are some of the most ancient structures deep inside the brain, help us react to dangers in the environment.

The limbic system helps to activate the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which helps to make the body and mind react quickly when we are in perceived danger - we can choose to fight, flight, or freeze.

Fight or Flight Response

In the modern world, we encounter conflicts that aren’t life-threatening but our nervous system will still react as if there is actual danger, so we can react to a variety of stimuli with the fight, flight, or freeze response. 

What are some common anxiety triggers?

Anxiety triggers can be different for each person and many people may have multiple triggers. Some common triggers for anxiety include:

  • Health issues

  • Stress 

  • Social events

  • Financial concerns

  • Conflicts

  • Caffeine

  • Skipping meals

  • Medications

  • Personal triggers such as those seen in people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

It can be important to find out what is causing you anxiety as this is an important step in managing it.

How can you identify anxiety triggers?

A useful way of identifying triggers of anxiety can be to start a journal. This can be used to document your moods each day and see if any patterns of anxiety emerge.

If patterns are noticed, it can be easier to pinpoint what may be causing the anxiety. If you find it challenging to identify triggers and your anxiety is causing you distress, you can work with a therapist to help explore what may be causing you anxiety.

A specialist may use talk therapy among other methods to help find what the causes of your anxious feelings are. 

Is some anxiety normal?

Everyone feels anxious from time to time and nearly everyone has experienced some level of anxiety before. It is also normal to want to get rid of anxiety altogether since it feels uncomfortable.

However, trying to get rid of anxiety can be counterproductive as it can make you more anxious. Some believe that having some anxiety shouldn’t be seen as something threatening at all – that it is just an emotion that everyone needs to some extent. 

Occasional anxiety is a normal reaction to uncertainty about what is going to happen next. For instance, you may feel anxious about going on your first date with someone or when about to take an exam. In some ways, anxiety can be helpful.

If you do not feel some anxiety before a first date, you may not feel obliged to make an effort with the other person. Likewise, some anxiety before an exam might make you more alert and improve your performance. Often, some anxiety shows that you care enough about something compared to not feeling anxious at all. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have been feeling anxious about their health, contracting the virus, their family becoming seriously ill, and about being around others.

All these anxieties are very normal considering the circumstances. 

What is free-floating anxiety?

Free-floating anxiety describes feelings of discomfort, uneasiness, worry, and anxiety that can appear for seemingly no reason. Many times, this anxiety can feel generalised or even random, and does not appear to be tied to any particular object or situation.

Free-floating anxiety can be experienced by those with anxiety disorders but also those without. Some people can experience free-floating anxiety even when they believe things are going really well in all aspects of their life.

People with free-floating anxiety can spend so much time preoccupied with these general feelings of unease and worry that they have a difficult time enjoying their lives and experience lower levels of overall life enjoyment and happiness.

Feelings of this anxiety can also contribute to other problems such as depression, headaches, social withdrawal, substance misuse, and relationship problems. 

What can I do to stop my anxious feelings?

While we may feel inclined to want to stop all feelings of anxiety, it is important to remember that some anxiety is normal and helpful for certain situations.

Trying to stop anxious feelings is a form of resistance and can in fact make anxiety stronger. This relates to ironic processing theory which is used to explain why it is so hard to decrease unwanted thoughts.

The theory states that when we try not to think of something, such as being anxious, this will only lead to thinking more about being anxious, which leads to more anxiety.

When we try not to think of something, one part of our mind does avoid the thought, but another part ‘checks in’ every so often to make sure the thought is not coming up – therefore, ironically, bringing it to mind. 

anxiety avoidance graph

If your only strategy is to distract yourself from the anxiety or to avoid anything that may cause it, you are likely to always be afraid of it and this can contribute to the vicious cycle of anxiety. Instead, you could do some of the following to ease some of your anxiety:

Accept it

One of the most effective ways to ease anxiety is to accept it when the feeling comes. When the anxiety is allowed to run its course in the moment, without trying to resist it, it should eventually reduce.

Recognising and understanding where the anxiety is coming from can also be helpful.

For instance, you could say to yourself ‘my nervous system is getting into gear because I am worried about a social event.’

Have a non-judgemental attitude

It’s important to not criticise yourself for your anxious feelings. Remind yourself that these feelings are normal, healthy responses by your body to stressful or difficult circumstances and that this is ok. 

Understand you can still function with anxiety

Remember that you have survived through all the anxiety you have experienced in the past, no matter how hard it was, therefore you can do it again.

You can also remind yourself of the times you have performed well despite feeling anxious, meaning that you are able to succeed with some anxiety. 

Reality check 

It is useful to challenge your anxious thoughts when they emerge. You can ask yourself the following questions:

  • ‘on a scale of 1-100, how likely is it that the thing I am anxious about will happen?’;
  • ‘Do I have good reason to think that something will go wrong?’;
  • ‘Is there any actual danger here?’;
  • ‘Is there a chance I am overly worried?’

Talk to someone you trust 

It can help to share your anxieties with a friend or family member that you trust.

Another person can help to put everything into perspective and help you to challenge your anxious thoughts if you struggle to do this on your own. 

Redirect anxious energy

Try to take back control of the nervous energy you are experiencing and put it somewhere else.

