Anxiety: What are the leading causes?

Anxiety is a natural and frequently beneficial emotion. However, when a person experiences disproportionate levels of worry regularly, it may develop into a medical illness.

Anxiety disorders are a mental health diagnosis that causes excessive uneasiness, fear, apprehension, and worry. These illnesses change how a person processes emotions and behaves, and they can also cause physical symptoms. Mild anxiety might be unclear and uncomfortable, whereas severe anxiety can substantially interfere with daily life. While anxiety can cause misery, it is not always a medical illness. Knowing the difference between familiar sensations of anxiety and an anxiety disorder that requires medical attention can help a person recognize and treat the condition.

Anxiety is not only common but also vital for survival when confronted with potentially damaging or frightening causes. Since the beginning of time, predators’ approach and impending danger have triggered alarms in the body, allowing evasive action. These warnings manifest as increased heart rate, perspiration, and enhanced awareness of surroundings.

The threat stimulates a surge of adrenalin, a hormone and chemical messenger in the brain, which induces these nervous behaviors in a process known as the “fight-or-flight” response. This equips humans to confront or flee any potential dangers to their safety. Running from larger creatures and immediate danger is a less pressing issue for many people than it would have been for early humans. Anxiety now revolves around work, money, family life, health, and other critical matters that require a person’s attention without necessitating the ‘fight-or-flight’ response.

Symptoms of Anxiety

While anxiety disorders can have a variety of diagnoses, the following are common symptoms of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD):

  • Restlessness and a sense of being “on edge.”
  • uncontrollable worry
  • heightened irritation
  • trouble concentrating
  • Sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep

While these symptoms are common in everyday life, people with GAD will have them regularly or excessively. GAD symptoms can range from vague, disturbing worry to severe anxiety that interferes with daily life.

8 Leading Causes of Anxiety

Here are the 8 leading causes that can increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

#1. Stress

Everyone experiences stress, but persistent anxiety can be exacerbated by excessive or unresolved stress. In 2019, the authors of a study reviewing trusted sources evaluated data from several studies showing neurobiological linkages between stress and anxiety. They concluded that neuronal properties in specific areas of the brain, such as the amygdala, which processes frightened and threatening information, may help explain how stress leads to anxiety.

#2. Genetic Factors

If someone in your family has an anxiety problem, you may be more likely to develop one. Social and economic variables can have a role, but new data suggests that genetic factors may also play a role. A 2019 study investigated the relationship between hereditary factors and anxiety and stress-related diseases. The authors determined that you may be predisposed to anxiety if you have specific genetic characteristics. These characteristics could be inherited.

#3. Personality type

Certain personality characteristics may increase your chances of acquiring anxiety and anxiety disorders. For six years, scientists monitored 489 first-year university students. It investigates how particular outlooks, such as a propensity to experience negative feelings, extraversion, and introversion, would affect their risk of developing anxiety and depression.

They discovered that young adults were hypercritical of themselves. They struggled with criticism or had a lot of negative thoughts and feelings and were more likely to develop panic disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and major depressive disorder over time.

Agoraphobia was also more likely in people who scored high on an introversion measure rather than extroversion.

While they may serve as “vulnerability variables,” the authors believe they are likely part of a larger picture.

#4. Trauma

A recent or previous stressful event, such as abuse or military battle, can raise your risk of getting anxiety. It can also happen if you are close to a trauma victim or have observed something traumatic. Many people experience anxiety following an unanticipated or terrifying event called acute distress disorder (ASD). However, persistent symptoms may indicate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms usually develop 3 months after the event. 

However, they can appear months or years afterward. They include:

  • flashbacks
  • bad dreams
  • constantly feeling on edge
  • difficulty sleeping
  • angry outbursts
  • avoiding places or situations that could trigger stress symptoms

#5. Racism

Even once hereditary factors are taken into account, people who have experienced racial discrimination have a higher chance of developing anxiety and anxiety disorders. A 2021 study determined that prejudice is a risk factor for anxiety. The authors advocated for a broader understanding of how racism, discrimination, and social exclusion might harm people’s mental health.

According to Mental Health America, Black and Indigenous People of Color in the United States are at risk of race-based traumatic stress injury (RBTS). If you have had an “emotionally painful, unexpected, and uncontrollable racist encounter,” you may be affected by RBTS. Symptoms are similar to those of PTSD and can affect a larger community. RBTS, unlike PTSD, is a mental injury rather than a mental health illness, according to MHA.

#6. Sex

According to research, girls are more likely than males to experience anxiety and acquire an anxiety disorder. However, this may vary depending on the disorder. Females appear to have higher rates of the following than males:

Males and girls may be equally susceptible to social anxiety disorder (SAD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) (OCD). OCD and SAD are also the most common anxiety disorders in men. According to the experts, the cause is most likely a combination of biological and social or cultural variables. Further research is needed to determine how each contributes.

#7. Medical causes

A person’s health can contribute to stress in a variety of ways, including:

  • mental and physical well-being in the past and present
  • having a persistent condition that makes daily existence difficult
  • having an illness that generates challenging symptoms, such as palpitations
  • having a condition that causes anxiety, such as a hormone imbalance

However, these will not always result in an anxiety disorder.

#8. Life events

According to the American Institute of Stress, life events like trauma might increase your risk of stress and anxiety.

Here are several examples:

  • losing a loved one
  • divorce or separation
  • spending time in the criminal justice system
  • injury or illness
  • financial pressures or a loss of employment
  • significant changes, such as moving into a new house or getting married

These experiences can occur without causing an anxiety disorder. However, some people do.

How Can You Prevent Anxiety?

Coping mechanisms may help you handle the anxiety from life’s stressors. Here are some things you can try:

  • Stress management: Stress management can help limit potential triggers. Organize any forthcoming deadlines and pressures, establish lists to make big tasks more achievable, and commit to taking time off from school or work.
  • Relaxation techniques: Simple exercises can assist in alleviating both the emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety. These techniques include meditation, deep breathing exercises, long baths, resting in the dark, and yoga.
  • Exercises for replacing negative ideas with happy thoughts: Make a list of the negative thoughts that may be cycling due to anxiety. Then, make a list of positive, realistic reviews to replace them. Imagining yourself successfully facing and conquering a specific fear might also help if your anxiety symptoms are related to a particular reason, such as a phobia.
  • Support network: with supportive people you know, such as family members or friends. Local and online support group services may also be provided.
  • Exercise: Physical activity can increase self-esteem and produce chemicals in the brain that cause happy feelings.


Experts are uncertain about the particular causes of anxiety disorders. Genetics, environment, and personal history are all likely factors. Make an appointment with your doctor if your anxiety symptoms bother you or aren’t going away.

They can assist in diagnosing it and developing a treatment plan to address your symptoms. They may suggest behavioral adjustments, counseling, drugs, or other interventions. Some medical illnesses and drugs can cause anxiety-like feelings. Your doctor would most likely treat your underlying problem, identify the leading causes of your anxiety, or modify your prescription regimen in such circumstances.