Anxiety: how does anxiety develop?

Anxiety has a different cause for everyone and can be triggered by different things. To give better insight in what can trigger an anxiety disorder or what can cause anxiety, we have divided up the causes of anxiety into general categories.

Anxiety caused by biological vulnerability

It can be so that you were born with some sort of vulnerability which causes you to become anxious more quickly, or to develop an anxiety disorder more easily. It namely is so that about 20% of people have a more sensitive nervous system, meaning they react in a more extreme way to stimuli from their environment. This means that they are also more prone to reacting in an anxious way. Anxiety is then part of their personality, some people say. With this they mean that some people are naturally more anxious than others are. Nothing specific needs to have happened to them to cause this. Sometimes, a genetic component can therefore definitely play a role in certain anxiety disorders.

Anxiety, which has been learned

Sometimes it can be so that people link anxiety to a certain situation, by linking a situation which seemed dangerous to them or caused strong negative emotions to a situation which does not necessarily have anything to do with the first situation. This is a type of anxiety which is often seen in animal testing. It sometimes seems that animals are put together with a certain object, for example a plush animal, and when the animals get nearby they get to hear a loud bang. After a while, the animals will become afraid of the plush animal, and not get close to it because they are afraid of the loud bang which could come. It can be so that even years after the experiments, when animals are put together with other plush animals, they are afraid of these, too.

Anxiety caused by a trauma or shocking situation

A trauma, such as can be caused by abuse or a robbery, can make it so that people are anxious or experience anxiety in a certain situation. But traumas can, in the other sense of the word, also influence anxiety. An example of this would be a baby which has experienced a high level of the stress hormone. This can influence the further life of this baby. But the trauma of food shortage, too, can also have large effects on health and thereby the anxiety level. In short: a trauma in any sense of the word can influence anxiety and can cause us to be more anxious.

Anxiety: the link to media and culture

Anxiety can also be dependent on culture or be enlarged by the media. For example, it can be so that, in a country where people pay a lot of attention to terrorism and attacks, people are more anxious about such attacks or deeds of terrorism. Another example can be found in history. In Medieval times, people were terrified of being denied access to heaven. The church would sell indulgences which were then bought a lot, because people feared God a lot. If churches were to try this now, it would not work, because we no longer fear God as much. In Medieval times, however, people were taught from a young age onward that you had to go to church and fear God. This way, media or culture can influence the anxiety which someone experiences.

Anxiety caused by experiences

As a person you experience a lot and your brain has to process a lot in a short period of time. Your thoughts, memories, experiences. Often it is so that people try to stop or control certain experiences. This can lead to an existential avoidance. but this type of avoidance has been shown to enlarge problems. This means that normal anxiety can become problematic, for example.