Anxiety (CAUSES )

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Most anxiety disorders do not have an obvious cause. They result from a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors.

A. Genetics and Neurobiology

Studies suggest that anxiety disorders run in families. That is, children and close relatives of people with disorders are more likely than most to develop anxiety disorders. Some people may inherit genes that make them particularly vulnerable to anxiety. These genes do not necessarily cause people to be anxious, but the genes may increase the risk of anxiety disorders when certain psychological and social factors are also present.

Anxiety also appears to be related to certain brain functions. Chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters enable neurons, or brain cells, to communicate with each other. One neurotransmitter, gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), appears to play a role in regulating one’s level of anxiety. Lower levels of GABA are associated with higher levels of anxiety. Some studies suggest that the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin play a role in panic disorder.

B. Psychological Factors

Psychologists have proposed a variety of models to explain anxiety. Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud suggested that anxiety results from internal, unconscious conflicts. He believed that a person’s mind represses wishes and fantasies about which the person feels uncomfortable. This repression, Freud believed, results in anxiety disorders, which he called neuroses.

More recently, behavioral researchers have challenged Freud’s model of anxiety. They believe one’s anxiety level relates to how much a person believes events can be predicted or controlled. Children who have little control over events, perhaps because of overprotective parents, may have little confidence in their ability to handle problems as adults. This lack of confidence can lead to increased anxiety.

Behavioral theorists also believe that children may learn anxiety from a role model, such as a parent. By observing their parent’s anxious response to difficult situations, the child may learn a similar anxious response. A child may also learn anxiety as a conditioned response. For example, an infant often startled by a loud noise while playing with a toy may become anxious just at the sight of the toy. Some experts suggest that people with a high level of anxiety misinterpret normal events as threatening. For instance, they may believe their rapid heartbeat indicates they are experiencing a panic attack when in reality it may be the result of exercise.

C. Social Factors

While some people may be biologically and psychologically predisposed to feel anxious, most anxiety is triggered by social factors. Many people feel anxious in response to stress, such as a divorce, starting a new job, or moving. Also, how a person expresses anxiety appears to be shaped by social factors. For example, many cultures accept the expression of anxiety and emotion in women, but expect more reserved emotional displays from men.

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