What causes anxiety?

After working for over 20 years as a psychotherapist, mainly with people with anxiety (fears), I’m observing a few common aspects of this condition.

  1. Lack of basic security in childhood (probably one of the parents was an alcoholic; prolonged illness or hospitalization; being separated from parents for some time).
  2. Feeling of guilt.
  3. Low self-esteem (critical parents and as result internalized critic; not being supported in childhood to develop healthy self-esteem; overprotective and fearful parent).
  4. Lack of spiritual aspect of life (lack of lack of well-established beliefs and values in one’s life; not having the meaning of life).
  5. Being pessimistic and having of a habit of catastrophic thinking about the future.
  6. Being a perfectionist (having too high expectations towards oneself; being too critical toward oneself and toward others).
  7. Being too controlling, having troubles to just “let go” and “go with the flow”.
  8. Not having fulfilling job or passion for something; not being able to find or follow one’s path of the heart.
  9. Not accepting and loving yourself enough.
  10. Fear of death.


What to do to overcome your fears and cure anxiety?

I will refer to the above points. Some things you can do by yourself, some will take time and might require a psychologist to assist you.

  1. Healing traumas and lack of security in childhood is usually a process that needs time and psychotherapist to assist you. First of all, you need to realize (become more conscious) what went wrong in your childhood, what should have been different and express all the difficult feelings. Then the process of healing the wounds, transformation and forgiving begins.
  2. Feeling of guilt is useful up to the moment until we realize we don’t want to do the things we are not proud of. Prolonged guilt becomes a burden and makes us think, that we don’t deserve a good life, don’t deserve to be happy and contributes to anxiety.
    Exercises you can do to reduce guilt:
    -Meditation of Buddhist teacher Prema Chodron, “Going to the places that scare you”.
    -Writing a letter to “younger you” full of love, understanding and support, like you would write to a child that you really love and care for.
    -Ho’oponopono techniques of forgiveness.
  3. In order to elevate self-esteem, there are several techniques from cognitive psychotherapy.
    You can start with making a list of your strengths, positive aspects of personality; what you like about yourself. Why would like to be your friend? Put this list on the wall so you can see it every day and let it sink to your subconsciousness.
  4. Think about what is important for you in life, what values you have, what’s your philosophy of life, what will be important on the end when you are going away from this world. Try to include spiritual aspect to it. Whatever form it might take. You might have a favourite spiritual song, so sing it every day, a prayer. You might realize that doing things to make people (family) happy is important, so start doing one small thing every day. You might like to give your gratitude to nature, so make a sacred fire, plant a flower, spend 5 minutes to be grateful for all this beautiful world that surrounds us. Maybe do something to protect nature. Whatever feels dear to your heart.
  5. Negative thinking is usually acquired from our parents or culture we live in.
    First, try to complete the catastrophic vision, then make one, alternative, but this time, very positive and finally think of more realistic outcome, that is usually somewhere in between.
    During meditation recall your whole day, everything that you did this day. Then make a new version. How does your day look like after the miracle happens overnight? You have no more problems and your life looks exactly the way you want. Try to incorporate all the senses and make it as much detailed as possible.
  6. Being a perfectionist gives us a lot of benefits. We are good in school, we do well our job and are rewarded for it. That is why it is so difficult to let it go. And we don’t have to until we are paying to high price for it. We might be lacking time for other activities, like spending leisure time with the closed ones, trying to do the perfect the project or feel all the time guilty for not being “a perfect mother”.
    Our religions also give us an example of the “perfect men” we should try to be. And there is nothing wrong with trying to be the best version of ourselves but we also have to give ourselves a credit for being a human being, making mistakes and even though trying the best be can, we have to also be gentle with ourselves when we fail.
    Exercises you can do if you are ready to lower the expectations toward yourself (and as well others):
    -Try to do things “good enough“. It is usually good enough 🙂 Not for 120% but 80%. You will see that it will be enough.
    – Tell yourself: “It is ok to make mistakes, I’m only a human“.
