Causes & Effects of Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are described by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as disorders that possess the shared features of excessive fear and anxiety as well as related behavioral disturbances that result from the presence of that fear and anxiety. The APA clarifies that the different types of anxiety disorders differ from one another based on the types of situations or objects that cause individuals to experience the feelings of fear and anxiety and elicit avoidance behaviors. While all individuals will experience fear and anxiety at various points in their lives, some people experience these emotions with such intensity or with such prolonged duration that it begins to impair their ability to function appropriately on a daily basis. When this is the case, these individuals are likely suffering from an anxiety disorder.

There are several types of anxiety disorders. The most common are generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, specific phobia, and social anxiety disorder. These disorders may occur by themselves or may co-occur alongside one another. While each type has its own classification of symptoms, they will all bring about disturbances in the lives of those who are afflicted by them. Though the symptoms of these disorders can be debilitating and their effects can be damaging, treatment options are available that can help individuals learn to manage their anxiety symptoms and resume living full, happy, and independent lives.

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Statistics

Anxiety disorders are among the most commonly occurring mental health conditions. In fact, studies have shown that an astounding two out of every five adults will struggle with symptoms of some type of anxiety disorder. In regards to adolescents, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that approximately 25% of the population between the ages of 13 and 18 battle anxiety disorders.

Causes and Risk Factors for Anxiety Disorders

The following are among the causes and risk factors that can impact an individual’s susceptibility to developing symptoms of an anxiety disorder:

Genetic: Extensive research on the topic has provided evidence of the fact that there is a strong genetic link to the onset of anxiety disorders. These disorders are known to run in families and individuals who have first-degree biological family members who struggle with symptoms of anxiety disorders are at a much greater risk for suffering from the same types of conditions than are those who do not share the same type of genetic background.

Environmental: If a genetic predisposition for anxiety disorders is present, the environment in which individuals are immersed can have an impact on whether or not they will develop symptoms of these conditions. For example, individuals whose home lives are full of chaos, stress, or much turmoil are at a higher risk for developing symptoms of various anxiety disorders as they struggle to cope with their surroundings. Additionally, individuals who have suffered through traumatic experiences or who have been the subject of abuse or neglect are believed by professionals in the field to be at a higher risk for developing symptoms synonymous with anxiety disorders.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of suffering from another type of mental health condition
  • Personal or family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Being the victim of abuse and/or neglect
  • Experiencing a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events
  • Exposure to crime and/or violence
  • Living in a highly stressful or chaotic environment

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

The signs and symptoms that are displayed by people who are battling anxiety disorders will vary depending upon a number of factors. The age of the person, the duration during which he or she has suffered from the condition, and the specific type of anxiety disorder itself will all impact the type and severity of symptoms displayed. Examples of possible signs that could be indicative that someone is battling an anxiety disorder include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • School refusal
  • Frequent work absences
  • Avoiding certain people, places, and/or situations
  • Participating in ritualistic, repetitive behaviors
  • Rapid speech
  • Restlessness

Physical symptoms:

  • Having immense difficulty sleeping
  • Pervasive headaches
  • Chronic stomachaches
  • Urinating frequently
  • Muscle tension
  • Changes in eating patterns

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Thinking processes that are repetitive in nature
  • Racing thoughts
  • Declined ability to focus
  • Hindered learning abilities
  • Paranoia
  • Concentration difficulties

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Profound feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Feelings of loneliness
  • Sudden changes in mood and demeanor
  • Experiencing irrational feelings of fear
  • Chronic feelings of nervousness
  • Frequently feeling as though one is under pressure
  • No longer demonstrating interest in things one was once interested in
  • Low self-esteem
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Anxiety Disorders

When the symptoms of anxiety disorders remain unaddressed and untreated, individuals are susceptible to experiencing any number of negative effects. Examples of such effects may include:

  • Decline in academic performance / academic failure
  • Onset of problematic behaviors at school or at home
  • Decline in occupational performance / job loss
  • Decline in ability to adhere to responsibilities at home
  • Social withdrawal
  • Peer rejection
  • Decreased self-esteem or sense of self-worth
  • Engaging in substance abuse in an attempt to alleviate distress
  • Beginning to participate in self-harming behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

It is not entirely uncommon for individuals who suffer from symptoms of anxiety disorders to simultaneously battle symptoms of other mental health conditions as well. Examples of disorders that are cited as co-occurring alongside anxiety disorders include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Additional anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
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