What’s Causing My Anxiety—and Will It Ever Go Away?

Feeling ongoing chronic anxiousness could be an anxiety disorder. Here are several common causes that can trigger or exacerbate anxiety.

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May 25, 2022 UPDATED
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Why do I feel so anxious?

Will these anxious feelings ever stop?

Is my anxiety out of control?

First, it's a normal human reaction to be anxious, stressed, nervous, or worried about changes to our routines, large obligations, and major life events—such as a first day at a new job, a graduation, or a wedding. 

Will these anxious feelings ever stop?

For most people, anxiety ebbs and flows according to what’s going on in our lives. 

In contrast, however, living with excessive fear and anxiousness to the point that it impacts your ability to participate in activities you enjoy (like attending important social gatherings), can be a sign that you might suffer from an anxiety disorder. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorder—affecting nearly 30% of U.S. adults at some point in their lives. The good news is: anxiety disorders are treatable.

Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States.

If you suspect you might be living with an anxiety disorder, be sure to talk with your primary care physician and/or a licensed therapist about your concerns. 

While the experience of living with an anxiety disorder varies from person to person, there are some common causes that tend to create or exacerbate anxious feelings. 

Is my anxiety out of control?

Before we discuss some potential causes of anxiety, let's dive into the difference between feeling anxious and living with chronic anxiety or a specific anxiety disorder, such as panic attack disorder.

What anxiety feels like

Anxiety can create many different emotional and physical sensations. 

Keep in mind there’s a difference between feeling anxious and having an anxiety disorder.

An example of feeling anxious is something like this: It's your first day at a new job.

You feel nervous, your palms are sweaty, and you may worry about whether this will be a good fit.

However, once you arrive in the office and meet your colleagues, all those feelings (the emotional and physical) slowly start to fade away. 

In contrast—when you have an anxiety disorder—no matter how well that first day of work goes, your body never stops feeling tense and your mind never stops spinning with worry. 

With chronic anxiety, not only does your mind feel like it's constantly on guard and running a million miles a minute, but the over-the-top mental strain also eventually begins to impact your physical health as well. 

Whether it’s generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, or a phobia-related disorder, living with an anxiety disorder interrupts your daily life.

What causes anxiety?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there are several general risk factors that can influence, produce, or aggravate an anxiety disorder. 

General risk factors for anxiety disorders 

As the NIMH points out, the risk factors for each specific anxiety disorder vary.

That said, general anxiety disorder risk factors can include:

  • Shyness or feeling distressed or nervous in new situations in childhood

  • Exposure to stressful and negative life or environmental events

  • A history of anxiety or other mental disorders in biological relatives

Anxiety symptoms can be produced or aggravated by:

  • Some physical health conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmia

  • Caffeine or other substances/medications

Whether your anxiety is due to untreated stress, underlying chronic illness, or even past trauma, there are ways to manage your anxiety and still live your best life. 

In treating your anxiety, it can be important to understand what is causing it in the first place. 

Unaddressed stress can cause anxiety

Stress challenges us, and it can also motivate us to make changes and try new things.  

But when stress starts to weigh us down and overwhelm us day after day, it can add to our anxiety. 

Long-lasting, chronic stress can leave us feeling more worried and anxious in our day-to-day life than is healthy. 

Long-lasting, chronic stress can leave us feeling more worried and anxious in our day-to-day life than is healthy. 

If we leave those irrational worries unattended, the hormones and chemicals our bodies release to deal with these stressors can impact our physical health. 

Chronic illness may add to anxiety

If we’re living with chronic illness, chances are we often have worries associated with our condition. 

Will my health insurance cover my next visit?

Will I always be in pain?

When will I be able to get into my doctor's office? 

Will I always be in pain? 

Did I remember to take my medication? 

In addition to the worries that come along with a chronic illness, we may be enduring other physical pain and discomfort as well. 

That's a lot for anyone's body to go through on a daily basis and it may wear us down and increase anxiety. 

Trauma can contribute to anxiety

Many of us have lived through traumatic events. 

Trauma can cause symptoms that can show up both mentally and physically, particularly when it results in post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.  

When  trauma impacts your everyday life, it can contribute to our anxiety. 

Other mental health concerns can cause anxiety

An anxiety disorder can occur as a mental illness on its own. 

That said, anxiety can also show up as a symptom of separate mental health concerns or disorders.

If we are depressed, we might have anxiety about how to get through our day.

Similarly, if we suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we might develop anxiety about the possibility of experiencing flashbacks in a public place where other people might notice.

And women and girls with ADHD often experience high levels of anxiety as well.

Monarch original infographic and illustration of a woman with brown hair showing possible reasons of anxiety.

How can I calm my anxiety?

While your anxiety may feel daunting, there are effective treatments to curb and calm anxiety. 

