Causes of anxiety

Most commonly, stresses in our lives trigger anxiety. Usually it is a response to external factors. However, we may make ourselves more anxious through our negative appraisal of a situation when we tell ourselves that the worst is going to happen. Many other factors cause anxiety, such as environmental factors, medical factors, genetics, brain chemistry, substance abuse, or any combination of these. Let us look at each one of these factors one by one.


Anxiety runs in families. A family history of anxiety increases the likelihood that a person will develop it. When a child grows {{:image-1.jpg?200 |}}up with a father or a mother, known for life-long anxiety, they may show similar reactions to stress. However, not every child of an anxious parent gets the same mood traits. Genetics does not determine the whole fate of a person.

Our make-up is caused by a mixture of different physical and psychological factors, such as our hormones, enzymes, physical development and health, our psychological growth and our experiences, as well as, our relationships with important figures in our life from parents, siblings, teachers and friends.

That is, some people may have a genetic predisposition that gives them a greater chance of suffering from anxiety disorders, but other factors may aggravate these features or reduce the chances of such traits appear in their behaviour.

Brain chemistry

Research has shown that people with abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain are more likely to suffer from generalized anxiety disorder.

Neurotransmitters are just chemical signals passing between nerve cells in our brains. They are compounds released by nerve cells to transmit nerve impulse into a neighbouring cell. The brain cells have cable-like long appendages, which connect each cell to another, near or far from it. In this way, nerve cells together form circuits, which work in harmony together. At the end of these nerve cables a swelling produce and release these chemicals to transfer the impulse to the neighbouring cell. An increase or decrease in these chemicals – neurotransmitters - affects the brain functions, such as our mood, fear or anxiety.

Low level of a neurotransmitter called serotonin may cause anxiety and depression .This has led to the use of the class of antidepressant drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs in anxiety. These drugs prevent loss of such chemical by taking it back to the cell end. Release of saved serotonin again will enhance the nerve activity. Increasing serotonin level in the brain can offer anxiety relief.

It is assumes that non-drug treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy may help by increasing the level of these chemicals in the brain too. We respond to our environment by changes in the chemicals in our body and our brain, so psychotherapy make gradual changes in our brain chemicals during the long process of therapy.

Medical causes

Sometimes, a person may develop symptoms of anxiety for no clear reason. A Doctor trying to find out psychological reasons in this person's life, or searching for stress or problems, will not find firm evidence. Physical investigations may unveil the real cause of his anxiety.

There is a condition, which leads to secretion of excessive amount in noradrenaline and adrenaline from a gland above the kidney. This condition, Pheochromocytoma, shows up as a collection of severe anxiety symptoms. Noradrenaline and adrenaline are the chemicals secreted normally into the blood stream in case of fear and apprehension.

More commonly, conditions such as thyroid over activity or anaemia may also present as anxiety and nervousness. People who suffer from chest conditions such as asthma or emphysema may show signs of anxiety due to their breathing difficulties. Some heart conditions appear similar to anxiety symptoms or may trigger anxiety.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Doctors in the past used to prescribe sedatives excessively for patients with anxiety. When Hoffmann La Roche introduced Valium in 1959, doctors prescribed it without restriction and it has become the most prescribed drug in the world. Other similar drugs came to the market and gradually it became clear that they cause addiction. Withdrawal from these drugs makes the patient experience much worse anxiety symptoms.

Withdrawal from any substance, which calm the nerves remarkably, and quickly such as sedatives and alcohol will cause anxiety symptoms. Other drugs of abuse such as stimulants, such as cocaine and amphetamines, may trigger feelings of anxiety in excessive doses. Withdrawal from opium-related drugs, for example heroin, gives rise to severe symptoms of anxiety.

The most common drug responsible for anxiety symptoms is caffeine. Excessive coffee and tea makes some people tense, anxious, worried or nervous. The first advice for people with anxiety is to cut down on their caffeine intake.

Environmental Causes of anxiety

These are the most common causes of anxiety. Stressful events that happen to everyone from time to time bring about anxiety. Times of transition in one’s life are the focal points of anxiety. Parental conflict or divorce in childhood, parental neglect or abuse, adolescent problems, graduation, work, marriage, and middle-age crisis are sources for anxiety periods in many people’s life.

Loss of loved ones, end of a relationship, divorce, loss of employment, financial insecurity, growing older and more physically feeble and vulnerable are some of the reasons of being anxious and depressed.

When a person experience a severe trauma that threaten his life or body he may develop symptoms of severe anxiety in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder. During the First World War, doctors noticed that combatants display such anxiety symptoms and they labelled it 'shell shock'. Experiencing any life-threatening situation like car accidents, shooting, civil war or terrorist attacks may trigger post-traumatic stress disorder.


Severe or long-lasting stress can trigger changes in the chemicals in the brain in a way which makes a person feel anxious or sad. Being subjected to on-going stress may lead to development of anxiety symptoms. At first, the person tries to cope the best he could, yet gradually his defence mechanisms and his strategies of coping may fail. Some people may try to cope by some external strategies such as smoking or drinking alcohol which even make things worse as they don't deal with their main trigger of anxiety which is an external "stressor".

Most people believe that severe or long-lasting stress can trigger an imbalance in the chemicals in the brain that make you feel anxious or sad. Some people are born with greater chance of having this chemical imbalance, or it may be caused by a particular stress, called a "stressor".

As an example of a stressor: someone going through a breakup of a relationship or a possible loss of a friend or loved one may become depressed or quite anxious and panicky. Most commonly, pressures at work such as unfriendly boss or bullying a senior colleague, or money problems and problems of debt may make people anxious and stressed. Drug misuse and too much alcohol use may make anxiety worse. Sometimes alcohol is used wrongly by some people to deal with their anxiety. It may end up causing more anxiety and stress. This is due to its after-effects and the side-effects of illicit drugs. The social and personal consequences of such habits and dependencies may make life situation more intolerable and aggravate the original anxiety. Coping with serious illness will make any person feel anxious without doubt. However some people may feel anxious when they are facing a new situation even if it is favourable, such as moving home or buying a new house. In some even a job promotion may trigger anxiety and stress. A young person just starting college may experience anxiety as he has to cope with new relationships and new situations. Someone who is planning to marry may feel anxious because of expectations of all tasks and preparations he has to deal with.

Examples of stressors that can trigger long-lasting anxiety include possible breakup of a relationship or the possible loss of a friend or loved one. Pressure at work and money problems may be stressors. Drug misuse and drinking too much alcohol are other example of stressors which manifest as anxiety. A serious illness or a major change in your life such as moving home or buying a new house or even a job promotion may trigger anxiety and stress. Young people who are starting college or getting engaged or married may experience symptoms of anxiety