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3 Often Overlooked Causes of Anxiety (And What to Do About Them)

Anxious Mind

“Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.” ~ Albert Einstein

An anxious mind is a hard burden to bear. In fact, if you suffer from an anxious mind it can truly feel like a curse.

The racing thoughts. The daily tirade of “what ifs.” The relentless voice of your inner critic constantly nagging you and deriding your every move.

And the worst part is that the mental chatter feels uncontrollable. Truly, there were times when I struggled in vain to quiet my mind.

It was like there was some hub or center in my brain that had gone haywire, that had flipped into overdrive and couldn’t be switched off.

I used to despair a lot over my unquiet mind. Even the great spiritual masters struggled to achieve mastery over their minds, so how could I?

I read a lot about mindfulness and tried some mental mastery techniques like the Sedona Method and Emotional Freedom Technique. I meditated. These techniques helped, but the results would only last for a short time; the underlying issues driving my anxiety persisted and whatever peace I got would be short-lived.

I eventually realized that if I was to quiet my chatterbox mind I would have to stop trying to control my mind and focus instead on letting my anxiety teach me what it wanted to teach me.

I started keeping a dream journal (I had many of the typical anxiety dreams). I also started to get real with myself, sitting still with my anxious thoughts whenever they occurred and letting myself be receptive to what they were trying to show me.

I went from trying to control and resist my anxious thoughts to the deeper place of understanding their underlying message and inherent wisdom. Here’s what I discovered.

An anxious mind can be caused by:

1. Unresolved relationship issues

It turns out an anxious mind can be caused by unresolved issues in our interpersonal relationships. The anger, jealousy, regret, or unspoken feelings (positive or negative) that we harbor toward people lives on in our subconscious minds, undermining our inner peace. This is true even when we are not around those people or consciously focusing on them.

For me, I had spent many years silently harboring anger toward my mother and father for perceived failures as parents. I was also holding on to an infatuation with a former flame that I hadn’t seen in years, and was still mentally “tuned into” negative relationship dynamics from as far back as my high school years.

As I began to face up to these unresolved relational issues, releasing people from my heart’s tribunal, my anxiety decreased to a surprising extent. I literally felt like I could breathe easier.

2. Unexpressed gifts or desires

Anxious thoughts can be the result of unexpressed gifts, especially if the thoughts center around your career or how you spend your free time. In this way, anxiety is a manifestation of inner guidance.

There is some gift or higher aspect of who you are that wants and needs to be expressed, but that has been denied expression because of fear.

Psychologists have figured out that human beings have an inherent drive for self-actualization—to fulfill our individual potential. When there are obstructions to self-actualization, anxiety takes root.

In ancient times, prophets often spoke of the urge to prophesy as being like a “fire shut up in their bones.”

Anxiety is like this―a bottled-up feeling of having something inside of you that you long to express. The gift, desire, or calling within that longs for expression is bigger than you; it is tied up with your purpose for existing, which is why it feels so painful when it is suppressed.

For me, my anxiety was telling me that I had a gift for using words and expressing myself through writing that I wasn’t cultivating enough. I also had leadership abilities and a yearning for spiritual development that I was ignoring.

It could be latent artistic gifts, the secret desire to adopt a child, or a pull toward motivational speaking. Whatever it is, learning to express it will work wonders for your anxiety.

3. Guilt

Guilt is the emotional and cognitive state we experience when we feel we have done something wrong. We may have violated our own moral code or expectations, or those of others, or we may simply think that we have done something wrong even when we haven’t.

Whatever the case, we feel judged (or we judge ourselves harshly and unforgivingly) for our actions, thoughts, or simply for being who we are.

And because it’s so hard to express guilt (it’s not like anger where you can punch some pillows), guilt is often an internalized emotion, commonly referred to as a “bothered conscience.” Guilt sinks deep into our subconscious and manifests as anxious thoughts―it’s like our inner critic on heroin.

