Anxiety Causes & Effects

The common struggles that are present with battling a clinical anxiety disorder are ongoing, and often debilitating, feelings of trepidation, apprehension, and worry. Those who are suffering from such feelings for a prolonged period of time are likely to experience a great deal of emotional turmoil and upheaval in their lives. While anxiety symptoms originate from psychological distortions, there can be physical signs of anxiety that can be observed by others.

When a person seeks treatment for an anxiety disorder, he or she will likely be given a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, or social anxiety disorder, or his or her treatment provider will pinpoint a specific phobia from which the individual is currently suffering. Regardless of the type of anxiety disorder that is present, untreated anxiety symptoms can hinder a person’s ability to complete even the most basic of tasks. Furthermore, if that same person is suffering from an additional mental health condition, such as an eating disorder, anxiety symptoms can be even more crippling.

What sufferers of anxiety and their loved ones should know is that anxiety disorders respond very well to treatment. Effective care exists and there are several appropriate interventions that can help people of all ages break free from the constraints of an anxiety disorder.

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Statistics

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses affecting people today. Young people, women, and men alike can all be impacted by anxiety, as 40 million people are believed to currently meet diagnostic criteria for at least one anxiety disorder.

With specific regards to individuals suffering from eating disorders, as many as 67 percent of those sufferers also struggle with a type of anxiety disorder. Furthermore, research has found that over 40 percent of those with an eating disorder battled anxiety before the onset of their anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating disorder symptoms.

Causes and Risk Factors for Anxiety Disorders

In order to understand why and how a person develops an anxiety disorder, one must consider genetics and the environment in which a person has spent or currently spends most of his or her time. The following explanations for the causes and risk factors for anxiety are supported by research and are among the most cited reasons why some people suffer from anxiety, while others do not:

Genetic: There is a substantial amount of research that suggests a link between genetics and the risk for developing an anxiety disorder. For example, if an individual has a biological parent or other close family member who has suffered from anxiety-related symptoms, there is a high probability that that person will also suffer from a form of anxiety.

Environmental: Even if a person does not have a genetic predisposition to an anxiety disorder, certain environmental influences can trigger the onset of anxiety disorder symptoms. For example, if a person is experiencing a great deal of pressure or stress, anxiety can manifest. Additionally, exposure to violence, trauma, or other impactful experiences can bring about symptoms of anxiety. Lastly, if any of the aforementioned environmental influences occur and the individual does not possess healthy coping skills and/or lacks a strong support system, the likelihood of that individual meeting diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder increases exponentially.  

Risk Factors:

  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Exposure to chronic stress or violence
  • Personal history of trauma
  • Lacking an adequate support network
  • Having subpar coping skills
  • Family history of anxiety or other mental health conditions

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

The telling indicators that suggest a person is suffering from a type of anxiety disorder can vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder present. While some signs and symptoms may not be as obvious to others, the following are among the various behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that may be present and/or observable by friends or other loved ones:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Pacing
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Repetitive or ritualistic behaviors
  • Avoiding certain people, places, or situations
  • Procrastinating tasks
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Restlessness

Physical symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle tension
  • Stomachaches
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Inability to sleep soundly
  • Appetite changes
  • Dizziness
  • Frequent urination as a result of ongoing trepidation or apprehensiveness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor concentration
  • Racing thoughts
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Lack of sound judgement
  • Fleeting ideas
  • Memory impairment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • Feelings of shame
  • Guilt
  • Ongoing nervousness
  • Feeling as if one’s body or environment is not real
  • Obsessions
  • Compulsions
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Anxiety Disorders

Allowing the symptoms of an anxiety disorder to remain a constant in one’s life can cause a domino effect of adverse consequences if treatment is not sought. Especially if a person is suffering from an untreated eating disorder at the same time, both the short and long-term effects can be devastating. Below are but a few examples of what can happen when an individual continues to suffer from anxiety:

  • Inability to perform well at work, which could lead to job loss and subsequent financial difficulties
  • Development of an addiction to substances if drugs and/or alcohol are used as methods for coping with distress
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Social isolation
  • Demise of meaningful relationships
  • Onset of suicidal ideation, which could lead to attempts at suicide
  • Worsening of symptoms of current mental health condition(s) or onset of additional mental illness symptoms

Co-Occurring Disorders

When an individual is struggling with an anxiety disorder, it is very common for that person to suffer from additional mental health conditions at the same time. Eating disorders, more specifically, frequently exist alongside anxiety disorders and require specialized care in order for an individual to truly overcome the mental anguish that accompanies these two illnesses. Anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder symptoms can often worsen when an anxiety disorder is present and vice versa. In addition to eating disorders, the following mental health disorders are among those that can be diagnosed at the same time as an anxiety disorder:

  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Body dysmorphic disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
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