Anxiety disorder

What Causes Anxiety?

“Anxiety- an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.”

-Merriam Webster

You want to understand what causes anxiety. If you find that you are affected by the disorder that’s to be expected.

In this post, I will address what causes anxiety, as well as the usual treatment. But before we get into the thick of it, let’s quickly clarify the difference between anxiety and anxiety disorder, as these two things are frequently confused with one another.


  • Anxiety

Becoming anxious is a reasonable response to life’s stressors. By doubting yourself and your abilities, you can become nervous. Regular anxiety will pass, and you will be back to your usual self in no time.


  • Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety Disorder is a medical diagnosis. It’s the umbrella term for multiple mental illnesses characterized by extreme anxiousness.

 A few examples of these disorders are Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

  The tension felt with these disorders can be constant. It impacts people’s lives in many ways.

Anxiety Disorder is the “Anxiety” we will be covering in this post.

*Related Post: How Do I Know If I Have Anxiety?


What Causes Anxiety?

Short answer: We aren’t 100% sure. That was helpful, wasn’t it? I know it sucks. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Long answer: Scientists think that anxiety disorder is caused by a mixure of many different things. “Think” being the word here, its all theory at this point. 

We are learning more and more about this disorder. Maybe one day soon we will have a concrete answer, but for now, let’s look at the theories.



Your Brain

Your brain is an obvious answer to the question, “what causes anxiety?” It has a hand in everything that you do, which makes it that much harder to understand how it works. 

There are so many parts working together inside your brain that it can be challenging to narrow down exact causes.

 There is a lot of information with this theory as it differs with each type of anxiety disorder, but I’ll give you the basic gist of it:

  • The limbic system is responsible for processing emotions.
  • The prefrontal frontal cortex (PFC) and the Orbital Front Cortex (OFC) are responsible for regulating the reactions to the emotional parts of your brain.
  • The brain chemicals provide communication between the two but can also affect mood themselves.

These brain systems along, with other closely related systems, work as a team to take in data, process it, and decide the appropriate response. 

In an anxiety brain, the balance is off. Where the imbalance occurs depends on the type of anxiety you have.

It’s far too much to explain in detail here. You can follow this link if you’d like a closer look.


Fight or Flight

Remember how I told you that abnormal activity in either side of the brain could be what causes anxiety? Well, it’s thought that the fight or flight response may be rolled up into that whole fiasco.

A fight or flight response is something triggered to help keep you safe. It kicks up your heart rate, sets you on edge, and primes your muscles for fast movement in case you need to fight or run.

It’s possible that your brain is misinterpreting a stressor for something dangerous. Due to this confusion, it triggers a fight or flight response for something that will not cause you any physical harm.

This theory brings a quote from the movie After Earth to mind.

“The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist.” 

It can be helpful to remind yourself in the midst of an anxiety attack that you are “Not at present, and may not ever” be in any actual danger from your trigger.

I have used this technique, and it does indeed help. I use it a sort of Mantra. “You are not in danger. You’re okay.” is what I usually say, and I repeat it until my brain gets the hint.



Negative environmental experiences can change the way your brain functions, which coupled with other factors, could cause your brain to have abnormal reactions.

A few examples of these negative experiences are trauma, and extreme prolonged stress stemming from things like relationships, school, and work.

Trauma and stress can cause changes in your brain, and by extension, the way you react.

Related:10 Things You Can Do To Help Eliminate Anxiety

Some scientists think that learned behaviors could also be a cause for anxiety disorders. They say If you grow up with an anxious parent, it’s possible that you may be at risk of mirroring their behavior.

I find it difficult to get behind the learned behaviors theory. There are just so many variables to consider with this one that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.



Do you have close relatives that suffer from an anxiety disorder? Scientists think that may play a part in what causes anxiety.

 Like your enviroment, genes can change how your brain works, which can put you at a higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

*Sidenote* Panic Disorder seems to be impacted by genes more than other disorders, While GAD is said to be affected the least. “Thanks, mom.” 😂



Personality Types

It’s thought that some personality types are at a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders. The big five are the ones used the most by psychologists and are as follows: openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, and neuroticism.

This one is confusing because it can be similar to the chicken and the egg argument. Which one came first? Did your personality put you at risk for anxiety? Or did the anxiety affect your character? 

I think this theory would make sense if a person exhibited these personality traits before the disorder surfaced.

If you compared me side by side to my husband, then it would make sense that I would be at a higher risk for anxiety. He’s a typical extroverted personality. I am an introvert with a giant dollop of neuroticism on top and was that way long before my diagnosis.

I had trouble finding a list of which personality types are at higher risk for anxiety disorders. I would assume that’s because of the differences in the anxiety disorder types. For instance, if you are low on the extroversion spectrum then naturally you would probably be at risk for social anxiety, and a person high on the neuroticism spectrum would probably be at a higher risk for generalized anxiety disorder.

I checked out quite a few personality tests for you, and this one is by far the best. It’s the most accurate in my opinion. It’s also completely free and doesn’t require your email address. As a bonus, you can save your results by using a code generated on the website. The code also allows you to compare your results with others. It’s pretty neat.


A Theory of My Own

Now, I’m not a doctor or scientist. Don’t take this one too seriously, but I have a little theory of my own. Is it not possible that anxiety is a form of rapid evolution? Stick with me here.

Stress can be a killer. In abnormally large amounts it’s dangerous. It can affect all different parts of your body. Your gums, heart, brain, immune system, you name it. Stress is rising and so are suicides and mental illnesses, even in children.

I spoke about personality types, and how certain personality types are thought to have higher risks than others for developing anxiety disorders. 

The personality types affected are usually the ones who obsess over small things, worry about others, and get easily upset. These are all traits that can cause excessive stress in our already stressful, and extremely connected world.

Could it be possible that as the world gets more stressful that our bodies are trying to save us from that stress by reprogramming our responses to it? 

Instilling fear and anxiety seem to be an obvious way to get us to avoid stressors. The problem is, you can’t prevent most of it. Usually, you would STILL have to go to school or work and face your triggers one way or another, and maybe that is where the actual problem is.

So if we lived in a world where we could listen to our triggers do you think it would eliminate our anxiety? 


What’s the treatment?

You know the possible causes, so now I’ll tell you the usual treatment. Doctors tend to recommend a well-rounded approach utilizing the theories on what causes anxiety. 

Tackling the possibility of your brain being the culprit through medications, while also using therapy for any other possible causes is said to put you at a higher chance of success.

It’s important to mention that you do not have to take medications if you don’t want to. The decision should be made by you with the guidance of a doctor. If you don’t want to take medications, then ask your doctor about alternatives. I would also suggest reflecting on why you don’t want medicine.

For a long time, I told myself I didn’t want to put medications like that in my body. I would be lying if I said that it didn’t have anything to do with the stigma of being medicated.

This past year has been a journey. It took me that long to rid myself of the embarrassment I felt towards my disorder so that I could accept the help that I needed. 

Now that I’m more comfortable in my diagnosis, I am in the process of taking a good look at my options and re-evaluating what medication could do for me.


Final Thought

There are many different possible causes for your anxiety diagnosis. It can be aggravating not knowing what causes your mental illness. I feel your pain. Stay positive, take care of yourself to the best of your ability, and remember that you are not alone.


I have created an anxiety support group on Facebook! CLICK HERE to join!

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