At one time I harbored a lot of guilt over old friendships I had broken off. I had broken off those friendships because they were limiting my growth yet I still felt like I had violated my own standards of what it meant to be a good friend, hence the guilt.

I walked around for years with a lot of anxiety because my guilt-tripped inner critic was always telling me that I hadn’t been a good friend in the past and never would be.

I would feel guilty if I was anything less than the perfect, always-available, always-upbeat friend, and the fear that I wasn’t a good friend made me anxious about forming new friendships. I was always worried that I was doomed to mess up my friendships.

It was only by examining my guilt more closely that I came to understand that my standards of being a good friend were irrational; after all, people change, it’s okay to move on, and you don’t have to be a perfect person to be a good friend.

So our guilt is often irrational or out of proportion with what’s really at stake. And even if you feel your guilt is justified, remember everyone makes mistakes.

You deserve self-compassion. So embrace it and put your anxious mind at ease!

Photo by Gianni Cumbo

About Summer Edward

Summer Edward is a Philadelphia-based writer, poet, and children's literature specialist. She holds a Bachelors degree in Psychology and an M.S.Ed. degree in Reading, Writing, Literacy from the University of Pennsylvania and is the recipient of a Roothbert Fellowship awarded to people motivated in their life's work by spiritual values. She blogs at www.summeredward.com.

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  • Great possible reasons on suffering from anxiety!
    There was this trick I learned from a TV Show “The Mentalist”! How it works is… Whenever you feel stressed, you’ve to count numbers!
    Take a long deep breath and count 1, then exhale counting 2! Repeat it again as 1,2 and 1,2!
    I do this when I get uncontrolled mind! Maybe, you guys too can try it!
    Thanks for sharing, Summer!
    Take Care!
    Have Fun With Your Life!

  • Jenny Szewiel

    Thank you so much for this insightful article. I have been having a stressful, anxiety fueled time recently, and reading this has helped me clarify why and reminded me to be compassionate with myself. I’m grateful you have followed your yearning to write!

  • Anders Hasselstrøm

    Thanks for a great post Summer,

    I have learned a few things from the book “How to stop worrying and start living” from Dale Carnegie. Most people can benefit from reading this book.

    I think Sandeep is touching upon something interesting with his comment below. Anxiety is often caused of the unknown. We don’t know what to expect and it scares us. Counting numbers helps us because we become more rational in the mean time. Try it. Another practical method to use is to focus on breathing. When I do this exercise I typically inhale for 2 seconds and hold my breath for 8 seconds before exhaling for 6 seconds. Doing this will help you get some mental ease. It works for me 🙂

    Best,
    Anders Hasselstrøm
    Motivational speaker

  • Thank you so much for this post. I don’t think I have ever related more to a post on this site than this one.. you really summarized all the feelings of anxiety. I definitely agree with you when you about the unexpressed gift point – I have also recently started blogging and writing, and when I do that it really feels like I’m releasing all the stuff I have kept hidden inside for my whole life, and it’s very therapeutic!

  • Augusta

    “As I began to face up to these unresolved relational issues, releasing people from my heart’s tribunal, my anxiety decreased to a surprising extent.”

    How do I do this? I want to do this but I am absolutely clueless about the actual practical steps to take to do this.

  • RandyH

    Great post, Summer!

  • Tom

    Summer, this is outstanding! Thank you! Just reading this has made me realize that I “suffer” from each of the issues presented. Now I think I can begin to heal myself from a lifetime of severe anxiety and panic attacks. Thank you so much!

  • michelle

    HI Summer
    I too have suffered from anxiety – like you would not believe. For 20 years. Been in hospital, medication, lost jobs etc. And I can hand on heart say EFT is a miracle. But you need to treat the roots of the anxiety – NOT the anxiety. So it will calm you down when you feel anxious if you focus on calming your anxiety – but this will not be long term. you need to focus on what is causing your anxiety. And it will be something however irrational. With me it was my fear of becoming anxious. too much to talk about here …..but it really is a miracle tool if used to tackle the right thing. Hope you are feeling so much better, Michelle

  • Talya Price

    Wow, just Wow. unresolved relational issues. That is one of my main problems. However, I have been working on it. I have to keep reminding myself that I am worthy of love and the life that I want to live. Thank Summer for posting this, Very inspiring.

