What Are the Causes of Anxiety?
The causes of anxiety disorder are unknown. Research indicates that areas of the brain
that control the fear response may be involved. Anxiety disorder seems to run
in families. This suggests that a combination of genetic and environmental
factors may contribute to the development of the disorder. Brain chemistry is
also being studied as a possible cause. Brain chemicals that may be involved include
serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
Anxiety disorder often occurs with other mental and physical
conditions, such as substance abuse and depression. Many people try to ease the
symptoms of anxiety with alcohol and other drugs. The relief these drugs may
provide is temporary, however. These drugs, as well as caffeine and nicotine,
can make an anxiety disorder worse.
Much research is being done to learn about the causes of
anxiety disorders. Scientists believe that a combination of factors is
involved, including genes, pollution, stress, and diet.
Studies of twins suggest that
genetics may play a role. Another mental health condition, post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD), is the result of trauma. But some people exposed to
trauma develop PTSD while others do not. This fact points to a combination of
genetics and environment.
Certain parts of the brain are also being studied. The
amygdala is a small structure deep inside the brain that stores emotional
memories. It alerts the rest of the brain when there is danger, and 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 drowning.
The hippocampus is a region of the brain involved in
storing memories of threatening events. It appears to be smaller in people who
have experienced child abuse or served in combat. It may play a role in the
development of anxiety disorders.
Though the exact cause of anxiety
disorder is not clear, risk factors have been identified. Conditions that are
frequently associated with anxiety disorder include:
- irritable bowel syndrome
- substance abuse
- another anxiety disorder
Other factors that can increase your risk of developing an
anxiety disorder are described below.
Everyone encounters stress. Excessive or unresolved stress
can increase your chances of developing chronic anxiety.
If someone in your family, especially a parent, has
anxiety, you have a greater risk of developing generalized anxiety disorder.
Some people are more prone to anxiety. Busy, high-strung
people (“type A” personalities) have greater risk of developing anxiety and
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 is the victim of trauma, or witnessing
Women are twice as likely as men to have generalized
anxiety disorder and other related conditions.
Some medical conditions and medications can produce
anxiety and symptoms similar to anxiety, but this is not a true anxiety
disorder. In these cases, treating the condition or discontinuing the
medication will usually relieve the symptoms.