Anxiety is a multifactorial disorder. Here is a small list of what causes Anxiety, like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis, it is not caused by a single genetic aberration, rather by an interplay of different risk factors, such as a recent traumatic event, childhood experiences, medications, and family history. You can get chicken pox when you are exposed to the varicella-zoster virus. Cystic fibrosis is caused by mutations in the CFTR gene. But with anxiety, the culprit is not a pathogen nor a single gene mutation. The experts have suggested various theories on why certain people are more prone to anxiety than others, but the exact cause of anxiety remains an enigma even to world-leading doctors and specialists. What is known so far is that it results from many factors, and they can all interact.
Anyone can get an anxiety disorder
The above is just a small list of what causes Anxiety. Anxiety disorder is twice as common in women as they are in men. They can also appear at any age, though specific anxiety disorders are more common in certain age groups:
- Prevalence rates for Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and specific phobia were highest in adults aged 18-34 years.
- Panic disorder was more prevalent in 50- to 64-year age group.
- Separation anxiety disorder, specific phobia, and agoraphobia without panic attacks were more common in teens aged 13 to 17 years.
The first symptoms of anxiety can show up in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood. Since anxiety runs in families, you are more likely to develop anxiety if you have someone in the family with the disorder. But before you blame your parents, remember that there are multiple sources of anxiety, and even if your twin has a mental disorder, it doesn’t mean you will. Your ability to cope up with stress, your biology (e.g. brain chemistry) and psychological makeup—coupled with environmental factors and life events—all play a role in the development of anxiety disorder.
The Diathesis-Stress model
This theory is the most widely accepted model of mental illness. It proposes that some people are more vulnerable or predisposed to a given illness, such as SAD or panic disorder, which may or may not develop, depending on the stressful events they encounter. Most theories specify that predisposition nor stress alone is enough to produce the disorder. Often, it is stress that activates the vulnerability (diathesis). For example, a shy girl may develop social anxiety disorder only after being humiliated at school or in response to her parents’ divorce.
The Three Essential Causes of Anxiety and Depression
In his eye-opening book Mind Easing: The Three-Layered Healing Plan for Anxiety and Depression, Dr. Bick Wanck mentioned the three principal causes of anxiety: childhood trauma, unreasonable stress, and genetics. He also stressed the importance of recognizing “medical mimicry.” These factors masquerade as a primary psychiatric illness and are often overlooked as the underlying cause of mental disorders. Many of these mimics are treatable; therefore, failure to recognize these conditions delays correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Addiction and medical problems are examples of medical mimicry. We will discuss more of these mimics in the next topic.
Anxious brains can be inherited, but no one knows how much of an impact genetics has on someone’s mental condition. Practical and reliable genetic tests for anxiety and depression has not been developed yet. All you can do is to ask your blood relatives if anyone has had a brush with similar disorders. It is useful to know if your anxiety has a possible genetic component. This will help you and your therapist in developing an effective healing plan.
Your childhood experiences could greatly affect your mental health as an adult. If you were subjected to trauma, such as physical abuse, abandonment, or rape, as a child or an adult, it could lead to long-lasting anxiety or depression. You may achieve partial or permanent relief through psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and holistic therapies. About 15% of youth aged 18 years experience depression and about one-third of them manifest some form of anxiety disorder. In a study by Herringa and colleagues, it was suggested that maltreatment during childhood may alter the brain circuitry, resulting in anxiety and depression.
While there are some common causes for anxiety disorders, each person has his or her own anxiety triggers. It can be triggered by a one-time event such as the death of a loved one, debilitating medical condition, bankruptcy, or loss of a job. They can also be brought on by persistent stresses. Severe and chronic stress can cause various health problems including heart disease, diabetes, and gastrointestinal problems. Understanding your source of stress provides a basis for coping and managing it. Common anxiety triggers include:
- Money and work problems
- Relationship dilemmas
- Health concerns
- Life trauma
- A recent death in the family
Understanding the sources of your anxiety requires self-awareness and information gathering. As you realized how much you were affected by inherited traits and how much by stress and trauma, you will develop emotional fluidity that brings you closer to the path of getting better.
Wanck, B. (2019) Mind Easing: The Three-Layered Healing Plan for Anxiety and Depression. Florida: Health Communications, Inc.
Bandelow, B., & Michaelis, S. (2015). Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 17(3), 327–335.
The Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (2018) Anxiety Disorders. Available at: https://www.acamh.org/topic/anxiety-disorders/ (Accessed: 29 April 2019)
Johnston, J., & Bienvenue, J. (2014) Idiot’s Guide: Overcoming Anxiety. New York: Penguin Group Inc.
Herringa, R. J., Birn, R. M., Ruttle, P. L., Burghy, C. A., Stodola, D. E., Davidson, R. J., & Essex, M. J. (2013). Childhood maltreatment is associated with altered fear circuitry and increased internalizing symptoms by late adolescence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(47), 19119–19124. doi:10.1073/pnas.1310766110