Anxiety Starts And Ends In The Mind

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated May 20, 2021

From our article the Anxiety Mechanism, notice that:

  • Apprehensive behavior creates anxiety.
  • Anxiety stresses the body.
  • A body that’s under stress can produce anxiety symptoms.

anxiety symptom mechanism

Therefore, to eliminate symptoms, we need to eliminate the cause of the problem, which is apprehensive behavior.

When we eliminate apprehensive behavior, we eliminate anxiety, stress, and stress symptoms. Addressing the behavior stops the cascading effects.

Thankfully, we can eliminate apprehensive behavior, and therefore, anxiety and its stress response consequences.

To do that, we first have to understand what apprehensive behavior is and what causes it. Then, addressing the cause stops the behavior.

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What Is Apprehensive Behavior?

As we mentioned in the “Anxiety Mechanism” article, apprehensive behavior can be defined as: fearful that something bad, unpleasant, or harmful might happen.

We become fearful when we think something could harm us.

Here are some examples of apprehensive thinking experienced by many of those who struggle with anxiety issues:

  • What if I have a panic attack and I freak out uncontrollably?
  • What if I can never overcome anxiety disorder and it ruins my life?
  • What if I can’t stop the strong feelings of anxiety?
  • What if I have anxiety symptoms for the rest of my life?
  • What if I make a mistake and someone makes fun of me?
  • What if I make a mistake and look embarrassed?
  • What if anxiety never goes away?
  • What if no one loves me?
  • What if I don’t measure up and everyone rejects me?
  • What if my doctors have missed the cause of my symptoms and I die of an undiagnosed illness or disease?
  • What if something happens that I can’t control and it ruins my life?
  • What if I get myself into trouble and I can’t get out?

Notice that all of the above statements express concerns about experiencing an unpleasant outcome. The possibility of experiencing that unpleasant outcome creates fear, which creates anxiety. That anxiety then stresses the body and a body that’s stressed can exhibit symptoms.

From just one thought, the body can experience stress.

That’s because the brain can’t tell the difference between what we think and what is real.[1][2] It responds to everything we believe as if it is real and will produce a corresponding biological reaction. For anxiety, it’s a stress response.

If you take a moment and think back about most of the anxiety you’ve experienced, it was almost always preceded by a “what if” thought process that proposed some element of danger. That perception of danger created anxiety and its stress response consequences.

The more anxiously we think, the more stressed the body becomes. As stress elevates, it causes symptoms. Chronic stress causes persistent symptoms.

If we want to stop creating anxiety and its stress response consequences, we need to address our thinking. We need to stop scaring ourselves with apprehensive behavior.

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We Can Control Our Thinking

Some people believe we aren’t in control of our thinking, and therefore, can’t control anxiety. Fortunately, this isn’t true.

For instance, read the following sentence but stop at the word “racing.” Count to five, then finish the sentence.

“The red fire engine was racing to the burning building.”

Notice that you are able to stop and count to five before finishing the sentence. You were able to do that because you are in charge of what you think. Free will gives us the ability to control our thinking.

Stopping apprehensive thinking is similar.

For instance, if we take an anxious thought from our previous example and write it out, it looks like this: “What if I have a panic attack and I freak out uncontrollably?”

This statement produces fear if you believe freaking out uncontrollably is a dangerous thing.

What If you stopped yourself mid-sentence and deliberately didn’t finish it, such as:
“What if I have a panic attack…”

Does it still produce the same level of anxiety?

It might if you finish the sentence with something that evokes danger.

Or, what if you deliberately changed that sentence to read: “What if I have a panic attack but nothing happens?”

Or, “What if I have a panic attack and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside?”

Does it still produce anxiety?

The statement, “What if I have a panic attack” only becomes dangerous when we finish the statement with something we think is threatening.

We can control anxiety by being more deliberate about what we allow ourselves to think. Being more selective about the thoughts we generate give us control of the messages we communicate to the brain.

That’s because the brain responds to what we think, and then causes a corresponding biological reaction.[1][2] By changing what we think, we change the brain’s response and the biological reaction.

The words we choose have great power because the brain believes them even if they aren’t actually true.

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Yes, it can seem as if our mind has a will of its own. Thankfully, it’s not that it does but that our thinking has often become so routine that thoughts fire subconsciously. Gaining control of our thinking starts with awareness. Once we are aware of the types of thoughts we think, we can become more deliberate about how we compose our internal sentences.

To get started, write out all of the statements you say to yourself that create anxiety. If you want, you can list them in the comments of our Facebook group so we can share notes and talk about them later on as we work at replacing unhealthy thought messages with healthy ones.

Since apprehensive thinking starts with our thoughts, and since we can change our thoughts, anxiety starts and ends in the mind. If you want to overcome anxiety disorder and its symptoms, that’s where the most important work is done.

There are reasons why we think overly apprehensively and others don’t. Our next article "Underlying Factors: The Cause Of Apprehensive Behavior" addresses why we think apprehensively and others not as much.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our Anxiety Articles page. Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Anxiety Starts And Ends In The Mind.


1. Marianne Cumella Reddan, Tor Dessart Wager, Daniela Schiller. "Attenuating Neural Threat Expression with Imagination."" Neuron, 2018.

2. Martorano, Joseph T., and John P. Kildahl. “Beyond Negative Thinking: Breaking the Cycle of Depressing and Anxious Thoughts.” Plenum Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1989.