What’s the real cause behind anxiety?

  • What’s the real cause behind anxiety?

    , Mental Health Nurse at National Health Service (2017-present)

    Answered September 23 · Author has 167 answers and 32.7K answer

    Anxiety disorders are often the result of an imbalance in stress response.

    Anxiety is just one way your body reacts to stress. It might seem strange when someone asks, “What is the root cause of anxiety?” if you have never felt anxiety before.

    However, it’s possible for stress levels to get so high in a person’s life that he or she begins to experience elevated feelings of anxiety.

    This can develop into full-fledged Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), phobia, panic attacks, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and other related disorders following prolonged periods.

    The causes fall into three main categories:

    1) Institutional Stressors work/school pressures; family problems; the need to make money; etc.

    2) External Stressors difficulties in major life decisions; unemployment; drug and alcohol use; loss of loved ones: divorce, death, etc.

    3) Intrapersonal stressors genetics (heredity); difficult temperament in the form of high-strung , nervous, anxious behaviors; depression; etc.

    Stress is our body’s way of responding to any type of demand on the system. Stressors are anything that causes pressure or tension in your life, either external (coming from outside you) or internal (coming from within).

    People who have anxiety disorders generally experience more stress than other people do even under similar circumstances. However, anyone can experience stress at times in his/her life.

    In some cases, the stress becomes so great that it can lead to significant anxiety and even trigger anxiety disorders or other mental health problems.

    A man was walking on a road.

    A dog was peacefully eating some leftover food from dustbin on his way.

    As the man casually approached his path, dog got startled.

    It realised that the man was a threat and would surely harm it.

    It left it’s food and started barking at the man in anxiousness.

    The man immediately picked up a stone from the road and threw it towards the dog.

    Within nano seconds the dog disappeared from the scene.

    Man started peacefully walking again.

    Dog who was gasping for breathe, took a sigh of relief when it found a safe place.

    It was deprived of it’s food without any genuine reason.

    It’s belief that humans are a threat was strengthened.


    Have you seen an anxious wild animal?

    (Switch on any wild life channel, if you haven’t been to a forest)

    Not until a predator rushes towards it or it assumes someone as a threat.

    Otherwise, they stay calm, composed, relaxed, doing their ordinary chores.

    Now the important question-

    Why do humans get so anxious?

    Which gives rise to two more questions-

    1. Are we surrounded by predators? Or
    2. Have we created artificial predators (threats) just like that dog did?

    I am sure we are not surrounded by predators, so let’s discuss about the ones we have created for ourselves-

    1. Over estimating the power of other people. (Identifying ordinary people as our predator)
    2. Underestimating our own powers. (Making weakness and vulnerability as a predator)
    3. Giving over importance to a situation. (Making a situation as a predator)
    4. Thinking too much about future. (Identifying future as a predator)
    5. Creating high expectations from people or fate. (Making expectations as a predator)
    6. Lack of acceptance. (Making reality as a predator)

    For example-

    When we go for an interview, we think of interviewers as our God, get conscious about ourselves, treat the job as the only opportunity in life, and fear failure thinking about how miserable we will be in future if we don’t get the job.

    What should be our mindset?

    “Today is my interview, let’s see what happens”


    As simple as that!

    Don’t make your mind a playground of weak thoughts, believe in your destiny and keep walking on the right path with an attitude of “Come what may”!

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    Stress. I’m bipolar and much stress and I go manic. I know what my triggers are and how to manage them. I know this because I’m just like you.


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    I don’t like elevators.

    They trigger my anxiety.

    It’s not the small space that gets me. I’m perfectly fine crawling under my neighbour’s bed and secretly listening to him have sex with his girlfriend, so tight spots are no problem.

    And it’s not the elevator itself that does it. If I’m on my own, there’s no stress at all. In fact part of me actually hopes the lift gets stuck so I have an excuse to drink my own urine.

    But if there’s other people in the elevator then my anxiety goes up like…well, an elevator.

    The second someone else gets in with me I become a ball of nerves. My brain instantly goes into ‘overthinking’ mode and I start to plan out how I’ll have to be behave if we get stuck together.

    Even if the elevator has never had a fault, I am 100% sure that I’ll end up stuck with a stranger, for hours…or days. And the thought of that awkwardness gets the cortisol pumping.

    If it’s me and another woman, how long do we have to wait before we try and re-populate? I can’t afford to let my bloodline die.

