What Causes Anxiety?

Phi Atratus
  • Apr 21, 2022
  • 5 min read
unrecognizable woman with anxiety disorder with hands in head

There is no way I am going to pass this test, I don’t even want to show up,” and “I was so uncomfortable at that party, it was hard for me to breathe” are a couple of sentences we hear from people with anxiety. Anxiety is a common reaction to life events. Sometimes, it becomes very uncomfortable and makes day-to-day life hard to live.

Anxiety symptoms can feel and look different for everyone. It’s not just worrying thoughts or panic attacks. For some, it may be worrying about anything and everything, while for others, it may be worrying only about a very specific thing (for example, being around other people). Other ways it can show up are irritability, agitation, or aggression.

You may also experience a general uneasiness that something is going to go wrong. This may also be accompanied by muscle aches and tension. When we are fearful or anxious, our muscles naturally tense up to help us prepare to eliminate the threat. If you are anxious chronically, muscle tension and pain can become chronic as well. Apart from all of this, you may also face difficulties concentrating and staying still.

Understanding the signs and causes of anxiety through in-person or online counseling can help us deal with it more effectively.

Signs of Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorders share the features of excessive fear, anxiety, and other physical symptoms, such as palpitations and headaches. When you feel anxious, you become vigilant about any potential threats that may harm you (real or imagined). For instance, you may be anxious about public speaking because you anticipate that you may end up embarrassing yourself. 

All anxiety disorders have irrational and excessive fears, apprehensive and tense feelings which may also be accompanied by difficulties in managing life. Though there are overlapping anxiety symptoms, there are numerous types of anxiety disorders. Among them are:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

This is among the most common types of anxiety disorders. GAD affects 6.8 million adults and often co-occurs with depression. This disorder is characterized by excessive worry about everyday things and can interfere with your daily life.

Separation anxiety disorder

This type of anxiety is more common in children. For many, the mere thoughts of separation can cause a high amount of stress. People with separation anxiety worry that something unexpected can separate them from their significant others or that their attachment figure will abandon them. If you fear being alone and often refuse to leave your significant others, you may be experiencing separation anxiety.

Social anxiety disorder

If you experience fear of public situations or exposure to unfamiliar people, you may be experiencing a social anxiety disorder. You may choose to avoid places where you are under the spotlight since you may be worried about possible embarrassment or judgment by others. If the thought or the anticipation alone of a social event is enough to stir anxiety in you, it might be time to get in touch with a therapist.

Panic disorder

If you’ve experienced several panic attacks in your life, you may have panic disorder. Panic attacks are an intense burst of fear, followed by a range of physical symptoms, such as muscle stiffness or trembling, hyperventilation, and light-headedness. You may experience panic attacks in combination with other disorders as well.


Agoraphobia is the fear of public places. You may experience anxiety when a space seems too open or dangerous. It may be triggered by fear of becoming a victim of a crime or contracting a disease. Since COVID-19 is a real, present threat, a fear of public places is legitimate and may not be caused by agoraphobia.

What Causes Anxiety Disorders?

The question of what causes anxiety disorders doesn't have one single answer. Causes of anxiety disorders are a combination of biological and psychological factors and challenging life experiences.


Family and twin studies have found a considerable heritability of anxiety disorders (30–67%). If you are experiencing anxiety, you may notice signs of anxiety in your family tree. Experts now believe that genes may shape your emotional responses in such a way that it leads to feelings of anxiety. 

Life stressors

People may feel anxious as a result of various life events. These stressors are not universal, and what affects others may not affect you. For some people, anxiety can be at its peak when they’re asked to perform or present themselves in front of a large group, whereas for others, it can stem from concerns relating to stigmatization.

Worrying about the state of the environment can also cause anxiety, and this is sometimes called “eco-anxiety.” While this is not a diagnosable condition, given the deteriorating condition of the planet, you may experience worry and anxiety about climate change and also experience helplessness as a result of this.

A 2020 analysis found that general feelings of anxiety are also likely to be caused by environmental factors (early trauma and recent life stressors).

Traumatic events

In some cases, anxiety can be caused by how you were raised as a child. Your upbringing may have had a large impact on why you’re experiencing anxiety. Childhood trauma can make you very critical of yourself and your behavior. Parents often teach us to think of worst-case scenarios, but this can push us to think only negatively about ourselves.

Psychological factors

One of the most common anxiety factors is overthinking or rumination. This is when we make a big deal of everything to the point that every experience and interaction we have starts to seem negative. Reading too much into everything, from the slightest change in someone’s voice to facial expressions, can drive you to the edge.

Do you pressure yourself into overachieving? Though achievements are important for our mental health, overworking and feeling stressed out can make you more susceptible to anxiety. When you strive for unrealistically high goals, you may end up setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. You may never feel content with yourself or your current achievements.

In this day and age, the internet makes us all feel that we need to impress everyone. Some people end up thinking that their social media presence defines who they are, so the pressure to be accepted and liked by others can, in turn, cause a loop of anxiety.

Researchers have been able to determine what causes anxiety and depression to a large extent, but this doesn’t mean that the causes listed here are the causes underlying your particular anxiety. Psychotherapy can help you get a clear picture of what’s causing your anxiety.

Can Therapy Help Me Deal With Anxiety Disorders?

In-person and online therapy are useful in managing the signs and symptoms of anxiety, as well as its root causes. Medications may also be prescribed to calm your nerves and elevate your mood. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common forms of therapy for anxiety. In CBT, the therapist identifies and addresses how your thoughts and behaviors interact to create anxiety. Therapists will work with you to recognize how negative thought patterns influence your feelings and behaviors.

Once you have a better understanding of what makes your anxiety work, the therapist then equips you with strategies that can alleviate the uncomfortable experience. For example, you may write your negative thoughts for the day while also writing their positive alternatives.

Can Any Self-Help Techniques Help Me?

Although anxiety can be daunting, there are many ways of coping with it. First and foremost is the realization that we can’t control everything. Next, you must avoid putting pressure on yourself to be perfect in everything you do. Additionally, try replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, instead of thinking, “I will fail,” you can try to think, “I will try my best.”

Most importantly, identify what triggers your anxiety and focus on tackling this issue. A helpful thing you can do is write your triggers in a journal along with a coping mechanism that makes you feel better. 

Relaxation techniques

Learning how to relax your body is an important part of self-help. Muscle tension and shallow breathing are both linked to stress and anxiety, so it’s important to become aware of these bodily sensations and to regularly practice exercises to help you learn to relax. For example, one can practice progressive muscle relaxation, which involves systematically tensing and relaxing parts of the body.

Realistic thinking

Anxiety can significantly alter the way we think about our world. One way of relieving anxiety fast is to alter our thoughts about a particular situation. For example, instead of thinking, “I am a failure,” you can think, “it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them.” Challenging your negative thoughts takes practice, but once you can do that, you start to perceive yourself and the world more objectively.

Lifestyle changes

Some lifestyle changes can help you cope with anxiety. These include exercising daily (this does not necessarily mean spending an hour or so in the gym; it can also include going for a 15-minute walk), getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night, eating a well-balanced meal three times a day, and reducing your alcohol and caffeine intake.

Final Word

When signs of anxiety start appearing, it is time for action. Although self-help techniques help cope with anxiety, they may not always be enough, especially if you’re dealing with severe anxiety. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help from mental health professionals. At DoMental, we match you with a therapist who fits your requirements and needs and provides a seamless online therapy experience.

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