There is no singular cause of anxiety and research has shown that different individuals have different causes of anxiety. Evidence has shown that there are multiple factors at play, but some of the most common causes of anxiety include
As is with many other mental and medical conditions, certain might be genetically predisposed to developing symptoms of anxiety. Recent research tells us that a person could be vulnerable to anxiety if certain genetic markers have been passed on to them. You have a chance of developing symptoms of anxiety if any of your first degree relatives (parent, sibling, child) experience it.
Studies have also shown that women are more prone to anxiety disorders in general, with some studies showing women are twice as likely to be impacted.
Two parts of the brain are thought to be key players in the production of and processing of anxiety – the Amygdala and the Hippocampus.
The Amygdala is an almond-shaped structure deep in the brain that is a communications hub for incoming signals and interpreting these signals. Heightened activity within the amygdala has been correlated with inaccurate interpretations of social behaviour, thus causing anxiety.
The hippocampus is the part of the brain that encodes threatening events into memories, which is triggered when our brain encounters a threat and goes into “survival mode”.
While genetic and biological factors definitely contribute to anxiety, many develop it after significant life experiences like trauma. Recent research has shown that trauma in childhood can increase a person’s risk of developing anxiety.
Other experiences like physical and mental abuse, neglect, death of a loved one, isolation, divorce, and abandonment are all contributing factors.
Individuals with anxiety have difficulty in accurately interpreting threats.
Research has increasingly shown that many societal factors also lead to anxiety, For example, excessive use of social media has been shown to impact mental health greatly which might lead to anxiety and depression.
Similarly, lifestyle factors like substance use and relationships also lead to anxiety. Addictive substances like caffeine when used every day might heighten feelings of nervousness or worry. Additionally, relationships, while a great source of comfort, might also be a source of pain and anxiety.
If left untreated, the effects of anxiety disorders pervade every aspect of the individual’s life. While not every individual would be affected by anxiety the same way, several long-term effects are common and include:
- Drug abuse and addiction
- Social isolation
- Lack of sleep
- Development of other mental health disorders
- Physical health problems
- Self-harming behaviours
- Increasing symptom severity
Excessive worry or anxiety is often accompanied by many symptoms that also affect your body and health. This includes nausea, headaches, muscle soreness, fatigue, improper sleep, digestive trouble, sweating, shaking or trembling, shortness of breath, and pounding heart.
With anxiety comes stress, which shrinks the hippocampus that is responsible for processing long-term and contextual memory. If the hippocampus shrinks, it becomes difficult for your brain to hold onto memories, while the few memories you hold on to will be related to anxiety, furthering your stress.
Anxiety, if left untreated, has many long term effects. This includes insomnia, chronic stress, increasing symptom severity, social isolation, development of other mental health disorders, and drug abuse or addiction.
Increasingly, research has shown that caffeine, if consumed excessively, leads to nervousness, headache, and anxiety. Any drink that contains caffeine (coffee, tea, energy drinks, sodas) has the tendency to increase symptoms of anxiety, too.
While many of the symptoms people experience are common across the different types of anxiety, there are subtle differences that help therapists differentiate between the type of anxiety and the course of treatment to be followed.