Day in the Life

What Is Anxiety And What Causes It?

Approximately 40 million people in the US suffer from an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is one of the many emotions that people experience, and having it occasionally is part of life. If it becomes persistent, excessive, and is disproportionate to everyday situations, it can turn into a medical disorder. This kind of anxiety can cause fear, worry, apprehension, and nervousness. 

Anxiety disorders are quite common, and forty million people in the US have them. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America though, only 36.9% seek and receive treatment.

What Causes Anxiety?

There is no clear answer. Researchers believe that it can result from traumatic events, genetics, and underlying health issues. In some cases, medical illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain, thyroid disorders, respiratory problems, and drug or alcohol misuse can lead to anxiety. It can also be a side effect from taking medications - even over-the-counter ones like allergy pills.

Stress that results from an illness, difficult life situations like divorce or death of a loved one, childhood abuse, or trauma all increase the risk of developing anxiety disorders. Others simply have the type of personality that makes them prone to it; anxiety can also tend to run in families. Anxiety can also occur in people that already have other mental health issues, like depression.


While mild anxiety can feel somewhat unsettling, severe cases can impact one’s day-to-day life. Some of the more common symptoms are:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Feeling tired but unable to sleep
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • A sense of impending doom

Combatting Anxiety

There are proven ways to lessen feelings of anxiety that work for many people. One of the best pieces of advice is to stay mentally and physically active. Remaining alone and/or indoors can worsen symptoms, so it can help to interact with others. Calling a friend or going to a support group can help. Getting outside for some fresh air and exercise can be rejuvenating, whether it be a 30-minute walk, a run, or a drive on a country road.

Other relaxation techniques include working on a hobby, volunteering, reading a good book, yoga, or meditation. Distraction is key; anything that takes the mind off the worrying is helpful. Cutting back on caffeine and sugar is also a good idea.

When to Get Help

If self-treatment is not helping, it may be time to get professional help. There are different kinds of psychological counseling, and many patients get relief from sessions with licensed therapists. Sessions generally last about 45 to 50 minutes, and can include psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Therapists may try to get to the root of the problem and help patients to look at things from different perspectives. CBT aims to limit the symptoms by changing how people react to anxiety-producing triggers. Medication can only be prescribed by an M.D., and should be taken in combination with routine therapy sessions.

Some therapists also offer group counseling sessions, and there are anxiety support groups that meet with moderators who are not licensed therapists. These are useful for those who can benefit from sharing their stories with like-minded individuals.

About the Author

Ellen Kershner is a South Jersey-based writer who contributes to,, Natural Awakenings Magazine, Spryte Communications, Advanta Advertising, and Premier Legal Marketing. Her work has also been published by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ed Hitzel’s Restaurant Magazine, and the Burlington County NJ Trend newspaper group.