Experiencing occasional feelings of nervousness, worry, or fear is normal, especially when they arise in response to stressful, unfamiliar, or challenging situations. However, frequent, regular, intense, and lasting (almost daily for 6 months) feelings of nervousness can signal an underlying anxiety disorder, especially when they interrupt a person’s ability to function normally.
Anxiety disorders describe a category of mental health conditions that share common symptoms, but have different patterns of onset, duration, and frequency. Many anxiety disorders are distinguished by the specific events and circumstances that trigger the symptoms or “false alarms” described above.
Some of the more common types of anxiety disorders include:4
There isn’t one specific cause for developing an anxiety disorder. Experts believe that the interaction of genetic vulnerability with stressful life events can trigger an anxiety condition. A person can also experience anxiety from having an underlying medical condition, taking certain medications, or a combination of any of these factors.9
In some cases, an anxiety disorder can be caused by another underlying medical condition. In fact, there are certain medical conditions known to produce anxiety symptoms, such as hyperthyroidism, cardiovascular disease, asthma, encephalitis, and more. By the same token, having a chronic illness can cause stress related to the implications of the medical issue thus triggering anxiety. Additionally, anxiety can be a common symptom in other mental disorders like depression or bipolar disorder.4
Evidence suggests that unhealthy environments, stressful life events (death of a loved one, divorce, financial issues etc.), growing up in an unsafe environment, and experiencing childhood abuse are strongly linked to anxiety disorders. These conditions amplify the likelihood of developing anxiety, and the risks can be even higher for those with a genetic predisposition.10
As with other mental health conditions, anxiety disorders typically have a genetic component. This means that having a family member with anxiety, or any other psychological disorder, can predispose you to developing an anxiety disorder—especially if other risk factors are involved.10
Some people can experience nervousness, anxiety, panic symptoms as a side effect from taking certain medications. If the person already has anxiety, these medications can make their symptoms worse. Medications that can provoke anxiety symptoms include pain relievers, anticonvulsants, oral contraceptives, antidepressants, and some over-the-counter medicines. It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor or pharmacist and read medication labels to learn if your prescriptions can cause anxiety.
There are certain populations that are vulnerable and/or life circumstances that increase the chances for developing an anxiety disorder. These include:6