  • Leslie

    How do I face up to the unresolved relational issues? I am wondering too! Thank you!

  • kildi

    Help me guys…if i’m constantly worried about my mum drinking again or my sister doing drugs, how can i relax?! someone tell me..

  • Leeza

    I have faced up to unresolved relational issues and released many of these from the past, it is very liberating. What do you recommend for ongoing unresolved relational issues that are realistically not likely to change with family members that are still in your life and going to be indefinitely. I keep having to “re-release” some of the same issues with the same people… I would appreciate any advice you can give–thanks!

  • sandra

    I had to clear out friends that dragged me down or sucking the life out of me. I started by being true to me..this caused a stir..friends did not like..so they went away. It is step by step..be true to you and things fall into place. People get the message..be less available..turn down offers..You will feel on top of the world..life is too short to be with people who are not right for you..

  • Sandra

    when I obsess about people. I realize they are not worried about me. addicts are selfish people.. I worried about my husband who is an addict for 25 years. I wish I had the years back. He is in treatment but it is up to him to change. I no longer worry about him..

  • Douglas Cave

    Thank you. What a nice phrasing of these ideas. You have made them welcoming.

  • DanielleWCarter

    That inner voice is strong! All great points. Definitely going to take a nature meditation trip to clear my mind. Thank you for sharing this article!!! -Dani W http://daniellewcarter.com

  • junebug

    Thank you for this post. I needed it after last night’s events. I am working on releasing my belief that I am not good enough for anyone.

  • Ali Skylar

    Summer, good points and kudos to you for reaching for the root cause instead of a quick fix..:) I think Michael Brown, author of The Presence Process said it best when he mixed around the letters to describe anxiety as a state in which we desire “any exit.” Perfect way to see how doesn’t really matter what the cause is, but our reaction is always to get the heck out of whatever situation is making us uncomfortable. So how do we stay grounded in being uncomfortable in dealing with the causes? Geert Verschaeve’s has a cool answer I love. For anxious people’s world of “What if?” answer yourself with a SO WHAT!! I have to admit tho that I do love quick and creative fixes for shifting…:)

  • ” #2. Unexpressed gifts or desires”

    Yep. That’s my anxiety in a nutshell.

    This was SUCH an awesome post for me, thank you!

  • Nga

    I really needed to read this. I’ve been struggling with every single one of your points – and as I type this, my chest feels tight from the anxiety that’s been heavily sitting with me for the last 2 days.

    The guilt from letting go of friendships comes and goes, but when it comes, it sticks for a while. I forget about self-compassion and everything I’ve worked so hard to achieve. But, here’s to taking a deep breath and getting the self-compassion muscle working again.

  • Manuel Hernandez

    Thank you very much for sharing your writing.

  • babs

    Thank you Summer. Dealing with this stalemate right now. Love your article

  • sl

    *highfive* Your experience is very similar to mine and reading it feels as though someone just wrote about me. I am really glad that there are others who experience the same issues too. It made me feel like I am not alone in my struggles. Thank you very much!

  • carla m holden

    GUILT! thats a big one. I constantly remind myself to simply let go of the past and correct forward from where I presently stand. What’s done is done, trust that something greater is working it all out on m behalf.

    Peace 🙂

  • The second bullet speaks most to me. Just finding the time to make that expression is the difficulty. Full time work, family, and other responsibilities can chew up time like nothing else. Whatever the expression (for me, it’s writing), you need the time to express it. I have definitely felt the anxiety when too many days slip by without doing my own art.