You could get up and walk about, do some cleaning, or do physical exercise to help let out the anxious energy. 

Postpone the worries

It may be useful to schedule a small portion of time in the day dedicated to allowing your worries.

For instance, you could schedule to worry for 15 minutes at 4pm, but if the anxious thoughts come outside of this time, gently tell the thoughts to come back at another scheduled time. 

Make an exposure hierarchy

A common technique which is used in exposure therapy is to make an exposure hierarchy. You can first make a goal of what you want to achieve but is making you too anxious to accomplish.

You can then write down small steps you can take to help gradually expose yourself to the anxiety-provoking situation.

You start with the easiest step first and then once you feel comfortable, you move up through the hierarchy until you feel confident to reach your goal. 

Rate the anxiety 

Rating your anxiety can go hand-in-hand with the exposure hierarchy. When in the anxiety-inducing situation, you can rate your anxiety levels on a scale of 0-10.

Allow the anxiety in and notice how the feeling decreases over time. You can continue to rate your anxiety during and after the situation to notice the difference. 

Meditation and mindfulness

Relaxation exercises such as meditation and mindfulness can be useful for helping to notice anxious thoughts and any other physical sensations and where they may be coming from.

There is evidence that these practices can strengthen mental control and may help people to avoid unwanted thoughts. 

How do I know when my anxiety needs treatment?

Although anxiety is normal, if it gets to a point where it feels like it is getting out of hand and you have been unsuccessful in trying to decrease it yourself, it may be time to seek help. 

Some other signs which may indicate that you may need treatment:

  • Constant or nearly constant anxiety

  • The anxiety is disrupting your normal daily functioning

  • Anxiety about thing what don’t threaten you

  • You are experiencing panic attacks 

  • Complications occur in other aspects of life such as substance abuse, isolation, breakdowns in relationships, and struggling at school or work. 

Your anxiety may qualify as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) if any of the following symptoms occur:

  • Worrying excessively about many things at once or shifting between different topics. 

  • You have felt anxious more often than not, for 6 or more months at a time.

  • You feel out of control or like you cannot handle the stress of your anxiety.

  • A persistent feeling of anxiety or dread that interferes with how you live your life.

And the anxiety occurs with at least 3 of the following symptoms:

  • Restlessness or irritability

  • Feeling fatigued often or getting tired easily

  • Difficulty concentrating or blanking out 

  • Sore or achy muscles

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep

  • Physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches

What treatment options are there for severe anxiety?

Depending on the severity of the anxiety, there are many treatment options available which have proved to be effective for helping the symptoms. 

Medications

To treat severe anxiety and anxiety disorders, there are some short-term medications that can be taken to relax some of the physical symptoms of anxiety such as muscle tension and stomach cramping.

Benzodiazepines are the main class of medications used for treating anxiety. Some examples of benzodiazepines are:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)

  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)

  • Lorazepam (Ativan)

These medications are very strong and so are not always recommended to take long-term. They have side effects of causing high dependence and can be abused. 

Other medications such as antidepressants are medications that are not as strong and more tolerable so can be taken long-term.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which affect serotonin levels in the brain are a frequent choice for many. Some SSRIs that can be prescribed include:

  • Citalopram (Celexa)

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)

  • Sertraline (Zoloft)

SSRIs can take a few weeks to begin working and they can also have some side effects such as nausea, dry mouth, or some suicidal thoughts, specifically when beginning to take the medication. 

Therapy 

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a very common and effective treatment for anxiety disorders.

CBT helps people to identify their unhelpful thinking patterns and behaviours with the therapist, then working together to challenge and restructure these into more healthy and positive thoughts and behaviours.

In CBT, individuals can set goals that they want to work on, problem-solve, and practice new skills with the therapist. 

Rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT) is a type of CBT which focuses on identifying negative or destructive thoughts and feelings. The individual can then actively challenge those thoughts and replace them with more rational, realistic ones. 

Another type of CBT is mindfulness-based cognitive therapy which combines CBT with meditation. This type of therapy helps cultivate a non-judgemental, present-oriented attitude which is referred to as mindfulness. 

Exposure therapy is a technique that is used to gradually expose someone to a situation they fear. With the therapist, the individual can gradually challenge themselves to enter anxiety-provoking situations and learn relaxation techniques to practice during the exposure.

This is a useful technique to challenge the anxious thoughts and to demonstrate that the outcome of situations is probably not as bad as what they initially believed it to be. 

Do you need mental health help?

USA

Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

1-800-273-8255

UK

Contact the Samaritans for support and assistance from a trained counselor: https://www.samaritans.org/; email [email protected].

Availiale 24 hours day, 365 days a year (this number is FREE to call):

116-123

Rethink Mental Illness: rethink.org

0300 5000 927

Fact Checking
Simply Psychology content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

About the Author

Olivia Guy-Evans obtained her undergraduate degree in Educational Psychology at Edge Hill University in 2015. She then received her master’s degree in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol in 2019. Olivia has been working as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities in Bristol for the last four years.

How to reference this article:

Guy-Evans, O. (2022, March 25). “Why Am I Anxious for No Reason?” Recognizing and Treating an Anxiety Disorder. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/anxiety-for-no-reason.html

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