What makes us anxious?
Technically, our subconscious mind is the part of us that "determines" when we need to be anxious!
It monitors everything we do, say, think and feel, and coupled with inherited information too, it gets to know intimately our internal model of the world. It knows how we personally expect things to be.
Armed with this knowledge, it tries to ensure that we remain in a stable environment, and remain comfortable in our mind (which we might think of as being "happy"). Our subconscious mind also controls most of the day to day bodily functions for us, and monitors our well-being.
While monitoring everything about us, the subconscious compares what we do, think, feel or imagine "now", to those things we have previously done, have come to believe, or have been coerced into adopting as part of our world view - and which have proved beneficial to us. If there is consistency in the comparison it reinforces our world view - but if inconsistency occurs, the subconscious may interpret it as a risk. It uses the anxiety response to indicate that a risk exists - and often the level of anxiety will be regulated to reflect the degree of risk which has been determined to be present.
What do we mean by risk? Probably nothing like what the subconscious mind would mean!
But if we think of risk in this sense to mean "likely to de-stabilize your comfortable life environment", we might (hopefully) be on the right track.
Our Model of Our World
We build much of our own model of how we believe the world works, though it will be supplemented with a few "given truths" inherited from long ago.
As our subconscious mind monitors our activities, and constantly matches and compares them to what we have done before it constructs and modifies our world view. It is possible to change our world view, but there may be a weighting system involved to prevent random swings of belief.
So we may add input from what we do, say, hear, feel, taste, smell, experience, and observe to our world view. Large contributions will be made by the expectations, rules and beliefs of our social and cultural influences, from our close family and friends, and from authority figures in general.
Every individual brain builds an independent model of it's world, and since each individual has different experiences, there are currently around seven billion people navigating the current physical world - all using slightly different personal maps!
A Theoretical Example of Anxiety getting in life's way.
Imagine a young person was told over and over by an authority figure that they would never be successful in life. This person may acquire the belief that this would be so, and it may form part of their subconscious world view - their personal belief.
Years later, the person no longer consciously remembers the situation, and tries to start a business. They may find themselves unable to motivate sufficiently, or just find that problems seem to undermine them. They become more and more agitated and anxious, and doubt their ability to get the business going.
How could that happen?
The belief they acquired was being challenged by their actions. Subconsciously, their brain was making them aware that what they were trying to do was inconsistent with their world view. (No roads on the personal map go to the point of creating a successful business).
The subconscious regards actions contrary to our world view as potentially risky, and so it generates a low-level fear response which is perceived consciously as mild but persistent, anxiety.
The closer the person in our example gets to succeeding, the more the anxiety may build. However, the person may never link the anxiety to the beliefs they acquired a long time before, and so may not be able to overcome the block easily.
We all build our own representation of the world as we understand it, and our subconscious mind uses our view of the world (along with a few pre-programmed fundamental views genetically acquired) as yardsticks for keeping us "safe and happy". Going against these reference points is considered a risk to safety and happiness and the subconscious will point out when it any risks it determines via the anxiety response. To overcome the anxiety, we would need to either conform to our world view, or find a way to change the representation of our world view within our subconscious mind.
There are so many rules, regulations, expectations, political situations, socially and culturally sensitive situations etc. in our lives, that it is not surprising the subconscious mind finds so many risks to be concerned about. Fear or Anxiety are becoming increasingly common.
Anxiety is not the problem we have, it's an indication that we have a problem. Simply reducing levels of anxiety in the short term through relaxation for example, will seldom bring long term relief. The problem we have
Though some levels of anxiety are generally regarded as "anxiety disorders" by the medical community, anxiety is a perfectly natural response in the majority of cases. The main exceptions would be for brain issues of a physical or genetic cause.
The fact is that the anxiety response has been so successful as an evolutionary solution for preserving individual well-being for so many species, that I find it difficult to imagine it being a disorder.
My personal view is that the exceptions referred to above - and there may be others too - may induce the brains of those so affected, to invoke almost permanent anxiety. Thus anxiety would be a common medical finding - but is the anxiety "the disorder" those poor folks suffer, or is the anxiety response just flagging up the risks to well-being present in those people - as it has for millions of years, long before humans existed?
Everyone suffers anxiety to varying degrees, and many people feel debilitated by it at some time in their life.
But anxiety results when your subconscious mind determines that your internal notion of well-being is under threat. It may be that you have changed something you do to bring this about, but it is far more likely that external rules and expectations have changed, since you built your world map, and that your out-of-date map has left you exposed to a new danger. (Not unlike a GPS guiding drivers to a cliff edge because world changes have not been updated on the device). Fortunately your brain will spot the problem for you, and do its best to stop you meeting an unexpected demise.
Civilization is an advance for our species, but its whims, twists, and changes of direction can bring as many dangers and concerns as any of nature's major catastrophes did during our pre-civilized history.
We are all driven to be far more anxious than we should be - by the very environment and social structures that we as a species have created, and that we change so rapidly! How do you keep 7 billion world maps in synchrony?
Of course we are all anxious! We need to learn how best to adjust to these modern pressures - we all need to change in ways that support the direction in which our minds and bodies change during the evolution of our future, intensifying, global civilization.
We need to find fresh pathways to explore new perspectives, and from which to enhance our well-being. We also need to learn how to update our personal maps more efficiently.
Anxiety may be a genuine disorder for a minority, but for the majority it is like our personal, enhanced GPS - allowing us to go freely where our maps provide road coverage (i.e. where we would be comfortable), but exhorting us to change direction when we "turn off the path" and head towards uncertainty.
Anxiety is to be expected in our highly complex societies, and just as there is no shame asking for directions to unknown locations rather than driving round in endless circles, so there is no shame in asking for assistance with issues which bring anxiety when your subconscious is saying "Ooh - I'd be careful of doing that if I were you!"
Do you need help to tackle some form of anxiety?
Consider seeking help from a local therapist or your GP