Anxiety: What Causes Anxiety?

Posted on June 23, 2011

Anxiety disorders are a very common mental health issue. It is estimated that one in four Americans will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. But, if they’re so common, what causes them? Here are a few of the common contributing factors:

Inherited predisposition:
 You may have inherited more than a receding hairline and bad knees from your parents. Just as physiological makeup, medical problems, and personality traits often run in families, so does anxiety. Some types of anxiety are very biologically based and result from a neurotransmitter imbalance. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers in the brain that regulate every brain function, from thoughts, to feelings, to memory and information processing. The cause of anxiety for some people is because their brains don’t have the right balance of neurotransmitters. If your kidneys aren’t working properly, you must get dialysis. If you have severe diabetes, you must have insulin. For people with biologically based anxiety, the organs with the deficiency are their brains. They are likely going to continue to have symptoms of anxiety until either something changes their body chemistry or they get the neurochemical treatment their brains require.

Physiological susceptibility:
Our minds and bodies are amazingly interconnected. If something is not working right in our bodies, it often results in a corresponding difficulty in our thoughts and emotions – and vice versa. Feeling so anxietyious can be caused by many medical conditions, such as: respiratory problems, hormonal imbalances, cardiovascular problems, and metabolic diseases – to name a few.  A lack of nutrition, exercise, sleep, etc. can trigger anxiety or make it worse. Taking in too much sugar or caffeine can have a similar effect. Even heartburn or other gastrointestinal problems can trigger feelings of dread and panic!

A passive/ powerless worldview:
The world can be a scary place. This is especially true if you tend to see yourself as a victim of circumstances and lacking the power to make meaningful changes in the world around you. If you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop and don’t feel empowered to effectively deal with the challenges that come your way, anxiety is a very normal reaction. Yet, on the other hand, if you can remind yourself that no matter what happens you always have options and can make choices to minimize the impact of bad situations, then you’ll probably be able to roll with the punches and have peace in the midst of difficult circumstances. I think this is part of the reason why people with a faith in God tend to experience more peace and joy. Many people of faith recognize that they are not in control of their own lives, but believe that the God who loves them is. As a result, they can face hardship and an uncertain future with peace – because they aren’t facing challenges alone and trust that God can effect change on their behalf.

Unfinished business from the past:
Another source of anxiety is unresolved emotional problems. If a person experiences a major loss, a traumatic life experience, an intense relational wound, a profound blow to their self-worth, or any other emotionally distressing event, and it’s not fully processed, mourned, resolved, or accepted, anxiety is the all too common result.

Stress & busyness:
Stress and busyness appear to be the hallmarks of 21st century lives. For reasons that I won’t explore here, most of us pack our lives so full of work and other activities that there’s very little time leftover to rest, relax, relish relationships, pursue hobbies, engage in spiritual pursuits, or take care of our selves in other ways. The result is that we have too much to do, too little time in which to do it, and we live in a state of nearly perpetual stress and anxiety. This constant elevated stress level leaves us less emotional energy and elasticity with which to flex with the inevitable trials of life. The result is that things that are relatively easy to handle, in a healthy balanced state of being, become insurmountable
and overwhelming obstacles, when approaches from a depleted state.

Spiritual problems
Perhaps the most devastating anxiety comes when, after turning to people and things – other than God – to meet our most basic spiritual needs, these things disappoint us or fail to meet the emotional needs they once did. Perhaps our most fundamental spiritual needs are for: significance, security, and satisfaction. When a spouse or child disappoints us, our career takes a nosedive, or we try to give up some long-held vice, the fear we experience can be overwhelming.

Ultimately, anxiety is a sign that something is not working right within us. The problem can be biologically based, emotionally based, or some combination of the two. Depending upon the causes of anxiety, treatment might look very different from someone else who’s experiencing anxiety. This is why determining the source or sources of your anxiety is so important.

Written By: Autumn Schulze, MA, LMFT

Some of this material comes from “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook” by Edmund J. Bourne, Ph.D. This workbook is an excellent resource for anyone experiencing significant anxiety.

Autumn Schulze, MA, LMFT Is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Indianapolis, IN.   She has specialized training in Emotion-Focused Therapy for couples and has extensive experience working with children and families. Her passion is to help distressed individuals and couples find the emotional and relational healing God intends for them.  Her desire is to see households restored to health and happiness. Contact Autumn Schulze to discuss your situation with her.

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NzE6Imh0dHA6Ly9ncm9mZmFuZGFzc29jaWF0ZXMuY29tL3dwLWNvbnRlbnQvd29vX3VwbG9hZHMvMy1ncm9mZl9oZWFkZXIucG5nIjt9PC9saT48L3VsPg==