Why Do I Have Anxiety Disorder?

Approximately 18% or 40 million adults are affected by an anxiety disorder each year in the United States and these disorders affect one in eight children in the U.S. Anxiety disorders are considered the most common type of psychiatric disorders in the general population. There are many different types of anxiety disorders and each disorder has it’s own diagnostic criteria however the underlying risk factors and causes are very similar for all anxiety disorders. Additionally all anxiety disorders are characterized by extreme stress and worry that interfere with the individual’s everyday life. Causes range from underlying medical conditions, genetic and biological factors, substance abuse, childhood trauma to cognitive disorders, co-occurring mental health disorders, and eating disorders.

Does stress play a role?

Physical and psychological stress is the body’s natural response to overcome an unfamiliar or traumatic situation. In stressful situations, endorphins and adrenaline are released in the body which not only puts us high alert but allows us to run faster, see better and perform stronger when we are faced with danger. However some individuals appear resilient to stress, while others are vulnerable to stress, which precipitates an anxiety disorder. It is not your fault if you are more vulnerable to stress than others as the reaction to stress is ingrained in our DNA and also from experiences in our past. Once stress becomes a burden, it can then turn into everyday anxiety leading to a potential anxiety disorder. So in short, yes, how you deal with stress does play into developing an anxiety disorder.

Id verses ego

According to the Freudian model of the psyche, the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends and the ego is the organized, realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego, which plays the critical and moralizing role. This psychodynamic theory has explained anxiety as a conflict between the id and ego. Aggressive and impulsive drives may be experienced as unacceptable resulting in repressed thoughts, emotions and actions. These repressed drives may break through the surface, producing automatic anxiety.

How panic plays a role in anxiety

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that results from a heightened sensitivity to internal autonomic cues such as a fast heartbeat and rapid breathing. Triggers of panic can include the following:

  • Injury (such as accidents or surgery)
  • Illness
  • Interpersonal conflict or loss
  • Use of cannabis
  • Use of stimulants, such as caffeine, decongestants, cocaine, and sympathomimetics, such as amphetamine and MDMA (“ecstasy”)
  • Certain settings, such as stores and public transportation (especially in individuals with agoraphobia)
  • Discontinuing SSRIs (anti-depressants)

Other triggers that are known to cause anxiety disorder

  • A hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Childhood trauma
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Family history
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Bullying
  • Over the counter medications
  • Herbal medications
  • History of abuse
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Poor diet and nutrition
  • Eating disorders
  • Financial stress
  • The loss of a loved one

Why Me?

Anxiety disorders are not your fault. There are many factors that are completely out of your hands. However, there are coping mechanisms that can help prevent anxiety signs and symptoms but everyone is affected by anxiety in a different capacity and therefore different coping mechanisms work for different individuals. Additionally, if you grew up in a stressful environment as a child, you may be more prone to anxiety compared to someone who grew up in a stable household. Your childhood, genetics and past traumas are not your fault, and neither are the mental health disorders that developed from things triggers.