What Causes Anxiety?

Learn the causes of anxiety and the types of anxiety disorders there are to better understand what you may be feeling and find the calm you


We've all experienced anxious feelings at one point or another.

They pop up when we're faced with stressful situations, like starting a new job or moving to a new city. These and other similar natural life events are common anxiety causes.

But when anxious feelings come more frequently, begin to impact your day-to-day life, or pop up without a clear reason why - it's only natural to ask yourself:

Why is anxiety happening to me?

The causes of anxiety - like anxiety itself - differ from person to person. But there are clear biological and environmental causes of anxiety that are most prevalent.

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Anxiety disorders are actually the most common mental affliction in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults (18.1% of the population) each year.

When not addressed, anxiety can have serious, detrimental effects on someone's life.

This article is here to help you identify what the causes of your anxiety might be, what type of anxiety disorder you may be dealing with, and how you can start feeling your best!

Because once you understand a little more about what you're feeling, it may be easier to calm your mind or seek out the support that's best for you.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is - in itself - simply feeling anxious.

And it's only human for us all to feel a bit anxious from time to time!

Because feeling anxious actually our body's way of trying to help us focus and protect itself when we face a new, stressful, or challenging obstacle.

The mental and physical symptoms of anxiety can be traced back to our ancestor's need for help when they faced new and sometimes mortal dangers - like a bear in the wild or possible enemy.

Anxious feelings would help our ancestors use adrenaline to fuel themselves as they tuned out distractions, focused on the threat they faced, ran faster, and overcame the obstacle in front of them.

But these days, we find ourselves having to outrun a lot fewer bears.

So anxious feelings appear in situations where they are a lot less useful.

And if you feel that they may be appearing with troubling frequency, you may want to learn a little more about anxiety disorders.

5 Causes of Anxiety

1. Past Events

If you've experienced a difficult or traumatic event in your past, situations that remind you of it can become causes of anxiety as well.

This is your body trying to protect you from the learned danger of a past experience.

Learn how to use CBT Therapy techniques to reduce stress→

But there's a straightforward way to address this type of trigger! It's never easy to write or talk about past, unpleasant experiences.

You may want to try:

  • Talking with a therapist or counselor
  • Journaling to mentally & physically heal from the event
  • Talking with a loved one who can help you process

But by doing so, we can actually change the way our body reacts to those memories.

A 2005 study found that journaling about a past, difficult event improved participants' physical and mental reactions to the memory and improve their overall physical health.

2. Physical Sensations

In some people, anxiety can cause Panic Attacks or an ongoing Panic Disorder.

Panic attacks are consistently scary and destabilizing experiences.

Therefore, it makes sense that after you've experienced one, the feeling of a panic attack coming on can itself be an anxiety-inducing experience.

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But the thing is, other physical sensations can sometimes feel like the beginning of a panic attack: like feeling hungry or tired.

You may want to try:

  • Doing a body scan to check where you're feeling physical sensations
  • Calming breathing exercises to stay present & calm spiraling thoughts

That's why, one of the most helpful things we can do when we feel this way, is to try to force ourselves to be present, stop spiraling thoughts, check in with where our physical sensations are coming from in that moment, and think how we can help our body feel better.

3. Social Situations

The time we spend with family, long-time friends, or new acquaintances we're still getting to know can be enjoyable if not necessary parts of our lives.

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But these social situations can also actually be causes of anxiety for those dealing with chronic anxiety.

Those with Social Anxiety Disorder may feel that social situations bring up fears of what others' think, how they feel about themselves, or how they act around other people.

While those confronting a Separation Anxiety Disorder may find social situations to be a difficult reminder that they're worried about the duration of their relationships with others.

But the good news is that the causes of both of these anxiety disorders can be addressed if we start by focusing on our relationship with ourselves - the most important relationship we have!

You may want to try:

  • Journaling exercises for self-confidence or self-affirmations before a social situation
  • Working with a therapist or counselor to understand underlying causes of social anxiety
  • Talking with friends or loved ones to remind yourself why other people believe in you & enjoy spending time with you

A great place to start is to work on improving self-confidence, self-worth, and compassion for yourself.

4. Genetics

Anyone struggling with anxiety knows that it can feel like you're not always in control. That's partially because of the main biological causes of anxiety is genetics.

While we know that genes can definitely predispose someone to be to have chronic anxiety, more research has to be done to determine  how much more likely genes makes someone to have anxiety.

But if you find yourself struggingly with chronic enaxiety about common, everyday experiences or situations - also know as Generalized Anxiety Disorder - it may be worth it to know more about your family's history of anxiety, if you can.

You may want to try:

  • Learning more about any family history of anxiety, if you can
  • Talking with a medical professional to find more biological balance
  • Practicing mindful habits to calm your mind and feel present

5. Learned Behaviors

The behaviors we witness most often can actually become a cause of anxiety as well.

It's hard to separate between our own stress and the stress of those we care about or respect. Because we caare about them, their worries become our worries. Their stresses, our stresses.

But that also means that we can actually learn to have anxious reactions to situations that don't warrant them, if we've seen family members or friends react that way.

And - in turn - these situations or triggers become anxiety causes for us too.

But the good news is, if we understand the triggers that are causes of anxiety for us and work to unlearn the behaviors that are negatively affecting us, we can build calmer, happier lives! This work isn't fast or easy. But it's absolutely life-changing.

You may want to try:

  • Writing out the situations or things that cause you anxiety
  • Notice if any of your loved ones share these anxieties
  • Try to separate your stresses from your loved ones'
  • Focus on what you can control about these situations

How to Treat the Causes of Anxiety

Anxious feelings are our body's natural way of trying to protect us in the face of stressful or unfamiliar events.

But when anxiety begins to interfere with our lives or health, the causes of this anxiety should be addressed.

Anxiety can have biological or situational causes:

  • Genes
  • Learned behaviors
  • Past events
  • Physical Sensations
  • Social situations

But any cause of anxiety can be reduced if not overcome through a combination of:

  • Professional medical attention
  • Therapy
  • Journaling
  • Mindful practices
  • Breathing exercises
  • CBT
  • Opening up to loved ones

If you're struggling with chronic anxiety, know that you're not alone and it's okay to not feel okay. Almost 20% of the U.S. population is affected by anxiety each year.

We hope that you feel empowered to seek out more information and find the helpful practice or person that allows you to feel better.