  • meitaljames

    There are also little known physical causes for anxiety, such as lack of certain amino acids and magnesium (http://www.natural-alternative-therapies.com/anxiety-causes/)

  • I don’t necessarily think 1. is overlooked often. But I have to agree that these causes can prove to be very stubborn and often hard to spot yourself. The overlooked passion and guilt can prove to not only be stressful, but a source for depression as well.

    At maybe 17, I decided that my life wasn’t going anywhere, and that it was time to just hand in the towel and try to enjoy it as best I could. But a lot books, TV shows, and Movies later, I realized that I was driving myself crazy.

    It was affecting me in two ways, I felt guilty for not trying, despite being given this chance, and I had no energy because I felt no purpose. That’s no way to live.. you don’t necessarily have to quit your job, but at least keep a passion on the side. A healthy “mistress” that will help you reduce anxiety and enjoy your life more.

  • Taoistsophia .

    Self enquiry is a path to begin to end unresolved issues. The first thing to see is that everything unresolved is a thought in the mind your thinking about. Thoughts are not that actual happening but a memory of it, thus there is nothing to fear by entering into the issue or the thought. In other words thoughts have no power of their own to harm you, they are only thoughts. Understanding this clearly, that there is nothing to fear from any thought is a key that unlocks the door to opening it, to allow yourself to go in to the issue and come to understand the truth of it. Take one issue at a time and be not afraid to go into it, ask yourself questions to get to the root of it, this is self enquiry. Eventually the truth of the issue will be revealed within you, or it will “dawn” so to speak and then once it is understood you will naturally move past it because you wont cling to the thought of it any more because you will have understood the truth of it. Issues/problems are like shadows, if you’re afraid of them they’re always right there behind you, chasing you, yet if you turn and face them without fear, you see that it was only a shadow.

    Namaste,

  • Taoistsophia .

    “What do you recommend for ongoing unresolved relational issues that are realistically not likely to change with family members that are still in your life and going to be indefinitely. I keep having to “re-release” some of the same issues with the same people”

    Do you want to spend the rest of your life re-releasing? Does this not waste much energy? WHat happens if you just unconditionally accept people exactly as they are? What happens if you don’t expect people to act, think or behave the way you think they should? Would you not be free from this mental sabotage of re-releasing and re-releasing through unconditional acceptance? Do not you yourself want to be unconditionally accepted as you are? Then give what you want, its that simple. Thus in giving so do you receive.

    Namaste,

  • Taoistsophia .

    Who is it that believed the thought that said you’re unworthy of love? If you can believe the thought that you’re unworthy of love, why can’t you believe the thought that you are worthy of love? Its just the opposite side of the same coin. Now, not only are you worthy of love, but in fact you are love at the deepest core of your being. We all are. Care not what the past has held, what you’ve said or done or what others have said or done, just accept what you already know to be true and that is that you are love, and so is everyone else at their core. I know the world doesn’t show this often but thats only because, like you, they’ve come to believe that they’re unworthy of love, as if they need to go get it from somewhere outside themselves. That’s the illusion, that you’re lacking something, when the fact is you’re already everything you need to be, you’re perfect exactly as you are, just know it! How couldn’t you be? What if the world knew who it truly is, and stopped hiding in fear and un-acceptance and let their innate love/light shine?
    Thus, go and be the love you know you are inside and in so doing you will not only feel good yourself, but help others to feel good about themselves.

    The only problem in life is believing that life is a problem, its not a problem to be solved but a journey to be experienced.

    It was Buddha who said: You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.

    Just know you are love, then you can give what you know you are.

    Namaste,

  • Talya Price

    Thank you for the reply. This has really got me thinking. I know I am worthy of love and worthy to live the life I want. It’s funny that I am reading your reply now, but I have made a very important decision in my life to move to Berlin to pursue my dream in becoming a professional actress. Most of my life I have let fear guide me, and now I know this is what I really want to do with my life. I know if I don’t go to Berlin I will regret it. And I won’t achieve my goals. But a part of me is still scared and worried that I will be out on the street, that I will be poor, lonely, and I will fail. But I know I have to do this. Or I will be stuck.