    – Every evening write at least 3 things you could appreciate yourself for.
    – Tell yourself: “I’m proud of you, you are doing great, the best you can!”
    – Get rid of the habit of COMPARING yourself to others. Everybody is different and this diversity of the world is beautiful. There’s always someone more or less skilful and knowledgeable than you.
    – See if you are not too judgemental toward other people. This usually works both ways. Not judging others will give you more acceptance toward yourself.
  7. Take time to write down the things you can control in your life and the thing’s you have no control over. You will probably realize that you have control over your own attitude toward the situations, over your actions but not over external circumstances and not over what other people think and feel.
    Do a meditation and imagine how the world will be after you are no longer here. You should get another perspective to what is important and worth controlling and what is better to let go.
    Remember that what you want is not always good for you. Try to meditate on the idea of trust. Do you believe in destiny? Breath in and with exhale let go all the control, all the fight, try to imagine that you are flowing with a river and surrender…
  8. Finding one’s path is not an easy task. Some of us have a lot of little talents, some have none, but for sure some personality trails predisposing us to be good at something. Often we know what we would like to do, what would be our dream job or would we like to learn but in reality, we might be struggling to survive. Taking an expensive course or starting studying when we have rent to pay and kids to take care of, seems to be a mountant not possible to climb. Some of us have no idea what we would like to do that would give us feeling of satisfaction, fulfilment and meaning of life but maybe in childhood we wanted to be… or dreamed of… or like to play in… Think about it for a moment.
    In either way, you can start with small steps. You don’t need to be an opera singer (at least not now), but you can start with listening to the operas. You don’t need to have a house in the mountains right now, but you can probably find some time to go to the nature near you as often as you can. Start with this and you will see where it will lead you.
  9. How often do we hear: “Love yourself” or  “Only if you love yourself you can truly love another person”. Easy to say, beautiful sentence and true, but how do we do it? If we don’t love ourselves it is usually due to some factors that are blocking our heart, like for example:
    – Words of critics that we heard as children and keep internalized until now.
    – The psychological or physical abuse that we have experienced in the childhood followed by the feeling of anger and sorrow.
    – Traumas of rejections from past relationships.
    – Feeling of being a victim and having less than others.
    – Feeling of treat form the outside (from other people), being separated from the rest of the world
    During psychotherapy, we work on healing the wounds that were closing our heart. We learn to cultivate the feeling of unity with all the existence and transcendent our separation. Open heart is just open, no matter if toward ourselves or others.
    There are also some techniques that help loving yourself, like:

    – Meditations with the inner child with the sentences you tell to yourself:
    1. I want You
    2. I love You
    3. I will take care of You
    4. You can trust me
    5. You can feel safe
    5. I will always be with You, even after death
    6. I love You for who You are and not for what you do
    7. You are someone very special to me
    8. I love you just the way you are, with everything
    9. I can see you and hear you
    10. You can trust your inner voice
    11. You never have to be afraid again
    12. I’m proud of you, you are doing great, the best you can
    – Telling yourself looking in the mirror: “I love you (your name) just the way you are, with everything”.
  10. Fear of death is the core cause of anxiety. Sometimes we are not even aware of it until we get deeper in our subconsciousness. On the shamanistic path, there are several rituals that help us overcome the fear of death. In psychotherapy we incorporate some of them, so can be practised in our conditions. One of the techniques we do to tame this experience is doing the meditation with visualizations of one’s death and funeral. I know it sounds creepy but in reality, after doing this we feel good, we realize what is important in life and stop worrying about little things. In Buddhist tradition, the practitioners often look at life from the perspective of death. They say that “death is the teacher of life”.

This article is meant to give you the basic tools to start working alone on overcoming anxiety and the ideas what to pay attention to in your life in order to cure this condition.

Ewa Holt