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Why do I have anxiety? What makes people anxious?

Do you feel constantly anxious? Worried about being worried? Have crippling panic attacks or feel terrified by everyday situations? Wonder why some people experience only occasional anxiety while others seem immobilized by fear?

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives; maybe it’s nervousness before speaking to a group or having to navigate heavy traffic. But when anxiety becomes constant and excessive, it causes people to feel out of control and frequently makes the activities of daily life difficult.

Here you’ll learn about what causes anxiety and get an overview of anxiety symptoms. We’ll also cover some ways to start treating anxiety.

What is anxiety?

The causes of anxiety disorders aren’t fully understood. Life experiences such as traumatic events appear to trigger anxiety disorders in people who are already prone to anxiety. Inherited traits also can be a factor. Anxiety also manifests in a variety of ways and can have different triggers.

All told, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 40 million adults in the United States have some kind of anxiety disorder. That’s roughly 18% of the adult population. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.

Instead of breaking down the range of specific anxiety disorders, here we will stick to general symptoms of anxiety. One thing all kinds of anxiety have in common, though, is the person’s excessive, persistent fear or worry in nonthreatening situations.

anxiety symptoms city street with cars in heavy traffic

Signs of anxiety

Signs of anxiety can be emotional, physical, or a combination of both. Symptoms of anxiety can include one or more of the following:

Physical anxiety symptoms

  • Racing or pounding heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shakes, tremors, or trembling
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Sleep problems: excessive fatigue or having trouble sleeping
  • Upset stomach
  • Muscle tension

Emotional anxiety symptoms

  • Feeling nervous, tense, or restless
  • A sense of impending doom or danger
  • State of panic
  • Constantly anticipating the worst and looking out for danger
  • Feeling jumpy
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating on anything beyond present worry
  • Urge to avoid anxiety triggers (activities, people, etc.)

anxiety symptoms woman laying in bed stretching arms

Do I have anxiety?

Again, we all have anxious moments or events. But if anxiety is driving your life and preventing you from doing what you want to be doing, it’s probably time to seek some help and make some changes. You want to use your fear before your fear uses you. To do that, you need to break your current pattern.

Anxiety as a driver, not an immobilizer

Not everyone reacts to anxiety in the same way, but why? It has to do with how you’ve become wired. Think of it this way: for some people, jumping out of a plane is the most exciting thing they can do. But for others, it’s the most terrifying. But you can train yourself to change how you react, especially with direct conditioning. Think of this as muscle training for stress.

We all have habits we repeat, stories we tell ourselves. This connects to the power of language; the more you say something, the more true it becomes, right? That’s the power of momentum. So when you use phrases like “I’m so overwhelmed” or “I’m so anxious,” you’re unconsciously training yourself to feel that way. But what if you trained yourself to feel strong, to feel passion and joy? It takes some time – you don’t get instant results by going to gym for just one day, right? But, as Tony Robbins says, don’t settle.

To be clear, this kind of training doesn’t mean you’ll never feel bad or anxious ever again. But it gives you the tools you need to not stay here. Another key: don’t make these changes just to serve yourself. Find a greater purpose, one that gives you energy. This could be your family, community, even the world at large. Motives matter.

Want more ideas for how to deal with anxiety? Learn more here.

Important Note

The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. See full disclaimer.