Consider booking sessions for talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The Monarch Directory by SimplePractice can help you find a licensed counselor who specializes in treating anxiety can help, and sometimes you may need medication as well.

There are also other strategies you can use on your own if you find yourself unable to get in to see your provider. 

Write down how you feel and what’s making you anxious

There is nothing that takes away your anxiety's power like putting it all on paper. 

When you feel anxiety and fear creeping up on you, take a moment to jot down what's happening and how you're feeling. 

Writing down whatever is triggering your anxiety can help you get the thoughts out of your mind and onto paper, giving you a place to reflect and help you logically look at the situation. 

When you feel anxiety and fear creeping up on you, take a moment to jot down what's happening and how you're feeling. 

Research suggests taking this time to write and journal may reduce anxiety even after just one month. 

Original Monarch infographic illustrating ways to calm anxiety.

Cut back on caffeine

From coffee, to tea and matcha, to energy drinks, many of us enjoy drinking caffeinated beverages in the morning and throughout our day to keep our minds alert and our energy-level up.

Unfortunately, in the same way caffeine can stimulate our bodies and brains, it can also stimulate our anxiety. 

According to the APA, a review of eight studies found that caffeine aggravated symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder.

Unfortunately, in the same way caffeine can stimulate our bodies and brains, it can also stimulate our anxiety. 

If you drink coffee, or caffeinated tea, you may not need to give it up entirely.

However, pay careful attention to how you feel after you consume caffeinated beverages.

If you notice your anxiety seems to worsen after downing your cuppa Joe, cold-brew coffee, or matcha latte, it may be time to consider the amount of caffeine you consume and whether it may have more negative impacts on your health and wellbeing than positive impacts.

Try grounding

Grounding is a technique that keeps you in the present. 

Use this strategy to stop your anxiety from whisking you away to a state of mind where everything logical feels illogical. 

James Madison University’s counseling center explains grounding as a technique to keep you in touch with the world around you with five simple steps using your five senses:

  • Focus on five noises you hear around you—in the moment. 

  • Identify four different things you can see around you. 

  • Touch three different objects and feel their texture in real-time. 

  • Take a deep breath and smell two different aromas.

  • Take a bite or drink of something and taste the flavor.

When practicing this grounding technique you don’t need to do the sensory experiences in this exact order.

It’s simply the experience of using all five senses in the present moment that helps keep your mind from wandering off into worrisome, what-if scenarios and keeps the focus on what you have control over. 

A digital and printable checklist for the 5 steps in this grounding technique to help with anxiety.

Focus on your breathing

Physiological symptoms of anxiety can impact your body's function in the cardiovascular and nervous systems. 

When you start to worry and panic, your body thinks it's under attack. This causes your heart to pump faster to get you ready to run from whatever threat you're facing. 

However, when you aren't facing imminent danger, the stress of your systems working overtime can cause shortness of breath. 

Focusing on your breathing will help lower your heart rate and send the message to your nervous system that there is no threat. There are many simple breathing exercises to deal with these stressors, including square breathing aka box breathing.  You can also consider mindfulness and mindfulness-based therapy (MBT).

Does anxiety ever go away?

Our in-the-moment anxious feelings won’t last forever, but having an anxiety disorder is a reaction that is more chronic and ongoing.

And while an anxiety disorder is an illness that may never go away completely, there are many effective treatments to manage the symptoms, so we can be able to live an active, full, and productive life. 

monarch butterflies

How and when to find help with anxiety

If anxiety is interrupting your day-to-day functioning, contact your primary care physician and/or a mental health professional such as a licensed counselor or therapist to discuss.

The Monarch Directory by SimplePractice can make it easier to find a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety. 

Talk therapy and CBT as an anxiety treatment

Participating in talk therapy or psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), helps us manage our anxiety by learning coping strategies and diving into what needs to change in the present to help us cope better.

CBT helps us focus on our thought processes and behaviors.

When we understand what is driving our anxiety, we're in a better place to cope with anxiety in a healthy way.

While it may be possible for our anxiety to be successfully treated with only medication or only therapy, in most cases, a combination of both treatments is recommended. 

On one hand, medication will reduce physiological symptoms while you become accustomed to using the coping strategies you learn from therapy to change your behavior and thinking patterns. 

Find a therapist near you who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Do I have an anxiety disorder?

Take our 2-Minute Anxiety Test to find out whether you might have the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. 

Remember that talking with a licensed counselor or therapist may help lessen or alleviate your anxiety symptoms.

READ NEXT: 5 Signs of High-Functioning Anxiety

Need to find a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety? Check out the Monarch Directory by SimplePractice to find licensed mental health therapists near you with availability and online booking.

Article originally published May 17, 2022. Updated May 25, 2022.

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