Research into the possible causes and risk factors of anxiety disorders is ongoing, but it seems that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of anxiety disorders. While specific causes vary from one anxiety disorder to the next, there are some general risk factors that apply to all types of anxiety disorders. For one, children who exhibit temperamental traits of shyness or behavioral inhibition are more likely to develop anxiety disorders later on. Exposure to stressful life events in early childhood or adulthood is another risk factor. Additionally, a history of anxiety or other mental illness in close relatives increases an individual’s risk. As do certain physical health conditions, such as thyroid issues and heart arrhythmias, as well as caffeine, certain medications, and other substances.
For generalized anxiety disorder, first degree relatives of someone with GAD are more likely to develop the same disorder, as well as other mood and anxiety disorders. In addition to genetic and biological factors such as these, there are also psychological, environmental, and social factors at play. These include experiencing trauma in childhood, learned behavior from a parent or a caregiver, interactions through social media, the use of everyday addictive substances like caffeine, stressful situations at work, and anxiety surrounding close relationships.
For social anxiety disorder, most sufferers are women or young adolescents, and the risk is higher for those who have overprotective parents or who have siblings with SAD. Additional risk factors include medical conditions like asthma and obesity, problems with alcohol or substance use, physical or sexual abuse, and stuttering. Individuals with SAD are also more likely to have generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, and depression.
For panic disorder, the age of onset is usually between late adolescence and early adulthood, although it can occur at any time throughout the lifespan. In general, women are more prone to developing panic disorder, as are children with anxious, fearful, or nervous personality types. Stressful life events, such as the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, a marriage or a divorce, a big move, having a baby, or retiring can also increase the risk of developing panic disorder.
For obsessive compulsive disorder, symptoms typically occur before the age of 25 and the disorder tends to run in families. In addition to having first-degree relatives with OCD, children who experience abuse or other traumatic events, as well as those with negative temperaments and behavioral inhibition, are more likely to develop obsessive compulsive disorder. Apart from genetics, theories suggest that biology and the environment may also play a role. More specifically, changes in the body’s natural chemistry or brain function could be to blame, and certain infections could act as potential triggers for OCD.
For post-traumatic stress disorder, the main risk factor is experiencing a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events, hence the name of the disorder. In the context of PTSD, a traumatic event is defined as sexual violation, serious injury, or exposure to death. People with existing mental health conditions or prior neurological issues, as well as those who lack a proper support system or who have experienced previous traumas, are at a much greater risk of developing PTSD following a traumatic event.