  • Taoistsophia .

    Use the energy of fear to propel yourself past it. In other words, our fear is there to help us over come it. Failure is the result of not trying, of doing nothing. Show me someone who makes no mistakes, and I’ll show you someone who never gets out of bed! Mistakes are what we learn from, mistakes are not failures, they are lessons, and in fact how we as human beings learn. If we were perfect and knew everything, life would be very boring.

    Let your light shine in whatever form of self expression reveals your inner nature.

    Trust yourself. If you don’t trust yourself you live in distrust and then accept this false state as true. Yet, if you distrust yourself, then how can you trust the distrust of yourself? You see, either way you are really trusting yourself, either in a positive sense or in a negative sense, but either way you are at the center.

    How can we overcome fear without entering in to it? If we run away from fear, is it not like a shadow, always chasing us? Yet, if we turn and face the shadow do we not see it for what it is…….only a shadow we ourselves are casting?

    Its when we struggle in life that not only our innate wisdom and commonsense kicks in to help us out of it, but those we reach out to for help reveal their innate compassion and empathy, and that somehow together you eventually move past the storm. No storm lasts forever.

    Peace

  • Talya Price

    You are absolutely right. It is interesting how The Universe works. I was thinking that I really needed someone to talk to about this transition in my life. Because everyday I think about this and I think about all that I have overcome in the past 3 years. Now I have an opportunity to achieve my dream and of course there are always obstacles to over come, but I guess an old part of me is dying and a new part of me is being reborn. This transition is crazy.

  • Taoistsophia .

    Change is the one constant in life, its always changing, and so are we.
    I agree totally on the universe, when you allow it to work, it works with you. We need to trust it, which is us trusting ourself to trust it. It took me quite some time and much suffering to learn this and to stop fighting against the ways of life.

    When you try to swim upstream all you get is exhausted, much better to relax and just flow with life and allow it to take you exactly where you need to go. This doesn’t mean you don’t do anything, or that life is going to be problem free, but that you have the innate ability, wisdom and commonsense to adapt, learn, grow and overcome all that life throws at you.

    I wish you the best in all you do.

    Peace

  • Talya Price

    Thank you so much! 🙂

  • Rol

    What a post!!! great insight. I completely share all what you describe. Do you have any suggestions to fix those 3 issues efficiently?

  • Ruby

    Thank you for writing this. I have been blessed with very active mind (my new way of looking at it, I find it makes me slightly more peaceful as I’m no longer thinking anxiously about why I’m thinking anxiously). As I ruminate more however I keep finding out bits and pieces about deep unresolved issues and I realized my anxiety is there to tell me something. So reading your article is a great help on my current journey.

  • Kate

    Hi Summer. Thank you very much for your post. It has clarified things for me, and also reassured me that I am not alone! Do you have any techniques to help with ‘releasing people from my heart’s tribunal’?

    All best wishes, Kate

  • Summer

    You’re welcome! The world needs your gifts FULLY EXPRESSED!

  • Summer

    “Any exit”…that’s a good one and so true. I also find SO WHAT extremely liberating. With two simple words, you confront the ego and bring catastrophic thoughts down to the level of reality. Thanks for sharing!

  • Summer

    I know! It can be an overriding part of the psyche for anxious people, but the exercise of letting anxiety become a teachable experience involves simply noticing the voice of the inner critic without judging it, arguing with it, or trying to resist it. Rick Carson has a whole section on the power of Simply Noticing in his excellent book, Taming Your Gremlin. You’re welcome.

  • Summer

    I’m glad the article spoke to you 🙂

  • Summer

    You’re welcome!

  • DanielleWCarter

    Nice, googling Rick as we “speak!”

