Generalized Anxiety Disorder: What causes anxiety?

June 24, 2022 7 min read

The cause of Generalized Anxiety Disorder cannot be pinpointed to a single factor. People with anxiety experience it differently from others. Over the years, researchers have identified that there are multiple reasons that drive the development of GAD in individuals. These factors can include life experiences, genetic predisposition, brain chemistry, family background, or social influence.

Life Experiences

The most common factor that contributes to the development of GAD is life experiences. From traumatic events from your past to environment and social factors, there are many life experiences that can drive anxiety disorders into you.

Past traumatic experiences

People who have experienced trauma in childhood have a huge risk of developing anxiety disorders. Bad experiences like physical or mental abuse, death of a dear one, breakups, divorce, or isolation, often create feelings like uncertainty, humiliation, distrust, etc. When these emotions persist and affect the behavior and decision-making capacity of the person, then they become major contributing factors to anxiety disorders.

Learned behavior

While growing up, children are known to mirror their parents and other important people around them. This is how they learn to handle challenges and other stressful situations. Several recent mental health studies are showing that individuals with parents who demonstrate behaviors are more likely to learn the same anxious behavior from them. This early learned behavior will eventually build up into mental health disorders like GAD.

Physical conditions

Genetics and brain structure are two main physical factors that may lead to GAD. There are many ways in which these physical conditions can cause anxiety disorders. Let’s take a detailed look at how.

Genetics

Genetic predisposition plays a major role in causing many mental illnesses including Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Even though the recent developments in technology have allowed researchers to study the effect of genes in causing anxiety disorders, they are still in the infant stage. Studies have shown that people with genetic vulnerability can develop GAD when they have to face certain genetic markers, environmental factors, or other triggers. Individuals with first-degree relatives who have been diagnosed with GAD are more likely to develop mood or anxiety disorders. This increases the risk of developing GAD. According to statistics, women with such genetic vulnerability are more likely to get affected by GAD.

Brain Structures

Many of our basic human reactions are regulated by a collection of brain structures called the limbic system. Usually, it responds to the ‘thinking part’ of the brain. However, it can also get triggered by stimuli as well.

Amygdala is a part of the limbic system that functions as the integrative center for all our emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation. Acting as an automatic fear response, it can trigger many anxiety disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The volume of gray matter is also a major factor that is associated with GAD and other disorders. 

Lifestyle factors

The substances we use regularly and the relationships we have with others can affect our mental health. Here are some of the major lifestyle factors that can trigger GAD.

Food

Many of the food items that we regularly use can become addictive. They heighten our emotions, alter our feelings, and trigger nervousness and anxiety in us. Recognizing these addictive food items and controlling them can help you manage GAD to some extent.

Relationship

Relationships can either be comforting or create pain. Being afraid of your partner or having the fear of getting humiliated in front of your partner is one of the major reasons why people develop anxiety issues in a relationship.

Work

Work stress can trigger anxiety. When your workplace demands a high level of performance and productivity constantly, it may threaten the person’s employment. This creates constant anxiety and can lead to Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Cite this article as: Winona Silverman, "Generalized Anxiety Disorder: What causes anxiety?," in Guide My Mind, June 24, 2022, https://guidemymind.com/2022/06/generalized-anxiety-disorder-what-causes-anxiety/.
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