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Anxiety disorders are incredibly common and are a part of many of our lives. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, as many as 40 million adults in the United States are affected by this condition every year. Understanding these complicated medical conditions starts with understanding what can cause them. 

What Triggers Anxiety?

Anxiety can be triggered by a wide variety of social, biological, and personal causes. Everything from major life changes to alcohol use can shape and reshape how we handle anxiety. Let’s take a closer look at what causes anxiety…

11. Stress

Stress has a major impact on our overall health. In fact, stress can cause anxiety to develop as well as making existing anxieties worse. Stress also plays into other health factors that can make anxiety worse or even cause it all together. 

Why Stress Causes Anxiety

Stress and anxiety go hand in hand. When we are stressed out about something, it’s easier for that to make us feel anxious and fuel pre-existing anxiety disorders or contribute to one forming. Normal stressors in our lives may make us feel uncomfortable for a short while, but those that cause anxiety disorders typically build up and last for long periods of time. 

Stress is also tied in with trauma and major life changes, two related factors which we will now discuss…

10. Trauma

Trauma is caused by a psychologically damaging event that goes beyond one’s ability to cope. Now, trauma stresses the mind to its breaking point and leaves lasting damage behind. One way this damage manifests is through anxiety disorders. 

Why Trauma Causes Anxiety

Trauma can fundamentally change how we relate to the world and ourselves. Anxiety disorders are often marked by excessive worry and constantly dwelling on certain fears or worries. Trauma can leave us with worries that we have trouble resolving on our own and it becomes easy for us to become carried away with these stressors and traumas. 

Trauma can be caused by a wide range of events, but major life changes are a frequent cause… 

9. Major Life Changes

Stability is something that all humans need. While each person may have different requirements and definitions for stability, we all need some measure of safety and security. Major life changes destabilize this security, which can lead to anxiety disorders. 

Why Major Life Changes Cause Anxiety

When we go through major life changes, our lives can quickly go from routine and secure to completely off the rails, so to speak. EVents like the death of a loved one, loss of income, or even positive changes like moving to a new city can all trigger anxiety. 

One of the most serious major life changes is an illness in the family… 

8. Illness in the Family

When our loved ones become ill, it can be difficult to cope. Often we are tasked with being impromptu caretakers as well as other familial roles we held before. These changes can lead to anxiety, trauma, and stress. 

Why an Illness in the Family Causes Anxiety

We draw much of our security from the people closest to us. When those people become ill, we can lose a lot of our security. This level of traumatic stress can translate into anxiety disorders for some people. In other words, this specific source of stress then intersects with other sources of anxiety, including finances and plans for the future. 

It’s not just the health of our friends and family that can lead to anxiety, but also our own… 

7. Health Problems

Our overall health has a strong impact on our mental health. When we become physically ill, especially with serious medical problems, we can also develop anxiety. 

Why Health Problems Cause Anxiety

Health problems come with many anxiety triggers as well as traumatic events. In other words, serious medical conditions can change the course of our lives, which leads to anxiety. They also represent uncertainty from medical bills, loss of work, and potential housing issues. That means that a personal health crisis can be both triggering and traumatic. 

Related to our health is our genetic predisposition to anxiety…  

6. Genetics

Our genetics are the blueprints of our lives. When combined with our personal histories, our genetics can influence who we will become. When it comes to anxiety, we can look to our parents to get a better understanding of our own risk. 

Why Genetics Causes Anxiety

When an individual has multiple family members with anxiety, they themselves can be at greater risk. After all, anxiety disorders tend to run in families. Risk is heightened, for example, if a parent or sibling has an anxiety disorder. 

While there isn’t much we can do to change our genetics, we can take hold of our lifestyle choices like caffeine use… 

5. Caffeine 

Caffeine is one of the most commonly used stimulants in the world, in everything from coffee to soda. While a moderate amount of caffeine can be great for a sluggish morning, too much caffeine can cause anxiety problems to get worse. 

Why Caffeine Causes Anxiety

Caffeine increases the levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is the “stress hormone” that is responsible for our physical response to stress. The production of this hormone can be difficult to process for people who are already managing an anxiety disorder and can even trigger a worse anxiety episode. 

Related to caffeine, but with worse health outcomes, is smoking nicotine products… 

4. Nicotine

Nicotine is another common stimulant, typically smoked in tobacco cigarettes. Although, it is increasingly found in tobacco-free smoking options, such as vape pens.  

Why Nicotine Causes Anxiety

Nicotine has a similar effect on the body as coffee in terms of stress and anxiety. While people may claim that smoking calms their nerves, that’s actually an addiction being satisfied, not a true sense of calm. In reality, nicotine causes stress and anxiety to intensify rather than decrease. Whether it is smoked, chewed, or otherwise used in a tobacco-free form, nicotine can make anxiety worse. 

Like nicotine, alcohol can contribute to worse anxiety…

3. Alcohol

Unlike our last two drugs, alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant. This fact may make it seem like it can be good for anxiety, but that ignores some other important facts about the interaction between anxiety and alcohol. 

Why Alcohol Causes Anxiety

While it’s true that you can “unwind” with a small dose of alcohol, this drug is habit forming, meaning it is not a good choice for managing anxiety. Beyond the risk for addiction, alcohol doesn’t actually address the problems causing anxiety in the first place. Alcohol can also impair our decision-making process, create the risk for health problems, and lower our overall health. Again, all of these results can worsen anxiety.

Of course, responses to anxiety are highly individual. So, understanding how your personality responds to stressors is a key part of adapting and overcoming anxiety…  

2. Personality 

Each of us has a unique personality with our own strengths and weaknesses. How our personalities handle stress, worry, and traumatic events can shape how we approach anxiety.

Why Personality Causes Anxiety

Some people have personalities that are more resilient and able to withstand stress better than others. Often, this resiliency is situation dependent. For instance, the person who can handle work-related stress with no effort might face a lot of difficulty with a health crisis.

The unique quirks of our personalities shape how we encounter anxiety as much as our personal histories do…

1. Personal History

The most unique and individual thing about our lives is our personal history. No one in history has lived a life exactly like yours. All of these unique differences can contribute to an anxiety disorder and shape what triggers our anxiety. 

Why Personal History Causes Anxiety

In our personal histories are events that can cause anxiety disorders. Childhood trauma is a major one of these events. Namely, traumatic experiences from childhood can stick with us for years and build into anxiety disorders down the road. 

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to navigate the complicated world of anxiety disorders. 


If you are concerned you might have an anxiety disorder, there are steps you can take to regain control of your life. The first step you should take is contacting your doctor or talk these issues over with a therapist. 

Beyond that, you can educate yourself on anxiety disorders and work on your own emotional intelligence. Understanding ourselves, knowing what triggers our anxieties, and knowing what makes them better are all vital pieces of wisdom that we need in order to get in control of our anxiety disorders. 


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