What Causes Anxiety?

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

What Causes Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling that everyone will experience regularly in their lives. It is an emotion that can be triggered by several factors. Sometimes it will be triggered by recognizable situations and sometimes it will be triggered by circumstances that are more difficult to identify and understand.

How Stress Triggers Anxiety

Every person has triggers for stress, which is what triggers anxiety. Some people will have a higher tolerance for stress than others, which is why some people feel anxious more often than others.

Stress can be triggered by several different factors, including:

  • Exciting experiences
  • Anticipation
  • Negative or painful situations
  • Concerns about the future
  • Being overwhelmed with responsibilities
  • Interpersonal issues
  • Indecisiveness

When learning about how to handle your own anxiety, the first step is to understand what causes your anxiety, and what causes you to feel stressed.

Common Causes Of Anxiety

Everyone will have their own triggers for stress and anxiety. Some people will have unique stressors that will trigger different types of anxiety. In general, most people will experience stress and anxiety from at least one of the following common causes of anxiety:

Heredity and Family History

If you have an immediate family member with chronic or excessive anxiety, you are at high risk of also experiencing heightened anxiety. This could be due to genes or learning modeled anxious behavior from others during upbringing. It is possible to be genetically predisposed to anxiety.


Change can be scary for people. When a person is exposed to significant change, they can feel vulnerable. Having to adjust to significant changes can cause a person to experience heightened anxiety. Changes that can cause anxiety include:

  • Moving
  • Job promotion
  • Change in family dynamic
  • Aging
  • Difficulty adapting to different cultures


Living, working or attending school in a chaotic, volatile or unhealthy environment can cause anxiety. People in an unhealthy or chaotic environment feel unsafe. This unsafe feeling causes people to feel insecure and on edge. Prolonged exposure to a stressful environment can cause chronic anxiety. This chronic anxiety caused by your environment can carry over to other areas of your life.


It is natural to have dreams and goals in life. Preparing for and working toward your ambitions can be stressful in different ways. It takes a lot of time and patience to achieve your goals. It is natural to feel anxious in anticipation of achieving your own goals. The following questions will all cause you to feel anxious:

  • Am I good enough?
  • Do I want it enough?
  • Am I smart enough?
  • Can I handle this work load?
  • Am I doing the right thing to achieve my goal?
  • What if I fail?
  • What if I succeed?

The uncertainty about the future is anxiety-provoking, along with responsibilities with school and work that are necessary to achieve your goal.


It is not uncommon for your anxiety about your responsibilities, goals and ambitions to cause burnout. Burnout is when you feel mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. Burnout will cause significant and prolonged anxiety. Burnout can also lead to depression and other mental health issues if not properly addressed with stress management skills.

Emotional Distress

Emotional stress can cause a great deal of anxiety for people. It can occur either as a cause or result of anxiety. Factors that could trigger emotional distress include:

  • Difficulty adjusting to change
  • Relationship issues
  • Loss of a job
  • Grief
  • Death or loss of a loved one
  • Career stress
  • Bullying
  • Academic stress
  • Lack of direction in your own life
  • Internal conflict
  • Low self-esteem

Relationship Issues

Relationship issues will cause anxiety. Controversy and conflict with people you care about is stressful. Relationship issues can cause a person to feel insecure in a relationship, which can invoke a great deal of anxiety.

Without proper stress management and communication skills, it can be a challenge to manage the anxiety that is caused by relationship issues. This anxiety can carry over into other areas of your life.


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