What Causes Anxiety, and Does It Matter?

What causes anxiety (Anxiety Causes)? It's a question nearly all anxiety sufferers ask. Anxiety can range from mild to debilitating; it can be a vague and general experience like existential anxiety, or it can be one of many different types of anxiety disorders. Anxiety can be temporary, intermittent, or feel like it's permanent (that feeling that it will last forever is one of the lies anxiety tells you). Regardless of anxiety's nature and type, it's natural to want to know what causes anxiety. Anxiety can indeed have causes. Does it matter what they are?

Several Things Can Cause Anxiety

Among the primary causes of anxiety:

It's natural to want to know what causes anxiety. Does knowing the cause matter? Read on to learn about the multiple causes of anxiety and if they matter.Thoughts Many times, how we think about ourselves, the world around us, and our stressors can cause anxiety. With anxiety, our thoughts aren't always trustworthy. Believing everything we think can create or intensify anxiety.

Emotions Some psychology experts and researchers believe that the primary cause of anxiety is our emotions. We have emotional reactions to people, places, and events, and when these emotions are negative or intense, they can cause anxiety.

Behaviors Another school of thought among anxiety experts is that our behaviors, what we do or do not do, cause anxiety. Do we take action in the face of anxiety or stress, or do we retreat? Do we have a confrontational interaction style, or do we let others take advantage of us? Lifestyle is part of this, too; indeed, things like diet and exercise have a role in anxiety. In many ways, our actions influence anxiety.

The brain Neurologists have implicated the brain itself as a cause of anxiety. Chemical imbalances can cause anxiety, as can the behavior of specific areas and structures within the brain. Therefore, when people say that anxiety is in your head, they just might be right (insofar as anxiety is often brain-based, and the brain is housed inside the head).

Genetics Researchers have discovered that anxiety is a heritable condition. That means that it's not passed on from parent to child like height or eye color, but the potential for anxiety to develop is passed on. Anxiety can run in families, which suggests genetics as a cause.

Background Sometimes, people or events in our past can cause anxiety. Overprotective, highly anxious parents can cause their child (and, later, teen and adult) to be anxious. Past trauma can also cause anxiety, and triggers can cause anxiety to flare.

Environment Stressful circumstances can cause anxiety. Work, family, neighbors, finances, and illness are among the myriad factors external to us that contribute anxiety.

Physical illness Certain medical conditions can cause anxiety. When your anxiety symptoms are new or suddenly intensify, it's a good idea to see your doctor to rule out an underlying health problem.

Nothing It can be maddening. Sometimes, we search for explanations as to why we experience anxiety, and we come up empty-handed. There are times when anxiety strikes without an obvious cause.

Does the Cause of Anxiety Matter?

Is it important to know what causes your anxiety? The answer is as individual as anxiety itself. For some it will be extremely important. For others it won't matter at all. Each person will fall somewhere within those two extremes.

Knowing the cause of anxiety can be beneficial. Sometimes knowing the cause can be the starting point to recovery. Discovering and addressing the cause can be the key to unraveling anxiety's tangled mess.

However, sometimes knowing the cause of anxiety is irrelevant at best and harmful at worst. The "why" of anxiety isn't always significant, and many people prefer to deal with the symptoms of anxiety or the effects anxiety has on their life in order to overcome anxiety.

Is it important to you to know the cause of your anxiety? To answer that, consider where you are now and where you want to be in the future. What steps will get you there? Consider the above causes of anxiety, and if one stands out to you, you could start there (work on your thoughts, learn to manage emotions, etc.). If the cause of anxiety matters to you, then it's important.

Let's connect. I blog here. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Pinterest. My mental health novels, including one about severe anxiety, are here.

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2016, September 1). What Causes Anxiety, and Does It Matter?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, and Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps. She has also written five critically acclaimed, award-winning novels about life with mental health challenges. She delivers workshops for all ages and provides online and in-person mental health education for youth. She has shared information about creating a quality life on podcasts, summits, print and online interviews and articles, and at speaking events. Tanya is a Diplomate of the American Institution of Stress helping to educate others about stress and provide useful tools for handling it well in order to live a healthy and vibrant life. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Marisa de Abreu Alves
September, 2 2016 at 8:07 am

as always you write very well (sorry my english but I read and write using the translator , thanks google )

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 2 2016 at 11:20 am

Hi Marisa,
I'm glad to know you enjoy my writing. No worries about the translation! Google does a good enough job -- the message and meaning are clear!

September, 4 2016 at 7:52 am

I remember in genetics class at college in paraphrase,
Genetics + Environment = Outcome
Sometimes the environment we can control. If we know our environmental factors that accelerate anxiety, such as negativity and low self esteem, then a person can work on those factors to lower anxieties effects on our lives. I am trying to list all my factors and then lessen them in my life. Positivity is the best way to live a full life.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 4 2016 at 9:04 pm

Hi John,
Thank you for this! This is a great approach--but I'm probably biased, as I've done this, too. :) Positivity is absolutely the best approach. It doesn't ignore problems, but it helps us all realize that there are things we can control. Controlling what we can allows us to create a rich life, free (or almost free) of anxiety; that's a great outcome that happens despite genetics and environment.

Pat Moreno
September, 6 2016 at 6:39 pm

I started a list of things that cause me anxiety and to that list I have to add "my thoughts". How do you work on your thoughts if you can't always trust them? How do I know I'm on the right path?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 9 2016 at 12:32 pm

Hi Pat,
Starting an anxiety list is a great idea! It helps you sort out your own causes, prioritize what you want to work on, and allows you to make a plan. Thoughts are a pain. They're problematic for so many people, and anxiety makes them even worse. You're right on the mark about not always being able to trust thoughts. You might want to check out the article With Anxiety, are Your Thoughts Trustworthy? (…).
There are different therapeutic approaches to dealing with thoughts. Two well-researched and proven techniques address the problem of thoughts a bit differently. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches people to identify their thoughts, understand the type of faulty thinking, dispute the thoughts by looking for evidence to the contrary, and replace the thought with a healthier, more realistic ones. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), on the other hand, helps people accept thoughts for what they are -- just thoughts that aren't necessarily trustworthy -- and rather than getting stuck in battling them, ACT teaches people ways to move forward without getting bogged down by thoughts. Neither approach is inherently better than the other. They are both proven to be effective. Every person is unique, so while CBT works better for some, ACT works better for others. Of course these aren't the only two healing approaches that address thoughts, either. If the very brief bit of info I shared about CBT and ACT seems appealing to you, you can check into each of them further. You just might find a practical approach to dealing with your thoughts. And don't worry about a right path or a wrong path. The right path is the one that helps you personally. And think of a path not so much as a smooth, straight road but as a bumpy trail with ups and downs and twists and turns. Ultimately, though, it moves in the direction you want it to lead: forward.

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