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Understanding the Cause of Anxiety

Unraveling the Mystery of Separation Anxiety Disorder: A Compassionate Guide to Understanding, Managing, and Overcoming SAD.

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    We all worry from time to time, whether that’s about work deadlines, first dates or the future in general. But what happens when these feelings become persistent and seem to develop over small triggers? 

    Anxiety can be a beneficial emotion in some cases, altering people to danger and triggering reactions. However, if you notice you feel anxious a lot of the time or your reactions don’t quite match the situation, it might be a mental health issue. 

    The Government of Canada says that one in ten Canadians has an anxiety disorder, making it one of the most common mental health conditions. 

    Anxiety has no singular cause, and each person varies in how they experience symptoms and what triggers them. To understand the different treatment options available, we need to look at the many causes of anxiety. 

    The types of anxiety

    Anxiety can manifest in different ways, but each type can cause a range of symptoms and impact your life. We often find that the root cause of your symptoms will also dictate your form of anxiety. Let’s take a look at each. 

    Generalized Anxiety Disorder

    GAD is a type of anxiety characterized by persistent worrying about everyday things. People with the condition might find there are no triggers, as the anxiety can form around relationships, work, current events and general activities. 

    Learn about generalized anxiety disorder

    Social Anxiety Disorder

    Social anxiety disorder is a common condition that occurs when dealing with certain situations. For example, a person might notice their symptoms become worse when attending an event or having to speak in public.

    Learn about social anxiety disorder.

    Separation Anxiety Disorder

    Separation anxiety disorder most often appears in children when they’re separated from their parents. The condition might cause temper tantrums and avoidant behaviours in young people, but adolescents and adults can also suffer from it.

    Learn about separation anxiety disorder.

    Panic Disorder

    Panic attacks can be debilitating, often causing physical symptoms that include heart palpitations, flushing and feeling sick. Attacks can occur during triggering situations, resulting in avoidant behaviours.

    Learn about panic disorder.

    Other Forms of Anxiety Include:

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    Why is understanding the causes of anxiety important?

    The simple answer to this is that when we know the causes of anxiety, we can treat it better. However, there are also other reasons to consider, including: 

    • Empowerment: Knowing what’s causing your anxiety symptoms can help you take control of them and treat the triggers. 
    • Compassion: Some people feel ashamed of their excessive worrying, but knowing it’s not your fault means you practice self-compassion. 
    • Communication: Relationships and friendships can suffer due to anxiety, but once you understand the cause, it’s easier to communicate with loved ones. 
    • Prevention: Our busy lives and always-on society mean many people struggle to balance everything. Authorities can take steps to educate people on why self-care is essential. 
    • Treatment Options: Lastly, knowing the root causes of anxiety can improve treatment options. 

    Biological Causes of Anxiety

    The body is an amazing thing, capable of a range of processes that keep us alive and healthy. Each organ plays a key role, and the brain is particularly important.

    From coordinating our movement and allowing us to learn to alert us of dangers, the brain has a huge job. Anxiety can develop due to biological factors, including genetics, how it functions and hormonal imbalances.

    Genetic Predisposition

    Advances in science mean examining how a person’s genetics impact their life is now possible. Studies have conclusively linked higher levels of anxiety in children whose parents suffered from a disorder, highlighting a genetic predisposition. 

    For example, researchers learned that Generalized Anxiety Disorder can run in families, with children having a 30% chance of developing it (NCBI). 

    As research continues, specialists are noticing the links, which could potentially help reduce the chances of young people developing anxiety in the future (AJP). 

    Hormonal Imbalances

    Hormones are vital for physiological processes and regulating the nervous system, so it’s easy to see why imbalances can cause anxiety. Adrenaline and cortisol are stress hormones that define how you react to certain situations, but imbalances can impact them. 

    While men and women can both suffer from hormonal issues, studies show that women are more likely to experience anxiety than men (NIH). Menstrual changes, pregnancy and menopause are all risk factors for developing an anxiety disorder.

    The Brain

    The brain’s neurotransmitters and chemicals can also be causes of anxiety, with dopamine, serotonin and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) being instrumental in regulating your responses and stabilizing your mood. 

    When these chemicals don’t work effectively, it can impact your responses, which might cause panic attacks. Any disorder or brain damage also puts you at risk of extreme reactions to triggering situations. 

    Medical Conditions

    Some medical conditions can increase your risks of anxiety disorder, including hyperthyroidism, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, and neurological conditions that might elevate your anxiety levels. 

    One reason for this might be due to low moods associated with the pain, but it can also be due to neural circuits. While research is limited, studies exploring the connections between medical conditions and anxiety are ongoing. 

    Psychological Causes of Anxiety

    Many people experience anxiety disorders that stem from psychological issues, which can have a long-term impact on their lives. In the past, psychological conditions weren’t taken seriously, but today, there are numerous treatment options available.

    Let’s explore some psychological triggers that can result in anxiety disorders.


    We’ve long known that depression and anxiety have a distinct link, with the two often appearing together. Depressive disorders can result in low moods and a lack of motivation.

    People might develop anxiety when simple activities become challenging, resulting in panic attacks and avoidant behaviours. It’s not uncommon for people to receive a dual diagnosis – and treatment of both.

    Negative Thinking

    The glass half full or empty theory might seem like an old saying, but it holds a lot of relevance. People with negative thinking patterns are more at risk of anxiety because they process things differently than individuals who see the bright side of things.

    For example, a negative thinker might go over scenarios in their head, constantly thinking about the worst-case scenario, leading to destructive thought patterns.


