What Causes Anxiety?
Updated: Aug 11
If you're familiar with the debilitating effects anxiety can have on someone, you might be familiar with one the common questions people come to therapy with-- "Why is this happening to me? What causes my anxiety?"
While learning about the causes of anxiety might help you understand yourself and your struggles a little bit better, we don't believe it is a *prerequisite* to treating and managing your anxiety. Furthermore, anxiety can be complex and multi-dimensional in cause. It is rare that one single thing is the sole cause of somebody's anxiety. More often than not, anxiety is a combination of many factors coming together.
That being said, we understand why you might be looking for answers. So today, we'll break down for you some of the known causes of contributors to anxiety disorders.
Heredity. Both nature and nurture seem to be at play here, but we can say with certainty that sharing genetic make-up with someone else with anxiety makes it more likely that you will have a similar problem.
Childhood circumstances. People who grew up in homes with overly cautious parents may come to view the world as a "dangerous" place. Children who grow up in homes with perfectionist parents may question whether they are "good enough" and internalize a self-critical voice. Children who are victims of neglect, abandonment, or abuse may have a hard time believing the world is a safe place. Finally, children who were expected to suppress their emotions might be more prone to anxiety in later years. If you have been impacted to these childhood conditions, it might be helpful to process your experiences in order to work through them and not be controlled by them today.
Cumulative stress. Chronic stress over a period of time, including significant loss and life changes, may increase the risk for anxiety. Even positive life events that require adjustment can be a source of stress. Want to see something interesting? Go take this Life Events Survey to see what your cumulative stress score is for the past two years. If you struggle with chronic stress, it may be helpful to eliminate, simplify, and/or delegate stressors. It also might be helpful to learn coping techniques to reduce stress.
Stimulants and recreational drugs. Panic attacks can be brought on by excessive caffeine intake, cocaine, amphetamines, PCP, LSD, and excessive marijuana use. Avoidance of these substances would be wise.
Anxious self-talk. If your inner monologue is constantly anticipating the worst case scenario, you may be more prone to anxiety. If you struggle with anxious self-talk, it would be helpful to identify and address (challenge, re-frame, or replace) these with non-anxious thoughts.
Core beliefs. Your core beliefs are the way you see yourself, others, and the world. Some people struggle with anxiety-provoking core beliefs, such as "I'm not safe. Something bad will happen. The world is dangerous. I'm not good enough." If you struggle with anxious core beliefs, it would be helpful to identify, challenge, and intentionally create more calming or neutral core beliefs.
Suppressing feelings. I call this the "anxiety closet." Some people don't have a good tool-kit for managing difficult emotions or situations. When these situations arise, they will figuratively open up the closet, and shove the feeling or situation in. At some point, after doing this one too many times, they open up the closet and everything falls in on them. If you struggle with emotion suppression, it would be helpful to master the art of mindfulness, which is an awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.
If you have been able to identify some of these causes in your life, you are now empowered with the knowledge you need to get to work. We strongly believe that you don't have to be controlled or consumed by your anxiety. It is possible to live a meaningful, fulfilling life as you learn to manage your anxiety. If you need help on your journey, don't hesitate to reach out to one of our therapists, who are trained to help you!
Carrie Nicholes is a Maryland Board approved Licensed Certified Social Worker - Clinical (LCSW-C) and the founder of Cedar Counseling & Wellness. Recognized as one of the top therapists in Annapolis, she has a lifelong passion for teaching people tools to improve their lives.