What causes anxiety
The exact causes of anxiety disorders are unknown. According to the National
Institute of Mental Health, researchers believe that a combination of
genetic and environmental factors may play a role. Brain chemistry is also
being studied as a possible cause. The areas of your brain that control your
fear response may be involved.
Anxiety disorders often occur alongside other mental health conditions, such
as substance abuse and depression. Many people try to ease the symptoms of
anxiety by using alcohol or other drugs. The relief these substances provide is
temporary. Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and other drugs can make an anxiety
Much research is being done into what causes anxiety disorders. Experts believe
it involves a combination of factors, including genes, diet, and stress.
Studies of twins suggest that genetics may play a role. For example, a study
reported in PloS
ONE suggests the RBFOX1 gene may be
involved in the development of anxiety-related conditions, such as generalized
anxiety disorder. The authors believe that both genetic and nongenetic factors play
Certain parts of the brain, such as the amygdala and hippocampus, are also
being studied. Your amygdala is a small structure deep inside your brain that processes
threat. It alerts the rest of your brain when there are signs of danger. It can
trigger a fear and anxiety response. It seems to play a part in anxiety
disorders that involve fear of specific things, such as cats, bees, or
Your hippocampus may also affect your risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
It’s a region of your brain that’s involved in storing memories of threatening
events. It appears to be smaller in people who’ve experienced child abuse or
served in combat.
Though the exact causes of anxiety disorders aren’t clear, experts have
identified risk factors. For example, you’re more likely to develop an anxiety
disorder if you have:
Other factors that can increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder include:
- Stress: Everyone encounters stress. But excessive
or unresolved stress can increase your chances of developing chronic anxiety.
- Genetics: If someone in your family has an anxiety
disorder, you have a greater risk of developing one too. Your risk is
especially high if you have a parent with anxiety.
- Personality type: Some people are more
prone to anxiety. Busy, high-strung people with type A personalities have a greater
risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
- Trauma: Severe trauma, such as child abuse
or military combat, increases your risk of developing anxiety. This can include
being the victim of trauma, being close to someone who’s the victim of trauma,
or witnessing something traumatic.
- Sex or gender: Women are twice as likely as
men to have generalized anxiety disorder and other related conditions.
Experts don’t know the exact causes of anxiety disorders. Your genetics,
environment, and personal history likely play a part. If you suspect you have
an anxiety disorder, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help
diagnose it and treat your symptoms. They may recommend lifestyle changes,
counseling, medications, or other interventions.
Some medical conditions and medications can produce symptoms similar to
anxiety disorders. In these cases, your doctor will likely treat your
underlying condition or adjust your medication regimen.