Why Do I Think More Anxiously When I'm Stressed And Anxious?
Reviewed by: Jaqueline Nadworny, M.A. (Counselling); B.A. (Psyc), RPC, MPCC-S, CPCA, CPCS (PACCP)
Last updated: April 8, 2019
When my anxiety is high, I think about the things I'm most insecure about like my marriage and the decisions I've made. But when I'm not anxious, they don't bother me. Is this normal for anxiety?
Focusing on and feeling more anxious about things we are already insecure about or sensitive to is a common phenomenon associated with anxiety and hyperstimulation. This is partly because of our anxious thinking and partly because of the effects of hyperstimulation. When the two come together, we have the ideal recipe for dwelling on sensitive insecurities.
The stress response plays a major role when it seems we worry more when our anxiety is elevated. When we behave apprehensively, the body activates the stress response, which secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat—to either fight with or flee from it. This survival reaction is the reason why the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response, the emergency response, or the fight, flight, or freeze response (some people freeze when they are afraid like a “deer caught in headlights”).
A change in brain functions is an important part of this “emergency readiness” preparation. For example, when we worry – the perception of possible danger - the fear center (amygdala) of the brain becomes more active, and the rationalization areas of the brain are somewhat suppressed. This change occurs so that we can react to danger first – either to fight or flee - and then think about the threat after we’ve escaped the danger.
As a result of this change, we can feel more anxious than usual, and especially about things we are generally more concerned about, insecure about, or sensitive to. Many people notice an elevation in concern about other things when they are already anxious about something else. They also notice an elevation in concern when their bodies are overly stressed (hyperstimulation also causes the fear center to become more active). Experiencing an increase in worry about uncertainties and insecurities when already anxious and stressed is a phenomenon we often see in our anxious clients.
Nevertheless, even though a focus and concern about our insecurities might elevate when we’re anxious or overly stressed, we can more easily dismiss this increased concerned when we know that it is merely the biological consequences of anxiety and chronic stress. In many cases, we can ignore these heightened concerns and move on.
Faithfully practicing your recovery strategies, containing your fears, and being patient will reduce your body’s stress. As your body’s stress diminishes, so will your focus and concern about your insecurities.
That said, you might find it helpful to address your insecurities so that they don’t haunt you when your stress and anxiety are elevated. Sometimes unresolved insecurities are the very reason why stress remains elevated and symptoms persist. We believe it’s better to address our concerns and insecurities head on, even though it might increase our stress in the short-term, rather than trying to ignore them or hope they go away on their own. Many times our insecurities are the elephants in the room we work hard at trying to ignore. Dealing with them eliminates them. Then, we can live authentically, freely, and at peace.
Overall, if you think your insecurities are just artifacts of anxiety and stress, ignore them. If you believe there is some merit to your insecurities, deal with them. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way of addressing and resolving insecurities, especially those that seemingly haunt you when anxiety and stress are elevated.
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.
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4. Akirav, Irit, et al. "The Role of the Medial Prefrontal Cortex-Amygdala Circuit in Stress Effects on the Extinction of Fear." Neural Plasticity, 16, Jan. 2007, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1838961/
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