What causes anxiety?

Scientists believe that many factors may combine to cause anxiety disorders. Here are a few of the most likely:
  • Brain chemistry. Brain chemistry is almost certainly a factor in anxiety disorders. How do we know? Symptoms are often relieved by medications that alter levels of chemicals in the brain.
  • Life experiences. Exposure to abuse, violence, or poverty may make you more vulnerable to these illnesses.
  • Family history (genetics). Studies show that anxiety disorders run in families. This is probably due mostly to genetics. Identical twins are more likely to share an anxiety disorder than twins who are not identical. Anxiety disorders can begin in childhood. If you are a parent, observe your children for symptoms so they can be treated early.
  • Learned behaviors and thinking patterns. People with low self-esteem and poor coping skills may be prone to anxiety disorders.

Anxiety is situational and can be caused from fear. Some people are born with a higher level of anxiety (trait anxiety) which means in anxiety producing situations (state anxiety) they will start with a higher level of anxiety than people who are born with a lower level of anxiety. If you feel anxious much of the time then you were probably born with a higher level of anxiety and in certain situations that provoke fear you will have an even higher level of anxiety. For example, you may experience low levels of anxiety while driving around in your car but get more anxious when someone else is driving because you are afraid of being out of control. 

A common reason for anxiety in exercisers is a lack of self efficacy. Self efficacy is when you don't believe you can meet the demands of the situation. This is common for exercisers and athletes. For example, when an exerciser starts exercising regardless of the activity there generally a lack of self efficacy hence fear leading to anxiety. For athletes, particularly in a competition, self efficacy can be low which is often tied to fear of losing. 

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Deep inside our brains is an almond-shaped structure called the amygdala, which   acts as our fear and anxiety center. When we experience a potential worry,   the amygdala sends warning messages to the cortex, the rational part of our   brain, which can assess whether that worry is of true concern. As the   rational cortex is flooded with more and more warning signals from the   amygdala, however, it is unable to process them all, leading to worry loops   or anxiety. The biochemical roots of anxiety are still being studied, but at least in some cases an overactive amygdala is considered the cause of anxiety disorders.
We live in anxious times. Merely turning on the news or talking with friends can unleash a barrage of new concerns -- large-scale natural and man-made disasters, local fallout from a sagging economy, international conflicts, and global warming, to name a few. Personal issues, too, provoke anxiety about your health, your job and financial security, and your relationships with family and friends. Even everyday annoyances, such as getting stuck in traffic, dealing with a computer problem, or preparing for a work presentation, can stir up anxiety in vulnerable people.
Jacob Teitelbaum
Integrative Medicine
Anxiety can be caused by either physical or psychological reasons.

Physical causes can include:
  • An overactive thyroid, especially if you have experienced weight loss, racing heart/palpitations or sweating.
  • Low progesterone and estrogen. This can be seen in woman approaching menopause, and can occur 5-12 years before periods stop and tests for menopause become positive (called peri-menopause).
  • Low testosterone (men), especially beginning in, or after, one's late 40's.
  • Adrenal (stress handler) gland fatigue. Suspect this if you get irritable when hungry or if you crave sugar.
  • Nutritional deficiencies, especially B vitamins and magnesium.
Psychological causes can include:
  • Suppressing feelings. When anger or fear is buried, so that you're not aware of it, it will often come out as hyperventilation. This is often associated with panic attacks with intermittent inability to take a deep enough breath, numbness and tingling around your lips and in your fingers, and feeling like you're going to die. Though scary, it is not dangerous.

Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine

Anxiety can be the result of both physical and psychological factors. For example, extreme stress can definitely trigger anxiety, but so can certain stimulants, such as caffeine. Anxiety can also be triggered by elevations in blood lactic acid level. Lactic acid is the final product in the breakdown of blood sugar (glucose) when there is a lack of oxygen.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.