Why do we get anxious? Proof included

A psychotherapist named Bruce Di Marsico found that people get anxious about something because they have reasons(that are often unconscious) why they think that thing should make them anxious.

“And if we think about it, whenever “we’re [anxious] about something, somewhere behind that, no matter how quietly, is a voice in us saying: That is indeed something to be [anxious] about. And this we call a belief.”

Bruce Di Marsico, The Myth of Unhappiness Volume 1

These reasons may be unconscious and Bruce, fortunately, created a system of questions he called the Option Method to help people uncover these reasons. He taught this system of questions to multiple mentees and I had the privilege of working with one to identify why I got anxious when wanting to share an opinion with a group of three guys I had met for the first time at a dinner. Finding the answer revealed to me that we do have unconscious reasons why we think we should be anxious about our triggers.

This article provides a summary of how we found the cause of my anxiety so you can validate Bruce’s claim for yourself. I’ve also included a link to the full transcript of the session so you can see how the Option Method can help you eliminate and uncover the root cause of your anxiety triggers.

Background: I was at a restaurant with a group of 3 dudes from a group I was in. We were all meeting each other for the first time. I was anxiety-free for the first 10-15mins of the conversation and then more serious discussions started taking place. I eventually had a personal opinion to share but immediately felt anxious at the thought of sharing it so I kept it to myself. This happened multiple times.

At the time, I was working with a practitioner skilled in helping people eliminate and understand the root cause of their negative emotions. I dedicated one of our sessions to understanding why I got anxious with these guys.

Summary of the session & the root cause of my trigger

At the start of our session, I learned I got anxious because I was afraid they would ignore or not value my opinions. We dug in further and found the reason(s) I was afraid of my opinions or perspectives being ignored was that I thought that meant they didn’t see me as an equal. 

The root cause of the anxiety: I used anxiety as evidence to myself that I disliked and thus didn’t want to believe I wasn’t equal (if they thought that of me). Why would I do that? Because I’m someone who doesn’t want to think or believe I’m not equal to any human being, so at the time of this event.

Another way to put this: At the time, not being anxious in that moment would’ve meant to me that I believed their thoughts (real or imagined) that I wasn’t equal.

Note: It’s possible the people at dinner weren’t thinking about me not being equal. Regardless, I want the emotional fortitude to be undisturbed and anxious-free if a situation like this really did or does happen.

The often root cause of our triggersthe meanings we give things

There’s often a root reason why we’re anxious about something which we can use the Option Method to find. When we uncover the root reasons behind our anxiety, we’ll typically discover that we think it would mean something about us if we weren’t anxious.

My counseling session is an example of what finding the root reason behind a trigger looks like.

We can call the reasons we uncover for why we’re anxious, beliefs

Because a belief, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is something that is accepted, considered to be true, or held as an opinion. We think it’s true that we should be anxious about something for whatever reasons (often unconscious) we have.

Note: 1) We may and are probably unaware that we have these beliefs 2) Bruce and I have found that using the word belief makes the process of understanding and eliminating anxiety easier.

The solution for eliminating the root cause of my trigger for those curious

To prevent myself from getting anxious in similar situations, I have to drop this belief: not being anxious when I’m seen as unequal doesn’t mean I believe I’m an unequal person.

Keep in mind that I had to first uncover this belief to drop it.

If I truly drop /discard that belief, then I’ll feel no emotion or believe I’m unequal when others think this of me (real or imagined) in the future.

It’s possible to dislike something without getting anxious about it

Some might say, “Of course, you’d get anxious about not being seen as an equal,” but that seems to suggest that every person in the world would get anxious about that. Is that true? I don’t think so. I know I get less and less triggered about not being seen as an equal now.

This is not to say that most people (maybe everyone) would dislike or hate being perceived as less than, but it’s possible to dislike something without being anxious about it.

People get anxious for their own unique reasons

Also, people may share the same anxiety triggers, but the underlying reasons for the anxiety are unique to the individual1.

Final takeaway – How to eliminate anxiety triggers

We often have to first uncover the reasons/beliefs why we think we should be anxious about the trigger(s). Once we do that, we can discard the anxiety-inducing beliefs we uncover if we wish. For example, I no longer believe that being anxiety-free when people don’t see me as an equal means I believe I’m unequal.

I’ve used the Option Method on myself to eliminate and understand the root cause of my anxiety triggers. I’ve also taken training and received coaching to become more proficient with it. I’ve written a book on how to use the Option Method to eliminate anxiety triggers. The book contains my insights and lessons learned from my training and in using the Option Method on myself.

P.S. One of the positives of this work is we’ll understand ourselves more and increase our self-awareness.


Suggested reads

Citations & additional resources

  1. https://youtu.be/YCdoEPbihXk?si=h-7pAx6E7i3Gmm4H. Generally speaking, the reasons why people get anxious about things are unique to them. ↩︎
  2. This video aims to more clearly show that people have emotions for their own unique reasons. ↩︎

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