What Causes Anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal response to stressors that can include public speaking, test-taking, being on a plane, and worrying about the health of loved ones. However, anxiety can become overwhelming and lead to problems such as insomnia, restlessness, weight gain, low self-esteem, and social isolation.
Anxious feelings are part of our natural ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction, and they are essential for survival. They trigger the release of hormones, including adrenaline and noradrenaline, which provide energy and focus to the body. They help you cope with the threat to your survival, but they can also cause physical symptoms such as trembling, sweating, or a racing heartbeat.
These symptoms can be very unpleasant, and may be accompanied by nausea and dizziness. They are more severe in people who have a panic disorder or who have had a panic attack before.
There are many ways to treat anxiety disorders, ranging from behavioural therapies and medications to cognitive behaviour therapy and exposure therapy. These therapies aim to change patterns of thinking, beliefs and behaviours that may trigger anxious thoughts.
A mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, can diagnose an anxiety disorder and prescribe the best treatment. Psychologists focus more on therapy, while psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health treatments.
Genetics, brain biology and chemistry, and environmental factors are thought to play a role in anxiety disorders. Twin studies suggest that about 30-40% of an individual’s risk for developing anxiety disorders is due to genetic factors, and a further 25 percent is influenced by life experience.
Early experiences such as child abuse, poverty and family history of mental health disorders have been linked to increased anxiety later in life. This may be because the brain of an anxious person is more vulnerable to these influences.
Having a phobia is another common condition that can lead to anxiety. Phobias can be about specific things, such as animals, blood, spiders, needles, a certain food, or the dark. They can make a person feel so anxious that they won’t go to places where they think the thing they fear might be.
In some cases, anxiety can occur in conjunction with other conditions such as depression, which is very common and can lead to social isolation, a lack of interest in work or school and problems with family relationships. In this case, it is important to have both conditions diagnosed so that they can be treated together.
Anxiety can be controlled in many ways, but it often has to be treated actively to prevent symptoms from getting worse. Some methods are natural, such as deep breathing exercises or relaxation techniques. Others involve learning new skills, such as meditation or yoga.
The most effective way to manage anxiety is to recognise when symptoms occur and talk them through with a mental health specialist. Taking control of your anxiety will reduce the severity and frequency of your symptoms, and improve your quality of life.
It is important to get help if you have an anxiety disorder because it can be hard to live with and can have serious consequences for your health, such as depression or suicide. You can talk to our anonymous mental health check-in if you are worried about your anxiety, or to get support in your local area.