    If it’s me and another man, how long until we fight to the death so that the winner can eat the loser?

    Or, if it’s me and a full troop of girl scouts. How long until they make me their God and start worshipping my image? (and am I eligible for free girl scout cookies as a result?)

    For the entire duration of the elevator trip I stress about what I’ll have to do until we’re saved by a team of handsome firefighters who make me question my sexuality.

    That’s not ideal. Then, as if that isn’t bad enough I start to go the OTHER way and create a whole new imaginary life with my new elevator cellmate.

    That cute girl that’s going up to the 11th floor, what if she’s the one?

    We might get stuck for hours and find out we grew up in the same town. Maybe she likes drinking her own urine too. Maybe she ALSO gets elevator anxiety?!

    We’ll form an unbreakable, unshakeable bond over our experience and go on to get married someday. We’ll have a cake that looks like an elevator. We’ll invite the handsome firefighters who saved us to give a toast (or perform as strippers at the bachelorette party). It’s the relationship I’ve been waiting for!


    The doors open.

    The elevator did not get stuck.

    The cute girl walks out of my life. I wasted all that energy worrying about something that didn’t happen…again. And I’m left alone, waiting for the next person to walk in and send my anxiety through the roof instead.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t enjoy using the elevator.

    And I’ll take steps to avoid it next time.

    Image Credit: Pixabay

    I frequently feel like I can’t take my time.

    Like I have to handle multiple things at once, make to-do lists and check items off, struggle to remain organized, keep on top of it all.

    I have so much to do. If only I could breathe.

    I have felt this way in my job, but then I switch jobs in search for peace, for a place that is less intense, and the sensation follows me.

    I have felt this way when I take time off work, when I leave behind a job that demands juggling, multitasking and handling conflicting priorities and have nothing to do.

    I feel this way when I write on Quora, which I do for fun, which is voluntary, which is 100% my choice, my rhythm, my prerogative.

    I blame the outside for things that are really happening inside.

    It’s me.

    I make me anxious.

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    Anxiety is simply the fear of fear.

    It’s being afraid of an imagined future experience and thinking you can’t deal with it emotionally.

    The irony, of course, is that as you imagine the future scenario, you already feel what you think you can’t deal with.

    Our brains can’t tell the difference between what is real and what we imagine. We react equally strongly to both.

    We often inadvertently make our anxiety worse by trying to avoid, fix, or cope with our imagined experience.

    When we focus on the anxiety and it’s perceived cause, we magnify it.

    We make it seem even more real in our minds, because psychologically speaking perception is reality.

    In reality, however, we are only ever feeling our thinking, not our circumstances.

    We are responding to thoughts, not reality.

    Our feelings don’t actually have the ability to tell us anything about the outside world.

    The moment we see this for ourselves (translation: don’t take my word for it. See it for yourself), it no longer makes as much sense to try to analyse or fight anxiety.

    We can simply let it be, knowing that it will go just as mysteriously as it came.

    Imagine a tiger is about to eat you.

    Feel that? The flutters in your chest? The sickness in your stomach? Maybe you’ve got a headache, or your thoughts are running a million miles an hour, or you feel woozy.

    Now imagine that… but there’s no tiger.

    There’s no cause. You’re just extremely panicked.

    All the same symptoms. No tiger.

    Kinda weird, huh?

    That’s GAD—generalized anxiety disorder. That’s the bucket a lot of people with anxiety fall into.

    It’s a disorder where your body sets off all those “OH MY GOD A TIGER” alarms, but there’s no tiger and really, no reason to be so alarmed.

    My base level of anxiety is that feeling you have about an hour before giving a big presentation.

    You’re not totally freaking out, but your stomach feels a little off, you’re a little dizzy, and the fact that in an hour you’ll be in front of an audience is gnawing at the back of your mind.

    That’s my everyday feeling.

    It also comes with obsessive thoughts.

    For example, if anyone does literally anything, I am required to read into it way more than I should.

    My rational brain will say, “They are busy. This is why they are not replying.”

    My anxiety brain goes, “Yeah, but maybe they got mauled by a tiger. RED ALERT. RED ALERT. TIGER. EVERYONE PANIC.”

    And, therefore, I panic.

    It’s exhausting. 0/10, do not recommend.

    Answered as part of my session on “Living with anxiety as a student/employee.”

