What causes anxiety?

What causes anxiety?

We may group the causes of anxiety disorders into three major categories:

·      Genetics,

·      personality, and

·      stress.

They all impact each other.


We are made up of about 20,000 genes. Some of the genes we have inherited may predispose us to certain anxiety disorders, or some other illness.                

Still, we have not found any single gene that, on its own, causes anxiety. We’ve only found genes that may increase the risk.

We now know that various factors may switch genes on or off, like stress and lifestyle. Even if you have a family history of anxiety, and whatever genes you have inherited, it does not mean that you also will develop an anxiety disorder.


Some people have personality traits, like being hypersensitive and avoidant, which may make them more prone to anxiety.

Some people have hypersensitive brains that may overreact when encountering an anxiety trigger.

A trigger may be something you see, like a group of people, that may trigger fears of rejection.

It may be thoughts about something, like an exam, that triggers worries of failing. Or thoughts about a disease that triggers worries of being sick and dying from it.

Or it may even be that you experience some physical symptoms like heavy breathing, a pounding heart, and sweating. These are perfectly normal and healthy bodily responses if you are active and exercising. But, for someone with anxiety proneness, they may be experienced as fear responses and trigger further anxiety

Avoidance is a defensive strategy against anxiety. But when the fears and worries are excessive, and they themselves become the problem, then avoidance is an unhelpful strategy. If we try to run away from anxiety, it will usually come chasing after us.


Experiencing traumatizing events, especially in childhood, like abuse, neglect, domestic violence, bullying, sickness, or loss of a loved one, may change the brain, making it susceptible to intense stress and anxiety responses. Such toxic stress may disrupt the brain’s development and increase the risk of anxiety disorders.

Finally, various medical conditions may cause symptoms of anxiety. Therefore, you should have a thorough physical examination if you have anxiety symptoms. Caffeine and certain medications may also cause anxiety symptoms.

In the next video, we will explore what’s happening in our brains and bodies in an anxiety disorder.

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