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Common Causes of Anxiety

Updated: Dec 19, 2020


Everyone feels nervous at times. Perhaps you get a severe case of butterflies while preparing for a test or job presentation. Passing nervousness rarely counts as a mental health problem. Anxiety might start as occasional nervousness, but it has the potential to grow into a disorder that consumes every aspect of a person's life.





Anxiety Affects a Lot of Americans—You Are Not Alone

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 18.1 percent of the country's adult population experiences anxiety every year. That comes to 40 million people living with the condition that blocks them from enjoying every aspect of their lives.

It's unfortunate that so many people live with anxiety. But there's good news. The condition responds well to treatment. The level of recovery, though, often depends on the type of anxiety a person experiences.


The Most Common Causes of Anxiety

A carefree person can suddenly start to experience symptoms of anxiety without any idea why. In these cases, mental health professionals typically look to genetic factors that play more significant roles in the person's personality during and after puberty. Even when anxiety gets passed to a person through genes, some treatment options work extraordinarily well.


Stressful Events That Can Cause Anxiety

Other reasons that you might develop anxiety include:

  • Excessive stress at work or school—65 percent of employees say that workplace stress has caused personal difficulties in their lives.

  • Death or loss of a loved one.

  • Moving to a new home, workplace, or school.

  • Traumatic events like assault or verbal abuse—About eight percent of adults have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) at some point in their life.

  • Emotional shock after a traumatic event like a car crash or physical injury.

  • Problems among family members and other relationships.

Substance Abuse Can Contribute to Anxiety

Substance use disorder and anxiety often develop in the same person over time. It isn't always obvious which disorder leads to the next. Some people turn to substances to curb anxious feelings. Others develop anxiety over months or years of substance use.

Substances that can contribute to feelings of anxiety include:

  • ADHD drugs like Adderall, Vyvanse, and Ritalin.

  • Methamphetamine—76 percent of methamphetamine users reported anxiety in one study.

  • Psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms" or "shrooms").

  • Cannabis, especially when it has high levels of THC.

  • Cocaine, which can cause anxiety during the high and after the comedown.

  • Alcohol, which people often imbibe to reduce anxiety, can cause a rebound effect once the drug wears off.

Alcohol's connection to anxiety is so prevalent that many people use the term "hangxiety" to describe the anxious feelings they experience after a night of excessive consumption. This phenomenon seems to occur because alcohol floods the brain with dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter. When dopamine levels fall, drinkers have the opposite experience. When they wake up, they may feel depressed and anxious until their dopamine levels return to normal.


Mental Health Issues Can Cause Anxiety

Several mental health issues can cause anxiety in people living with them. Some common issues that can cause or contribute to anxiety include:

  • Phobias—About 12.5 percent of U.S. adults experience specific phobias during their lifetimes.

  • Panic disorder—Repeated feelings of anxiety that may develop into an anxiety disorder.

  • Generalized anxiety disorder—A condition that often develops after repeated exposure to situations that cause panic. For example, a phobia-specific panic can become generalized to such an extent that the person doesn't want to leave their house.

  • Social anxiety disorder—Anxiety, fear, and self-consciousness experienced while surrounded by other people.

  • Bipolar disorder—About 2.8 percent of Americans live with bipolar disorder, which may cause anxiety during periods of mania and depression.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)–About 1.2 percent of American adults have been diagnosed with OCD, a condition that can cause extreme anxiety in certain situations. Some people with OCD can lower their anxiety through self-soothing rituals.

Most People Can Recover From Anxiety

Most people living with recurring anxiety can recover by treating the underlying health condition or following mental health professionals' advice. Popular strategies and treatments to reduce or manage anxiety include:

  • Psychiatrist-prescribed medications and talk therapy.

  • Avoiding alcohol and other drugs.

  • Practicing meditation, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques.

  • Getting a proper amount of sleep.

  • Eating a well-balanced diet.

  • Staying physically active to reduce stress.

No one has a simple, one-size-fits-all solution for anxiety. You may need to spend quite a bit of time reshaping your emotional response to stress and triggering situations.

An approach that works well for one person may not have any positive effect on you. That's why it's critical for you to talk to a mental health professional about your anxiety. Your counselor can use diagnostic tools to identify the source of your anxiety and narrow the range of treatments that will likely work for you.


If you need us, Empathy Therapy is always here for you.


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