What causes anxiety?

It is hard to know why some people experience anxiety as a mental health problem and others do not. If you worry more than others it could also just feel like part of your personality – or it could be a mixture of these things. Sometimes you might not know why you feel anxious at all, and it might not seem to have any obvious cause.

Past or childhood experiences

If something distressing happened to you in the past, you might feel anxious about facing similar situations again in case they stir up the same feelings of distress.

“It all started back in high school when I was physically and verbally bullied. It was a very traumatic time for me and sometimes still is [traumatic] to think about.”

Feeling anxious could also be something you learned early on in life. For example, if your family or main carers viewed the world as hostile or dangerous, you may have learned to feel the same way.

Everyday life and habits

Your lifestyle and the way you spend your time day-to-day can affect the way you feel. For example, the following experiences can all contribute to anxiety:

  • Exhaustion or stress
  • Long working hours
  • Pressure at home, at work, or on your course if you are studying
  • Housing problems
  • Money problems

“I have recently realised that I spend money when anxious, which in turn makes me feel anxious about how much I’m spending.” 


Your diet can affect your mood on a day-to-day basis, and some foods can mimic and trigger symptoms of anxiety, such as drinking caffeine, eating lots of sugar or a generally poor diet.

Physical and mental health

Your physical health can have an impact on your mental wellbeing. For example, if you have a long-term physical health condition, or experience chronic pain, this might make you more vulnerable to experiencing mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.

Similarly, if you are experiencing other mental health problems, such as depression, this can also make you more vulnerable to experiencing problems with anxiety. 

Drugs and medication

If you are taking prescription medication or street drugs, including alcohol, you might find that they can affect your mental health. For example, you might experience anxiety as a side effect of:

  • Certain medication for mental health problems
  • Certain medication for other health problems, such as steroids or some anti-malaria medication
  • Street drugs or alcohol


There is some evidence that suggests some people might inherit a genetic tendency to be more anxious than others.

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