“Did I cause my anxiety?” is a question that runs through the heads of many people who struggle with anxiety. While the experience of anxiety is common, the origins behind its onset are multifaceted. Blaming yourself is neither productive nor accurate. The truth is that many factors contribute to the development of anxiety and it’s often a combination of biology, genetics, environment, and psychology.  So to better answer the question, “Did I cause my anxiety?” let us look at some common contributors to anxiety.

Biology

  1. Neurotransmitter Imbalance: Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers responsible for communication between nerve cells within the brain, and any imbalance can significantly contribute to the development of anxiety. Brains are delicate and rely heavily on homeostasis for stability so any imbalance can feel quite dysregulating. 
  2. Brain Structure and Function: Research suggests that structural and functional differences in certain brain regions, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, may contribute to anxiety. The amygdala is involved in processing emotions, while the prefrontal cortex plays a role in regulating emotional responses. If either of these brain regions are impacted, the likelihood of developing anxiety is higher. 
  3. Medical Conditions/Medications: Certain medical conditions and medications can also contribute to the onset or exacerbation of anxiety symptoms. Conditions such as thyroid disorders, cardiovascular issues, and chronic pain can negatively impact mental health. Similarly, some medications may list anxiety as a possible side effect.

Genetics

  1. Family History: Research suggests that individuals with a family history of anxiety disorders or related mental health disorders are at a higher risk for developing anxiety themselves. 
  2. Genetic Predisposition: Certain genetic predispositions may influence the regulation of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which impact the brain’s response to stress and ultimately contribute to increased anxiety symptoms. 

Psychology

  1. Personality Traits: Certain personality traits are associated with the increased likelihood of developing anxiety.  These include perfectionism, excessive self-criticism, and/or a tendency to worry excessively.
  2. Thinking Patterns: Maladaptive thinking patterns can contribute to the maintenance of anxiety, but are likely not the origin of the cause. These include catastrophic thinking and negative self-talk,

Environment

  1. Early Life Experiences Adverse childhood experiences, such as trauma, abuse, and/or neglect, can significantly impact mental health later in life, including anxiety. 
  2. Stressors: Ongoing stressors lead to chronic stress and also contribute to the development of anxiety in many individuals. 
  3. Social and Cultural Factors: Sociocultural context cannot be overlooked when examining the causes of anxiety. Societal pressures, cultural expectations, economic uncertainties, discrimination, and stigma also contribute to the overall stress levels experienced by individuals. 

    Anxiety is a complex mental health condition with a complex origin story. Recognizing the intricate relationship of these elements is crucial for understanding the causes of anxiety. It also aids in developing a comprehensive approach to treatment and anxiety prevention. It’s important to consult with a mental health professional for a thorough assessment. Professionals provide guidance on how to navigate your specific anxiety symptoms. An anxiety therapist at Cityscape Counseling can assist you in exploring the factors contributing to your anxiety and develop a treatment plan specific to your needs.  

    Article by Bari Rothfeld, LCSW, CADC

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