    Everyone has anxiety. It is our body’s stress response to protect us from danger. So it may be that your question is “Why is my stress response on more intensely and longer than I prefer”

    Normally when we are in danger, we run away and are safe again. Today we instead have many chronic concerns, our jobs, relationships, money, health, the evening news, busy schedules etc.

    Consider what the specific causes may be for you.


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    Anxiety is skipping a heartbeat when you’re walking down the stairs and miss a step.

    Anxiety is losing your car keys and worrying about it constantly, until it’s safely in your hands.

    Anxiety is diving into the ocean. As you’re swimming back to the surface, the surface seems so far away and you suddenly feel like you’re being dragged down to the sea bed.

    Anxiety is the fear of fear.

    Anxiety is a normal reaction to danger. It is your body’s automatic fight-or-flight response that is triggered when you feel threatened. In moderation, anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it can help you stay alert and focused, and motivate you to solve problems.

    However, when the anxiety is constant and overwhelming – when the worries and fears interfere with your relationships and daily life— you’ve likely crossed the line from normal anxiety into an anxiety disorder.

    Most of our emotion processing takes place in the ancient parts of the brain. Collectively this is called the “limbic system”.

    The most crucial area of the limbic system is the ‘amygdala’. This plays an important role in the regulation of emotions and forming fear and anxiety-related memories.

    fMRI studies on Generalized Anxiety Disorder have shown a higher level of activity in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, the area associated with being able to act in a relaxed and natural way. Higher levels of activity is also seen in the amygdala.

    GAD is described as persistent and excessive worrying. Sometimes just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety.

    The symptoms include:

    • Persistent worrying
    • Overthinking plans
    • Perceiving situations as threatening when they are not
    • Difficulty handling uncertainty
    • Fear of making the wrong decision
    • Feeling restless or on edge
    • Difficulty concentrating or feeling that your mind has ‘gone blank’

    The physical symptoms include: fatigue, trouble sleeping, muscle aches, trembling, being startled, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome and irritability.[1]

    Children and teenagers may have similar worries to adults but also:

    • Feel overly anxious to fit in
    • Be a perfectionist
    • Redo tasks because they aren’t perfect the first time
    • Spend excessive time doing homework
    • Lack confidence
    • Strive for approval
    • Require a lot of reassurance about performance
    • Have frequent stomach aches or other physical complaints
    • Avoid going to school or avoid social situations

    For someone with GAD, the worry cycle feels beyond their control.

    If you have been experiencing three or more symptoms on more days than not, for at least six months, please see a doctor.


    You are actually the product of amazing evolution & highly evolved.

    Hang in there…I’m not just blowing smoke.

    In days passed, it would have benefitted someone greatly to have the sensitivity to pick up on small stimuli in the woods or fields, to be incredibly responsive to stimuli, and to be able to read them as possible signals of threat.

    Your nervous system has some wicked ancestral survivor skills…

    In early human history, you would have been a boss. A survivor.

    But the thing is? You don’t need those skills anymore.

    …but your nervous system is still highly attuned, and you now live in a world full of constant stimulation. Your body feels overwhelmed. It’s too much. It’s uncomfortable. You get set off by things that others don’t. It sucks.

    You’re starting at a higher anxiety point than others, so it likely doesn’t take as much to put you over the edge to feeling symptomatic.

    Now, I don’t know what kind of anxiety we’re talking about because there are so many types – panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, etc…

    But your nervous system is highly attuned, and it would have been amazing in a world we no longer live in.

    We could get into specifics about the nervous system itself (especially the sympathetic & parasympathetic), neurotransmitters, etc… but when it comes down to it – this is the real cause of anxiety…

    Maybe blame your ancestors.

    Everyone with anxiety seems to have the same thing going on.

    They fear not knowing.

    Not knowing how someone will respond, not knowing if your girlfriend cheated on you, not knowing if you’ll be smart enough to pass a class, not knowing if you’re sick with a cold or have cancer, etc. etc.

    The cause behind anxiety tends to be the lack of knowledge in your thinking and self-doubt. The cause is constantly questioning your knowledge and asking “What if?…”.

    But even with knowledge, you might still question if this knowledge is applicable or true for the scenario. It can be like a metacognitive loop. You have the knowledge, but is it correct? Does it apply to this situation? What if I’m wrong?

    If people knew everything and every outcome in every situation, I can almost guarantee they’d worry a hell of a lot less, but life isn’t that organized. Life is chaotic and unpredictable.

    If it makes you feel any better, usually, the things people worry about tend to be the least likely outcomes in a given situation.

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