What Causes Anxiety?

Doctors and researchers haven’t identified one specific reason why some people have anxiety, but they do believe there are some underlying risk factors.

Anxiety Part 2: Causes of Anxiety & Risk Factors

Estimated watch time: 7 mins


This video serves as a guide to explore the causes of anxiety and related risk factors. Sometimes we want to identify one particular source or one reason we may have anxiety and that’s not always possible. Anxiety disorders can develop as a result of your environment, genetics, substance use and medical factors. Understanding the causes of an anxiety disorder can help you understand you’re not to blame, as it is a medical condition.

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Anxiety Part 2: What Causes Anxiety?

In this lesson we will discuss the causes of anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting approximately 40 million adults every year.

The causes of anxiety disorders are not fully understood at this time and cannot be attributed to one factor. There are actually a combination of factors that have been shown to affect individuals differently. These factors can be environmental, genetic, the use or abuse of substances such as drugs or alcohol, and also medical issues.

What do we mean by environmental issues? Environmental factors are those components that are part of our daily life, such as our relationships with family, friends, co-workers and other associates. Our job, whether we are happy there or not, the people we interact with and how productively we feel.  Our living situation, including housing the people we live with or whether we live alone. The climate, which refers to the weather where we spend most of our time and what effect it has on us. Some studies suggest that individuals who live in very hot climates may experience higher levels of anxiety. And financial issues, whether we feel financially secure or are financially struggling or somewhere in between.

Other environmental factors are growing up with an anxious parent, being raised in a high conflict environment, and major life changes such as moving, changing jobs, getting married or divorced.

Genetic factors are those we inherit biologically. So having family members, especially what is referred to as a first degree relative, such as a parent or a sibling who has anxiety, has been linked with an increase in the risk of developing generalized anxiety disorder.  Studies suggest, however, that while the risk exists, it contributes only moderately to one’s likelihood of developing anxiety. However, as we said earlier, anxiety disorder appears to be caused by a combination of factors and not one factor alone.

Substance abuse is a strong risk factor for developing anxiety disorders. The use of drugs or alcohol affects our brain. The brain produces chemicals referred to as neurotransmitters that affect our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.  Without the right balance of these chemicals, we are likely to experience disturbances in how we feel. One of these disturbances can be the development of an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety that appears to have been brought on by the use of drugs or alcohol is referred to as substance induced anxiety disorder. Individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol may experience anxiety while they are using or under the influence, during withdrawals from substances, and after stopping the substance use.

The next factor is medical. Anxiety can be caused by pre-existing medical conditions, including, but not limited to heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain, withdrawal from alcohol and drugs, respiratory disorders such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease also referred to as COPD. Sometimes anxiety can be a side effect of certain medications. If you have any of these or other medical conditions, it is important that you speak honestly with your medical provider about any anxiety that you are experiencing to determine whether it may be related to your medical conditions.

Anxiety may be due to medical causes if you have no previous history of anxiety, you have no relatives who have an anxiety disorder, or you have a sudden occurrence of anxiety that is unrelated to the events going on in your life at this time. Bear in mind that this does not necessarily mean that your anxiety is due to a medical condition. However, they are factors to keep in mind and discuss with your medical provider.

Other factors, some of which we have already discussed, that increase risk of developing an anxiety disorder are using drugs or alcohol, having experienced trauma, medical illness, having multiple stressors at once, other mental disorders, and certain personality traits.

Right now, I would like to discuss in more detail the personality traits that increase a person’s risk of developing anxiety. Personality traits are personal characteristics that direct how individuals are likely to respond to their environment. I will be discussing six traits that have been found to be risk factors for developing an anxiety disorder.

  • Avoidance.
    • A person who is more likely to avoid a difficult situation rather than face it.
  • Irritability.
    • Individuals who are easily irritated or annoyed are at higher risk
  • Overthinking.
    • This includes obsessing over what we said, did not say, or should have said. It includes excessively analyzing situations and questioning and re-questioning our decisions.
  • People pleasing.
    • This includes individuals who have a strong desire to make everything better for everyone around them to the point where it crosses reasonable boundaries.
  • Perfectionism.
    • This is just what it sounds like. It is the desire to make things what the individual or the perfectionists would consider perfect. Small mistakes are not taken in stride and the individual will spend more time than necessary on a given task.
  • Resistance to change.
    • Someone who is resistant to change is likely to focus on the negative outcome rather than the positive aspects of doing something new. Since change is a common part of life, a person who is resistant to it is likely to develop anxiety over things they cannot control.

In summary, we have discussed how the causes of anxiety disorders are not fully understood at this time. It has been found that a combination of factors are involved, including environmental, genetic, the use of substances, and medical or health issues.

It has also been found that certain personality traits may place one at higher risk for developing an anxiety disorder. All of these factors affect individuals differently so that there is no one cause that leads to anxiety disorder. Remember to see your medical professional with any concerns that you have.

Join me in the next lesson on anxiety triggers.

Thank you for choosing The Recovery Village.  If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health or substance abuse and would like to find out more about the programs we offer, please reach out to us directly at 855-387-3291.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.