Causes of Anxiety Disorders

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Risk factors implicated in anxiety disorders are divided into two major groups: predisposing risk factors, which mean that some people are more likely to suffer a disorder than others (that is, they are more vulnerable), and the triggers that make the disorder appear. The sum of these predisposing and triggering risk factors is what make an anxiety disorder more or less likely to appear.

Predisposing risk factors

Family and family tree indicating hereditary factors

Family background. There is a family component in the development of some anxiety disorders, which means that if a person has any of these disorders, their family members are also more likely to have them. This does not mean that the children of a person with an anxiety disorder will necessarily develop the disorder.

Pregnant woman

Toxins during pregnancy. Certain situations or contact with some substances during pregnancy (serious problems with nutrition, consumption of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs, certain prescription drugs, or high levels of cortisol, among many other factors) can cause a person to become vulnerable to developing some type of disorder, including anxiety disorders.

Woman holding a baby in her arms

Parenting style. Factors related to parenting style can also generate a predisposition to developing an anxiety disorder. An insecure bond between babies and their caregivers (for example, not meeting the child’s needs when demands attention, applying a contradictory parenting style, or not conveying unconditional security and love), as well as an overly authoritarian or overprotective parenting style, are also related to having an increased vulnerability to suffering these disorders.

Triggering risk factors

Person with symbols on the head representing stress, anxiety, confusion, disorientation, headache or migraine

Stress. Situations of stress such as those arising from problems at work or in family or social relationships, favor the appearance of symptoms of anxiety.

Two faces of the same person, one happy, the other one sad, symbolizing mood swings

Personality. Another factor that can sometimes encourage the development of an anxiety disorder is a person’s personality. People who tend to be inhibited and shy may have a greater probability of developing anxiety disorders. However, it must be remembered that no single risk factor alone is decisive in the appearance of these disorders. In addition, when devising an intervention, risk factors are not as important as factors that help maintain the disorder. The latter are the focus of psychological interventions and must be modified to achieve good results, regardless of the causes of the disorder.

Substantiated information by:

Eduard Forcadell López
Luisa Lázaro García
Miquel Àngel Fullana Rivas
Sara Lera Miguel

Published: 29 January 2019
Updated: 29 January 2019

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