  • Ali Skylar

    BTW I noticed that you are a children’s literary consultant. My talented sister just wrote a book called Our Solar System. Can you advise me how to contact you to find our more of what you do in this area? Thanks…:)

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    Really needed this with my increased level of anxiety with certain things thats been going on in my life recently… Hopefully, I would be able to try & be mindful of these 3 perspectives on anxiety in the coming days! Thank you so much for sharing…. 🙂

  • This post felt like you were talking from your heart. You did some serious self-analysis and discovered the causes of your frustrations. I’m happy for you and thank you for sharing your experiences with us all!

  • ryan

    Awesome, this is really helpful for me because I’m one of those people who suffer from anxiety “for no reason”. I realize those 3 things you listed are in fact the main causes of my anxiety among other things. I’ve been ignoring them while trying everything but the kitchen sink to quiet my restless heart.

  • Summer

    Feel free to contact me via the contact form on my website: http://www.summeredward.com

  • Summer

    Good point– we can never ignore the physical. Thanks for the link!

  • Summer

    So many writers struggle with this. I’ve found that it as I focus on claiming and strengthening my identity as a writer, making the space to write becomes easier. We make room for activities, goals and people that bolster, affirm and correspond with our identity– how we see ourselves. Be a writer and own being a writer, even on days when you don’t write a sentence or during those times when you can’t seem to write anything good, and you’ll experience less of the disequilibrium that comes with stepping outside or disregarding your identity. It’s the equilibrium of a fully owned identity that empowers us to create and make authentic art. Keep being a writer!

  • jessica

    Wow. I haven’t read an article that really spoke to me like this one. I’ve always had bad anxiety but
    i moved across the country, it has gotten better. But that’s where the guilt comes in. Now i realize i feel guilty for leaving my friends and family. I’m still trying to find out how to not feel guilty and getting the very critcal thoughts about myself to stop. Any advice would be appreciated.

  • Johnny Frankie

    Awesome article and very well appreciated. As an anxious guy who’s heart rate is generally between 80 and 92 bpm on average, I feel that it could be better. However, my stresses have been so prevalent for so long, I fear my mind ‘forgot’ how to relax. I tell myself that one of the positive things that come out of me ‘forgetting’ how to relax, is the joy of being able to discover how to relax again. On a private note: I suffer from guilt, past relationship mental abuse, child with a drug problem, etc. Wish I could say I am exaggerating, but I am not. I will pay closer attention to what you wrote and put it to use. Hopefully, enlightening change will occur.

  • College Student

    I really need help figuring out what causes my panic attacks to happen. These reasons all seem like they could be valid but how do I face it head on if I can’t figure out why this is happening?

  • Elijah

    I’m so glad I ran into this. I’ve been having so much stress this is the first time I’m on my own and my family left to Florida, I’m living with my boyfriend now. Everything was fine, my love was there the joy of doing stuff together but sex felt different for me and raised quested if I loved him. I know I did because I wanted a baby with him and now we are going to have one … The thing is I’ve messed up and I told him what I did he took it well and I didn’t I felt guilty and ashamed and it raised more guilt causing tons of anxiety and this isn’t my first anxiety attack. I love him and sometimes I question it. He tried to break up with me but I didn’t want that it hurts so much if I go back to my parents I’ll miss him and now I’m pregnant. Looking at him makes me feel like I don’t deserve him and I feel like that’s my anxiety caused by shame and guilt . I hate question and I want to feel ok again. I just don’t know how long it’ll take :'(

  • metech

    Unresolved relationship issues and guilt. Yes this is the reason for my anxiety. I hurt my husband and I am guilty for my behaviour. There’s a continuous serious of thoughts running of what should I do or not do. Should I go there or not? Should I call him or not etc. I have become too much irritated. Its so exhaustive to have this much feelings at one time. Anger, frustration, guilt , anxiety, hurt, regrets. Right now I just feel confused. If I am upstairs I feel I should be downstairs and vice versa. I like what you said and I am trying to think on it.