The Cause of Anxiety, Depression, and Stress

According to PNST, anxiety is the result of a perception that the challenges that the individual will encounter while pursuing an intrinsically significant goal are greater than their perceived skill in overcoming those challenges. This misalignment of the perceived challenge and skill results in the experience of anxiety.

This theory was first hypothesised by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi in his work on Flow.

If this is correct, any solution to anxiety must either reduce the perceived challenge or increase the perceived skill.

This means there are five potential long-term solutions for anxiety:

  1. Increasing the perception of skill – education
  2. Reducing the focus on future challenges – mindfulness
  3. Disproving the existence of imaginary challenges – CBT
  4. Reducing the perceived challenge – planning/goal setting
  5. Changing the perceived challenge – changing purpose

Here is a breakdown of each of these solutions:

Solution 1: Reducing The Focus on Future Challenges

While anxiety can be caused by the perceived challenge being greater than the perceived skill of a present-moment task, long-term, lingering, and disruptive anxiety is more likely to be created by the perception that an individual does not have the skills necessary to overcome future challenges.

One way to solve this is to reduce the focus of the individual on the future challenge

Gender Imbalance with Anxiety Disorders

Women are at 18%, men are at 11%. This can be explained through UTHP. Feminine people (of which most women are feminine) fulfil their psychological needs through communication. Communication is a less stable pathway than action to reinforce your schematic maps and so it makes sense that women would have a less stable sense of certainty and so be more anxious.

Culture Imbalance with Anxiety Disorders

Collectivist cultures are likely to report higher levels of anxiety disorders as the fulfillment of their psychological needs relies on others.

Relationship to Depression

Same mechanism, different level of perception.

Anxiety is the perception that you do not have the skill to overcome challenges. Depression is the perception that you will never have the skill to overcome the challenges.

This is why roughly 60% of people who experience anxiety disorders will experience a depressive disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder is more correlated with depression than with other anxiety disorders (Watson, 2005) such as panic disorders and phobias.


Watson, D. (2005). Rethinking the mood and anxiety disorders: A quantitative hierarchical model for DSM-V. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 114(4), 522-536.