What is the root cause of anxiety?

Anxiety can feel overwhelming and confusing, but understanding where it comes from can help us manage it better. As an internal family systems (IFS) trained somatic psychotherapist, my lens is that anxiety is seen as a signal from different parts of ourselves trying to communicate.


Understanding our inner parts

Imagine your mind as a family, with different members (parts) each having their own jobs and feelings. These parts are not just ideas; they are real aspects of your personality. Some parts are protective, like an inner critic or a planner, while others are vulnerable and carry deep feelings from past experiences.

The protectors

When we feel anxious, it’s often because our protective parts are on high alert. These parts are like guardians, always looking out for danger and trying to keep us safe. They might make us worry a lot, overthink things, or feel the need to control situations. Even though they mean well, their efforts can sometimes make us feel more anxious.

The hidden wounds

Underneath these protective parts are the vulnerable ones we call exiles. These parts hold onto painful memories, past traumas, or negative beliefs about ourselves. When these exiles are triggered, our protective parts jump in to shield us from the pain, which can ramp up our anxiety. 

The body connection

As a somatic therapist, I believe our bodies hold onto our experiences. Anxiety isn’t just in our minds; it shows up in our bodies too. This can look like muscle tension, stomach issues, or a general feeling of unease. Paying attention to these physical sensations can give us clues about what’s going on emotionally.

Healing and integration

The goal of IFS therapy is to help you feel more at peace by connecting with your core self — your true, calm, and compassionate centre. From this place, you can start to heal and balance your inner family. Here’s how we do it:

  • Awareness: We work on recognising and understanding your different parts, acknowledging them without judgement.
  • Compassion: We approach your anxious parts with kindness and curiosity, not fear or frustration.
  • Dialogue: We help you have conversations with your parts, allowing them to share their concerns and understand their protective roles.
  • Body awareness: We use body-focused techniques like breathing exercises, mindfulness, and gentle movement to release physical tension and reconnect with your body’s signals.

Moving forward

Anxiety isn’t caused by just one thing. It’s a result of various parts of you trying to protect yourself from past and present emotional pain. These parts are often in conflict and desperately seeking harmony!  By understanding and working with these parts, and by listening to your body, you can transform anxiety into a path for healing and self-discovery. This journey helps you live with more ease, strength, and authenticity.

Building a new relationship with anxiety

One important aspect of moving forward is learning to build a new relationship with your anxiety. Instead of seeing it as an enemy, you can start to view it as a messenger bringing important information from your inner world. This shift in perspective can reduce the power anxiety holds over you.

Developing resilience

As you work through IFS therapy, you'll develop resilience, the ability to bounce back from stress and adversity. By understanding and healing your inner parts, you can approach life's challenges with a greater sense of stability and confidence. This resilience is built on the foundation of a strong, compassionate relationship with your core Self.

Continuing the journey

The journey of self-discovery and healing is ongoing. It requires patience, self-compassion, and a willingness to explore your inner world. With the tools and insights gained, you can continue to grow and thrive, even in the face of anxiety. One of the beautiful things about IFS is that you can practice it yourself, you become your own therapist and allow yourself to lead your own healing journey. 

By committing to this process, you're taking a powerful step toward a more balanced, peaceful, and fulfilling life. You have the ability to transform your relationship with anxiety, turning it into a source of insight and growth rather than a barrier to your happiness. Together, we can navigate this journey, helping you find the harmony and inner peace you deserve.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, EC2A
Written by Laura Prendiville, MSC, MCCP.
London, EC2A

I'm an accredited Contemporary Psychotherapist. I use creative and dynamic approaches to working with trauma, anxiety and relationship challenges.

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