JMTherapy Blog

Unravelling the Roots of Anxiety: A Closer Look at Common Causes

In the ebb and flow of modern life, anxiety has grown rapidly, weaving itself into the fabric of our everyday lives. Its effects go deep, mixing with different psychological aspects that shape how we think and feel inside. Among these are low self-esteem, people-pleasing tendencies, burnout, inadequate boundaries, and the relentless pursuit for perfection. 

Here I will look into these causes, exploring how they contribute to the rise of anxiety.

Low Self-Esteem: The Inner Critic’s Echo

Low self-esteem is a quiet warning sign, often originating in the early chapters of life. It acts as a distorted mirror, reflecting a self-image marred by doubts and self-criticism. Individuals with low self-esteem tend to see themselves through a lens of perceived inadequacy, which perpetuates a sense of vulnerability and a heightened fear of judgement. This persistent self-doubt can trigger the body’s stress response, laying the groundwork for anxiety.

The question then arises: what seeds low self-esteem? The answers often lie in past experiences of failure, neglect, or the internalisation of unrealistic societal standards. When one’s worth is perceived as contingent upon external validation or achievement, the stage is set for anxiety to take hold.

Have you ever found yourself avoiding new challenges because you fear you’re not (or don’t look) good enough, or are you constantly comparing yourself to others and feeling like you come up short? When was the last time you acknowledged your strengths rather than focusing solely on your weaknesses?

People-Pleasing: The Exhausting Endeavour for Acceptance

People-pleasing is akin to an endless chase, a pursuit of acceptance and affection that is both exhausting and never ending. Pleasers are often held hostage by a fear of rejection, leading them to continuously adapt and mould themselves to others’ expectations and needs. This chronic suppression of one’s desires and the overextension of one’s capacity to give not only breeds resentment but also creates an underlying current of anxiety.

In attempting to be everything to everyone, people-pleasers ignore their own needs and boundaries, which is a direct path to emotional turmoil. When one’s sense of self is so intricately linked to others’ perceptions, anxiety inevitably flourishes.

Have you noticed a pattern where you say ‘yes’ to others, even when you’re exhausted, simply to avoid conflict or to be liked? When was the last time you truly prioritised your own needs without feeling guilty or worrying about disappointing someone else?

Lack of Boundaries: The Eroded Defences

Boundaries are the psychological barriers that protect our sense of self and control the flow of external demands. A lack of firm boundaries can lead to an overwhelming ambush of requests and expectations from others. Whether in personal relationships or professional environments, when individuals fail to assert their limits, they open themselves up to exploitation and overcommitment.

The absence of boundaries often results in a life that feels out of control, a prime breeding ground for anxiety. It is through the establishment and maintenance of clear boundaries that individuals can regain a sense of agency and reduce the likelihood of anxiety taking root.

Do you often feel like you can’t say ‘no’ to requests, leaving you overcommitted and resentful? Think about the last time you felt overwhelmed by demands from others—could it be that your boundaries need reinforcing?

Burnout: A Widespread Issue in Today’s Fast-Paced Life

Burnout, a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress, has become a widespread issue, particularly accentuated by the relentless pace and pressures of professional life. It often stems from working towards unrealistic goals, without respite, in the relentless pursuit of success or the fear of failure.

The correlation between burnout and anxiety is undeniable; as one’s resources are depleted, the ability to cope with stress diminishes, making every additional demand a potential trigger for anxiety. Burnout can blur the lines between work and personal life, creating a perpetual state of stress that leaves little room for recovery.

Have you reached a point where every day feels like an uphill battle and even the tasks you once enjoyed now drain you of energy? When was the last time you felt truly rejuvenated and not just on ‘survival mode’?

Perfectionism: The Unwinnable Race

Perfectionism is perhaps one of the most deceptive causes of anxiety. It is the relentless striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high-performance standards, paired with a tendency to view anything short of perfection as unacceptable. Perfectionism drives individuals to push beyond healthy limits, criticise themselves harshly, and fear the judgment of others for their imperfections.

This unwinnable race against oneself can result in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction and self-reproach. The perfectionist’s world is black and white, success or failure, with no room for the human grace of error. The pressure to avoid mistakes at all costs is a catalyst for anxiety, as the mind becomes preoccupied with potential failure and its repercussions.

Do you find yourself agonizing over the smallest flaws and feeling like nothing you do is ever quite ‘good enough’? How often do you allow yourself the space to make mistakes and learn from them, rather than beating yourself up for not achieving perfection?

The Interconnectedness of Causes

These factors, and others, often coexist and intermingle within an individual, creating a complex web of psychological dynamics that fuel anxiety. For example, a person with low self-esteem may naturally become a people-pleaser to compensate for their insecurities, leading to poor boundaries, which in turn can result in burnout and exacerbate perfectionist tendencies. Recognising the interconnectedness of these causes is crucial in addressing the root rather than just the symptoms of anxiety.

In wrapping up our exploration of some of anxiety’s common causes, it’s clear that they are not just passing troubles but significant issues that require our attention and care. The process of unravelling the tangled roots of anxiety is not an overnight task; it is an ongoing journey towards self-awareness and healing.

As we’ve seen, factors such as low self-esteem, people-pleasing, lack of boundaries, burnout, and perfectionism are not standalone issues. They are interconnected, often feeding into and exacerbating each other. But it’s not an inescapable web. Through the deliberate work of therapy and self-care, we can find ways to disentangle ourselves and move forward with strength and clarity.

Therapy stands out as a beacon of hope, offering a structured approach to not only confront these issues but to develop strategies that lead to a healthier mental state. It’s a partnership between therapist and client, where one is guided to rediscover their worth, establish and maintain boundaries, seek fulfilment beyond external validation, manage stress effectively, and embrace imperfection as part of the human experience.

It is important to remember that the journey towards overcoming anxiety is deeply personal. What works for one may not work for another, and the pace of progress will vary from person to person. Patience, therefore, becomes a key companion along this path.

In closing, let us consider therapy not as a last resort but as a proactive step towards empowerment. It’s a commitment to oneself—a declaration that your mental health is a priority and that you are worthy of a life not dominated by anxiety. Embracing this path can lead to transformative change, illuminating a future where anxiety has lost its grip, and where peace and self-assurance have taken root. As we navigate the twists and turns of life, let us hold on to the promise of therapy and the potential for renewal it brings. The path to a less anxious life is within reach, and it begins with the courage to seek support and the resolve to engage in the work of self-discovery and growth.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and personal stories. Has any part of what I’ve shared resonated with you? Please feel free to leave a comment with your experiences of these issues and how you cope. Your insights not only enrich our discussion but might also offer comfort and solidarity to others on a similar journey.

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