Causes of Anxiety Disorders

Discover the causes of anxiety disorders and panic attacks and who is susceptible to developing an anxiety disorder.Probably no single situation or condition causes anxiety disorders. Rather, physical and environmental triggers may combine to create a particular anxiety illness. For example, psychoanalysts suggest that anxiety stems from unconscious conflicts that arise from discomfort during infancy or childhood and learning. Theorists believe that anxiety is a learned behavior that can be unlearned. Recently, many scientists and researchers have found that biochemical imbalances are anxiety-causing.

Each of these theories is most likely true to some extent. It's also possible that a person may develop or inherit a biological susceptibility to anxiety disorders. Events in childhood may lead to certain fears that, over time, develop into a full-blown anxiety disorder.

New technologies are enabling scientists to learn more about the biological, psychological, and social factors that may cause anxiety disorders. With a better understanding of underlying causes, even better treatment and prevention of anxiety disorders will be closer at hand. For now, heredity, brain chemistry, personality, and life experiences are all believed to play roles in the occurrence of anxiety disorders.


There is clear evidence that anxiety disorders run in families. Studies show that if one identical twin has an anxiety disorder, the second twin is more likely to have an anxiety disorder than non-identical (fraternal) twins. These findings suggest that a genetic factor, possibly activated in combination with life experiences, predisposes some people to these illnesses.

Brain Chemistry

Because symptoms of anxiety disorders are often relieved by medications that alter levels of chemicals in the brain, scientists believe that brain chemistry appears to play a role in the onset of anxiety disorders.


Researchers believe that personality may play a role, noting that people who have low self-esteem and poor coping skills may be prone to anxiety disorders. Conversely, an anxiety disorder that begins in childhood may itself contribute to the development of low self-esteem.

Life Experiences

Researchers believe that the relationship between anxiety disorders and long-term exposure to abuse, violence, or poverty is an important area for further study because life experiences may affect individuals' susceptibility to these illnesses.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2007, February 19). Causes of Anxiety Disorders, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: July 1, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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