What Are the Most Common Causes of Anxiety Disorders?

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  • Written By: Amanda Barnhart
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2019
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Several different factors can be considered causes of anxiety disorders. Identifying the underlying causes of anxiety disorders can help doctors and therapists identify appropriate treatment methods for their patients and help them reduce their symptoms. The most common causes of anxiety disorders are genetics, brain chemistry changes or abnormalities, personality abnormalities or disorders, and life circumstances.

Doctors believe that some people are more likely to develop an anxiety disorder if they have a family history of anxiety problems. It is not known what the exact genetic link for anxiety disorders is, and there is no way to tell if a person with a family history of these disorders will develop one. Some people develop anxiety disorders very early in life, while others do not begin experiencing symptoms until adulthood. People who have a family history of anxiety disorders, particularly in their immediate families, should pay close attention to their mental states and talk to their doctors or mental health professionals if they develop symptoms indicative of an anxiety disorder or problem, such as constant worrying, difficulty sleeping, irritability, difficulty concentrating, persistent muscle tension, and gastrointestinal problems with no other cause.


Changes or abnormalities in brain chemistry is thought to be one of the largest causes of anxiety disorders. Doctors do not know the exact alterations in brain chemistry responsible for persistent feelings of anxiety and anxiety attacks, but many patients diagnosed with these disorders respond well to medications that change the levels of certain chemicals in the brain. The most common medications used for anxiety disorders include antidepressants and benzodiazepines, which alter neurotransmitter levels in the brain.

People diagnosed with personality disorders may be more likely to develop anxiety disorders. Some doctors and mental health professionals believe that certain personality traits may predispose an individual to anxiety disorders as well. For example, a person with low self-esteem may have difficulty coping with stress and other uncomfortable situations, making him more likely to develop anxiety problems.

Enduring certain circumstances and life events can contribute to developing an anxiety disorder, particularly if the person has other risk factors. People who undergo highly stressful and difficult situations, such as being a victim of domestic violence, often have difficulty coping with their feelings and circumstances, which manifests as anxiety. Other outside influences, such as using certain drugs or consuming high levels of caffeine, can also contribute to anxiety disorders and symptoms.


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