What causes anxiety?
There is no one cause for anxiety; it is likely that many factors contribute
to a person’s chances of developing anxiety. Scientists have broken
down the potential causes into three groups, genetics and early learning,
brain biochemistry, and the fight or flight mechanism.
Brain Biochemistry - Chemical Imbalance
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the brain that regulate a person’s
thoughts and feelings. Sometimes there is a problem with the way the brain’s
messages are being sent due to a chemical imbalance. Two of the primary neurotransmitters
that affect a person’s feelings are serotonin and dopamine. When there
is an imbalance of these chemicals, a person can feel depressed or anxious.
Learn more about chemical imbalance
Genetics and Early Learning
Anxiety disorders tend to run in families, so if a person’s mom, dad,
or other close relative has anxiety, they have a higher chance of developing
anxiety themselves. Growing up in a family where fear and anxiety are constantly
shown to children by role models can “teach” them to be anxious
as well. In addition, if a child grows up in an abusive home, he or she may
learn to always expect the worse.
Research also shows a genetic predisposition for a chemical imbalance in
people with anxiety. Since the structure of the brain and its processes are
inherited, this is yet another reason why anxiety can run in families.
Changing the way we think can mean attempting to undo years of thought patterns.
Some of these thought patterns may be negative and automatic.
Learn how Cognitive Behavior Therapy can help
Fight or Flight Mechanism
When a person senses danger, the body prepares itself to either fight (defend
itself) or flee (run away from the situation). The body’s fight or
flight mechanism causes the heart rate to increase, the eyes to dilate, and
the body to prepare itself for a dangerous situation. These responses allow
a person to protect him/herself. Even though these effects are intended to
be a good thing, sometimes the body misunderstands a situation and believes
that there is danger when in reality there is not (taking a test, giving
a speech, etc). There is a part of the brain called the amygdala that triggers
the fight or flight response. This part of the brain is trained to remember
the thing that triggered the fight or flight mechanism (taking a test or
giving a speech). This is the brain’s attempt to protect the person
from future danger by keeping track of all things that might cue danger.
Even though this part of the brain is trying to protect a person, it can
be the cause of much unnecessary anxiety. The brain has to be “re-trained” to
not react in fight or flight to something that is not actually dangerous.