What causes anxiety? Environmental factors, genetics, and more – Medical News Today

Anxiety occurs when a person feels disproportionate levels of distress, worry, or fear over an emotional trigger. Anxiety may have many causes and is a normal, necessary emotion.

A wide variety of factors can cause anxiety. These can be internal, such as genetic factors and gender dysphoria, or be the result of external factors, such as entrenched race inequities or ecological worries.

Feelings of anxiety and anxiety disorders are not the same. Anxiety is an emotion characterized by tension, worried thoughts, and physical conditions such as increased blood pressure.

Anxiety disorders are diagnosable conditions that involve recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. The American Psychological Association states that theses may also include physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness, or a rapid heartbeat.

This article explores the different causes of anxiety

A 2020 pathophysiology review of anxiety defines it as “a future-oriented mood state that consists of a complex cognitive, affective, physiological, and behavioral response system associated with preparation for the anticipated events or circumstances perceived as threatening”.

Due to this, feelings of anxiety can often be increased by outside stressors.

Social anxiety

Feelings of anxiety may be caused when interacting socially due to the fear of acting in a way that could be negatively evaluated and/or lead to humiliation or rejection. The above 2020 review lists social anxiety disorder as the second most prevalent anxiety disorder in the general populace.

People who have family members with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are more likely to have one themselves. A review of anxiety disorder and related traits reported that GAD has an approximate heritability of 30%.

Other medical conditions can lead to an anxiety disorder, such as the side effects of medication, symptoms of a disease, or stress from a serious underlying medical condition that may not directly trigger the changes seen in anxiety disorder but might be causing significant lifestyle adjustments, pain, or restricted movement.

Stressful or traumatic experiences and genetic factors can alter brain structure and function to react more vigorously to triggers that would not previously have caused anxiety. Psychologists and neurologists define many anxiety and mood disorders as disruptions to hormones and electrical signals in the brain.

The stress of day-to-day living combined with any of the above might serve as key contributors to an anxiety disorder.

For example, a person may respond to stress at work by drinking more alcohol or taking illicit substances, increasing anxiety levels and the risk of further complications.

Sometimes, stressful events occur as the result of a third party, such as an employer or partner, but anxious feelings might emerge from people telling themselves the worst will happen. An anxiety disorder may develop without any external stimuli whatsoever.

Disproportionate anxiety can result from a combination of one or more of the above causes.

A mental health professional can diagnose anxiety and identify the possible causes.

The physician will take a thorough medical and personal history, perform a physical examination, and order laboratory tests if needed. These tests may provide useful information about a medical condition that may be causing anxiety symptoms.

To receive a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a person must:

  • experience excessive worry and anxiety about several different events or activities on more days than not for at least six months
  • have difficulties controlling worry
  • have at least three anxiety symptoms on more days than not in the last six months

To identify the condition, a doctor will look for one of the following anxiety symptoms:

  • restlessness
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • muscle tension
  • difficulty sleeping
  • difficulty concentrating

A doctor must be able to note that symptoms are interfering with daily life, perhaps causing absence from work or school.

A range of factors can work together to cause an anxiety disorder.

People with anxiety disorders regularly have a genetic predisposition towards them, and physical factors, such as an imbalance of hormones and chemical messengers in areas of the brain, also play an important role. However, environmental factors, including stress and traumatic life events, can also impact the scale of an emotional reaction to a trigger.

Withdrawal from alcohol or an illicit substance can also contribute to anxiety.

A doctor will recognize and diagnose an anxiety disorder by noting excessive worry, difficulties managing worrying emotions, and the presence of at least three symptoms of anxiety on more days than not over the last 6 months that have been severe enough to interfere with daily living.

These symptoms include restlessness, fatigue, and irritability, as well as muscle tension and difficulties with sleep and concentration.

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