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The Causes and Effects of Anxiety

By Advekit

Posted on June 25, 2019

If you were to ask friends their initial reaction to the word, “anxiety,” most would likely respond with negative associations. 


Causes and effects of anxiety

We all deal with anxiety in some shape or form. Often, it’s a completely normal and healthy reaction to specific triggers. It becomes unhealthy when it affects you so much that it impacts your ability to live a happy life. But how do you distinguish when your anxiety has become too invasive?? Below, we’ll discuss the causes and effects of anxiety, as well as its various signs and symptoms.

 

Causes and Effects of Anxiety

 

According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is “an emotion, characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” 

 

Common anxiety symptoms include:

 

  • Avoiding social situations.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Excessive worrying.
  • Fatigue.
  • Feeling agitated.
  • Insomnia.
  • Irrational fear.
  • Irritability.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Restlessness.
  • Tense muscles.

 

You’ve likely experienced some of these anxiety symptoms before. Maybe during finals week, preparing for an important presentation at work, or in the days before a first date. Leading up to these events, your nerves may make it hard to function as usual. But afterward, it feels like a burden was instantly lifted off your shoulders. 

 

Why do we experience anxiety in the first place? 

 

The Biological Cause For Anxiety

 

It goes without saying that we live in a very different world than our ancestors. We currently live in a safer and prosperous time period in history than before. If you were to go just a few centuries back, there were infinitely more environmental hazards and threats to a person’s life, especially when people left the relative safety of their village or city.

 

In the animal kingdom, the “fight or flight” defense mechanism is an evolutionary biological response to possible dangers posed by predators. When a person encounters a dangerous situation, the brain’s amygdala initiates a danger response that prompts the hypothalamus to release adrenaline and other hormones that cause:

 

  • An increased heartbeat.
  • Higher blood pressure.
  • Tensed muscles.
  • Enhanced sensory acuity. 
  • Effusive sweating to cool down an overheated body.

 

In such a hyper-aware state, our bodies are prepared to either go to battle or run away. In today’s terms, these are some of the symptoms of anxiety. So, although modernity has largely eliminated the need for this biological response, our bodies still naturally enter “fight or flight” in situations that frighten or worry us.  

 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

 

While there’s a biological context for situational feelings of apprehension, anxiety that’s persistent and excessive is not healthy. Today, this is what is known as an anxiety disorder. The most common type is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Approximately 6.8 million American adults or 3.1% of the population experience this. Women are twice as likely to be impacted. 


According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people with GAD “may anticipate disaster and may be overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues. Individuals with feelings of anxiety find it difficult to control their worry. They may worry more than seems warranted about actual events or may expect the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern.”

 

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

 

There are a number of symptoms and side effects of anxiety disorders, some include:

 

  • Unable to control worrying.
  • An unrealistic view of problems.
  • A nameless irrational fear.
  • Fatigue.
  • Irritability and agitation.
  • Issues with concentration, attention, and memory.
  • Rapid pulse, elevated heart rate, difficulty breathing.
  • Restlessness.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Trouble making decisions.

 

Causes of Anxiety Disorders

 

Certain people are more likely to develop anxiety than others. The reasons why some people are more susceptible are not fully known, but there are four risk factors that may make you more likely to develop anxiety. They are:

 

  • History of childhood abuse – typically the foundations of our lives are laid during childhood. Sexual, verbal, psychological, or emotional abuse as a child can have a significant and lasting impact on the way you see and react to the world.
  • Family history of anxiety – similar to other conditions, genetics can and do play a role in the likelihood of developing anxiety.
  • Recent or prolonged exposure to stressful situations – common examples of this include:
  • Combat veterans who were injured, and/or saw their companions die.
  • Survivors of rape or sexual assault.
  • Professionals who regularly encounter stressful situations.
  • Children who deal with neglect or abuse.
  • Survivors who have gone through a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster or accident.
  • People who lose someone they love.
  • Excessive use of tobacco, caffeine or drugs – regular use of drugs that affect or alter the mind or body can have significant long-term effects and can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders.

 

Social Effects of Anxiety Disorders

 

Excessive worrying can have a massive impact on your ability to live a healthy and balanced life. Over time, chronic anxiety can lead to the abandonment of favored hobbies or activities as well as:

 

  • Difficulties at work or inability to work at all.
  • Feeling of hopelessness.
  • Inability to accomplish simple daily activities.
  • An increased proclivity to use or abuse illicit substances.
  • Issues interacting normally with others.
  • Lasting changes in sleep patterns.
  • Loss of motivation to try and improve a situation.
  • Loss of self-esteem.
  • Marital problems.
  • Problems working effectively or with alacrity.
  • Social isolation.

 

Health Effects of Anxiety on The Body

 

Over time, persistent worrying can lead to adverse health effects, including:

 

  • Central nervous system – the continued and regular release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline can greatly increase the negative physical symptoms of anxiety. This includes headaches, dizziness, and can contribute to weight gain. 
  • Cardiovascular system – chronic anxiety can lead to heart issues, such as high blood pressure, a heart attack, coronary events, rapid heart rates, palpitations, and chest pain.
  • Digestive system – persistent anxiety can have serious ramifications on your digestion, causing a host of stomach issues like nausea, diarrhea, stomach ache, constipation, stomach cramps, and loss of appetite. Some experts posit links between long-term anxiety and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as well.   
  • Immune system – while the flight-or-fight stress response is incredibly effective in situational instances, a regular deluge of the hormones can have a dramatic weakening effect on the immune system. This leaves you more susceptible to illness, infections, or disease. 
  • Respiratory system – if you have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, anxiety (which causes rapid shallow breathing) could make the physical symptoms of these respiratory issues worse. 

 

Treating Anxiety

 

If you suffer from anxiety, you are not alone. Whether you have chronic anxiety or situational anxiety, the good news is that there are steps you can take to reduce or alleviate your symptoms and their effects. Getting treatment for your anxiety can substantially improve your life by helping you to recognize and acknowledge the feelings you experience. At the end of the day, remember that anxiety is treatable and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Seeking help is an important first step.  

 

Therapy can play a positive role in your anxiety treatment. A counseling treatment plan for anxiety can help you to change the relationship you have with your anxiety symptoms. A therapist can help you identify what may be causing your anxious feelings and support you in navigating a process to alleviate them. You’re provided with insight into what anxiety is, how to be less afraid of it, and awareness into how it affects the decisions you make. 

 

Anxiety is something that many of us experience throughout our lives to varying degrees, and it is okay if through treatment you do not rid anxiety altogether. Developing tools to manage your anxiety is an effective goal that many therapists will help their clients strive toward. While anxiety can be treated with medication, you can also complement your therapy sessions with mind-body approaches or coping techniques that also help you to reduce the symptoms you feel. These include relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, exercise, and more. Remember, it’s also okay to rely on your friends and family too, and do your best to not isolate yourself!


Advekit wants to help you find the right match for a therapist, who’ll develop the best treatment routine for your anxiety, so you can take back control of your life.

 

Get Matched →

 

Sources

 

American Psychological Association. Anxiety. https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/

 

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Generalize Anxiety Disorder. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad

 

Springer, K. NCBI. The Long-term Health Outcomes of Childhood Abuse. (2003). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1494926/

 

Gottschalk, M. NCBI. Genetics of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Related Traits. (2017). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5573560/

 

Meredith, S. NCBI. Caffeine Use Disorder. (2013). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3777290/

 

Yaribeygi, H. NCBI. The Impact of Stress on Body Function: A review. (2017). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/


Reviewed By

Alison LaSov, LMFT

blog-reviewer

Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.

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