Upset woman

What causes anxiety disorders?

It’s normal to feel anxious over the course of day-to-day life, but if you feel anxious almost all the time, you may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is a feeling that comes about as a response to worry or fear. An anxiety disorder is a mental illness that, if left untreated, can have significant health consequences.

People with anxiety disorders are often worried or stressed about things that are unlikely to pose realistic threats. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people with anxiety disorders tend to experience longer and more frequent periods of anxiety, even without a particular trigger. As anxiety takes over, these people struggle with ordinary activities or to just get through daily activities.

Why do anxiety disorders happen?

Of course, none of this explains why anxiety disorders happen in the first place. Researchers believe specific genetic and environmental factors are likely to contribute to the causes of anxiety:

  • Family history: Anxiety disorders tend to show up in families, meaning that people with anxiety disorders usually have at least one relative with an anxiety disorder. This suggests that there could be inherited genetic traits specific to the disorder.
  • Personality: Personality might contribute to someone’s risk of developing an anxiety disorder. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that children who are shy or who can’t tolerate uncertainty are more predisposed to develop an anxiety disorder. This could be because their brains are shaped or work in different ways, or because their personality affects their experiences which in turn can lead to an anxiety disorder.
  • Biochemical factors: Anxiety disorders tend to be linked to differences or changes in the levels of chemicals in the brain. Some people’s bodies make too much or too little of the hormones and neurotransmitters responsible for regulating things like mood and stress.
  • Long-term stressful events: Events like divorce, the loss of a loved one, a stressful medical diagnosis, or a difficult job can all contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder.
  • Trauma: A traumatic experience can impact someone to the point of developing anxiety. Some examples include child abuse, spousal abuse, being in an accident, or witnessing violence. In addition, a scary experience with an animal, person, or in a certain place can cause a specific phobia.
  • Medical conditions: More research is needed to determine exactly why this link exists, but people with certain medical conditions are more likely to develop anxiety disorders. Some of these medical conditions include migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, and sleep apnea.
  • Drugs or alcohol: Many people with anxiety disorders also struggle with substance use disorders. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that nearly 20% of people in the United States who have an anxiety or mood disorder also struggle with substance use.

Other risk factors

Risk factors aren’t things that cause anxiety disorders, but they do increase a person’s risk of developing one. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, gender is a risk factor for anxiety disorders and women are more likely to experience them.

Final thoughts

Anxiety disorders can have a negative impact on a person’s life and often require treatment. Anxiety can go hand in hand with other emotional complications, which makes them that much more important to diagnose and treat. In order to seek treatment, you’ll need an evaluation from a mental health professional, so if at any point you find yourself struggling with these problems, speak to your primary care provider as soon as you can.

Read more
  • “Common Anxiety Triggers for Anxiety and Panic.” CalmClinic. Calm Clinic, 2016. Web.
  • “Anxiety Disorders.” NIH. US Department of Health and Human Services, Mar 2016. Web.
  • Harvey Simon. “Anxiety Disorders.” University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), Mar 11 2013. Web.
  • “Substance Use Disorders.” ADAA. ADAA, 2016. Web.
  • “The Biochemistry of Anxiety.” CalmClinic. Calm Clinic, 2016. Web.
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