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Causes of anxiety

3-minute read

Anxiety can affect your ability to concentrate.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder that can affect ability to concentrate, sleep and carry out ordinary tasks.

The causes of anxiety and the reason anxiety affects some people to the point where it interferes with their lives is not fully understood.

It is clear that some level of anxiety under certain circumstances helps us to grow up safely and judge risk in a protective way.

When anxiety becomes a problem, these so-called 'appropriate responses' appear to begin to occur more frequently in circumstances where they are not necessarily helpful.

A range of factors are thought to contribute to anxiety symptoms which can then go on to become disorders. Most anxious people are probably born with a genetic vulnerability to develop an anxiety disorder.

The causes of anxiety include:

Family history of mental health issues

A family history of mental health issues can be a contributing factor. But it doesn't mean if there are mental health issues in your family you will develop anxiety.

Ongoing stressful situations

Ongoing stressful situations - such as job issues or changes, unstable accommodation, family or relationship breakdown and grief. If you have experienced physical, sexual or verbal abuse, life threatening events or pregnancy and childbirth, you may be at risk.

Physical health issues

Physical health issues can be the underlying cause of anxiety disorders. There can be anxiety links for people who have asthma, diabetes, heart disease or hormonal issues, such as thyroid problems. Sometimes anxiety symptoms are the first indication of a physical health issue.

Substance abuse

Substance abuse - particularly cannabis, amphetamines, alcohol and sedatives - can trigger anxiety symptoms. Withdrawing from drugs and alcohol can also cause withdrawal-related anxiety.


Caffeine, as well as some non-prescription and herbal medicines, can sometimes cause anxiety symptoms.

Personality types

Personality types - such as being a perfectionist, having low self esteem or the need to be in control - can make people more susceptible to anxiety.

Everyone is different and often a combination of factors contributes to developing an anxiety condition. Whatever the cause or causes of your anxiety, talking to a general practitioner and a mental health care professional are the first steps to getting the right support and understanding the options for treatment.

At any time, if you feel that you might harm yourself or have thoughts of suicide, talk to family or friends and inform your doctor as a matter of urgency. You can ring a phone service such as Lifeline 13 11 14, available 24 hours a day. If you are the loved one or carer, dial triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: November 2016

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