    Phobias develop for numerous reasons, including learned behaviours and exposure to a traumatic event. In some cases, your phobia might not have a significant impact on your life because you can avoid the trigger.

    For example, someone who’s terrified of the ocean won’t deal with the same triggers as a person with arachnophobia. Phobias usually cause avoidant behaviours, but they can also result in panic attacks when exposed to the triggers.


    Everyone has distinct personality traits that define how they view the world and behave in certain situations.

    For example, highly confident individuals are more likely to approach challenges and succeed in difficult situations, while those with low self-esteem will avoid challenges. 

    Neuroticism is the personality trait responsible for anxiety disorders. If you’re a natural worrier and tend to replay situations in your head, you’re more at risk of developing a disorder (PubMed).


    Perfectionists are known for setting excessively high standards for themselves and going out of their way to meet them. This behaviour can sometimes be beneficial, especially in the workplace or academic study.

    However, when perfection becomes an obsession, and you go out of your way to meet the high standards you set, it can result in negative thinking patterns. Over time, this might develop into extreme anxiety.

    Environmental Causes

    Environmental and psychological triggers often go hand in hand, but understanding the life events or external stimuli that contribute to anxiety can help you notice potential triggers. 

    While some environmental causes are unavoidable, knowing them can help therapists and medical professionals treat your symptoms effectively.

    Get matched with a counsellor that fits your needs.

    Life Events

    Even small life events can have a negative impact on your mental health. Going into debt or moving house causes a lot of anxiety, which then develops into a disorder. Relationship breakdowns, witnessing – or being in – an accident and being fired are also contributors.

    Children are also at risk if they deal with stressful events, including moving schools, being bullied or witnessing a breakup. It’s essential to remember that anxiety from these triggers can manifest later on instead of immediately.

    Workplace Triggers

    The workplace can be stressful, with constant deadlines, expectations and KPIs. In Canada, healthcare and social workers deal with the highest stress levels, and women are more likely than men to feel the effects (HR Reporter).

    Dealing with workplace politics, gossip, and bullying can also cause long-term effects. Some people find they’re better in a small office or working from home.

    Substance Abuse

    As with depression, substance abuse can occur as a result of – or before – anxiety. When a person is reliant on alcohol, prescription medicines or illegal drugs, they might constantly worry about where their next fix is coming from, resulting in anxious behaviours.

    If you deal with persistent worrying and use substances to self-medicate, it can turn into a severe disorder. For example, if someone regularly has a drink before a social event, it can eventually turn into alcoholism and a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder.

    Past Trauma

    The trauma suffered early in life can manifest in anxiety later in life. Child abuse can have a lasting impact, but many young people block out their experiences. In triggering situations, the trauma can cause panic attacks or PTSD (McLean).

    Veterans are also more likely to experience an anxiety disorder, as are victims of violent crime. Numerous factors can trigger PTSD, but treating the underlying trauma can reduce your symptoms.

    Family Dynamics

    Many of our behaviours are learned from parents, and those in a stable environment know how to deal with the world and its setbacks. Certain parenting styles, instability and even over-protective parents can cause anxiety later in life. 

    Studies show that children with anxious parents are more likely to develop disorders themselves, as they learn from pessimistic thinking and how their parents react to things (Science Direct).

    Managing The Causes of Anxiety

    Anxiety can have an impact on your professional and personal life – but there are ways to treat it and eliminate negative thinking. As with any form of mental illness, understanding the root cause is vital to finding the proper treatment. 

    With that in mind, let’s explore the various strategies for managing anxiety. 


    Medications such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines can reduce the effects of anxiety, but they can also prevent it from occurring alongside depression. 

    However, if your anxious symptoms occur due to other medical conditions, treating those is often the best route of action. For example, medications for overactive thyroids and high blood pressure will reduce your physical symptoms. 

    Finding Support

    Support groups can be a valuable place to turn when you’re dealing with past abuse or the effects of traumatic events. Knowing that other people are going through the same thing makes you feel less alone, which can help you overcome the negative experiences. 

    Asking your doctor or looking online is the best way to find support. Members will know what you’re going through and might be able to offer tips or coping strategies. 

    Discover Coping Strategies

    One of the best ways to manage the symptoms of anxiety is through learning coping strategies. Breathing exercises, mindfulness and meditation can make a big difference in how you deal with the cause of your stress. 

    Finding the right technique or holistic treatment will reduce stress and pain, making it easier to handle daily life.

    Seek Therapy

    While medications can treat the immediate symptoms of anxiety, therapy works on discovering and treating the underlying cause. There are numerous therapies available, including CBT, psychotherapy and exposure therapy. 

    Each has advantages; finding an experienced counsellor means you’ll get ongoing support. Well Beings Counselling offers a range of therapies, including online therapy and family support

    Final Thoughts

    Anxiety can occur for a multitude of reasons, and identifying the root cause can help you access treatment that transforms your symptoms. Remember, there’s no shame in admitting excessive worrying is taking control of your life, and help is always available. 

    Depending on the type of anxiety you’re dealing with, support is available. 

    Would you like to tackle anxiety symptoms head-on?

    If you’d like to deal with anxious symptoms and get the support you deserve, Well Beings Counselling offers a convenient service throughout Canada. Whether you’re looking for CBT or exposure therapy, we have fully qualified mental health professionals ready to help. 

    Please get in touch with us with any questions or get started on your mental health journey today. 

    No matter what you are struggling with, we are here for you.

    Picture of Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

    Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

    Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.