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What causes anxiety?

What causes one person to feel anxious may not have the same effect on another person. Anxiety is usually caused by a combination of factors.

Topics on this page

Family history

If your parent or close relative has anxiety, it can increase your risk of developing it too.

Personality, beliefs and attitudes

Research suggests that certain personality traits, beliefs and attitudes can contribute to anxiety.

For example, you are more likely to develop anxiety if you:

  • are a perfectionist
  • are easily flustered
  • like to feel in control
  • have low self-esteem or low self-confidence
  • are shy
  • are highly critical of yourself
  • are sensitive to criticism from others.

Stressful events

We all go through stressful events and major life changes. It’s normal to feel anxious about these things. But if you find it hard to manage these emotions, you might develop anxiety. Some common triggers include:

  • having children
  • major change, such as moving house, changing jobs, loss of employment or retirement
  • family or relationship problems, including relationship breakdowns
  • going through different life stages, such as puberty, menopause, or when your children leave the family home
  • stress (e.g. at work or school)
  • financial problems
  • a major health crisis or diagnosis
  • caring for someone else
  • bullying
  • racism
  • death or loss of a loved one.

Physical health problems

Some chronic health conditions can cause anxiety.

For example:

  • diabetes
  • asthma
  • hypertension and heart disease
  • thyroid issues
  • chronic pain.

There are several women’s health conditions that might cause anxiety.

For example:

Tori, 43, Sydney

Anxiety affects Tori as a result of living with chronic pelvic pain. Strategies such as activity pacing and seeing a pain specialist counsellor help to keep her anxiety in check. “You have sovereignty over your body and thoughts, and that’s the interface where you gain control over your whole life.”

Watch her story of anxiety.

Hormones

Women go through different life stages such as puberty, after childbirth, before and after menopause. During these life stages, hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone go up and down. Women can also experience hormonal changes when pregnant, breastfeeding or on the contraceptive pill. This can lead to low mood and, in some cases, anxiety.

If you think your anxiety is related to hormonal changes, talk to an experienced health professional for tailored treatment options.

Other mental health problems

People with other mental health problems, especially depression, have a higher risk of developing anxiety.

Drugs and alcohol

Drugs and alcohol can make your anxiety worse. If you are experiencing anxiety, it’s best to talk to your doctor instead of trying to manage it with drugs and alcohol.

Cultural beliefs and upbringing

The way you were raised and your cultural beliefs can increase your risk of anxiety.

For example:

  • beliefs about your sexuality
  • beliefs about your education and employment opportunities
  • beliefs about your role in society (e.g. gender-based roles).
Logo: Liptember Foundation

Thanks to Liptember Foundation for supporting Jean Hailes to produce these pages on anxiety. Each year, the Liptember Campaign raises funds and awareness for women's mental health during the month of September.

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at June 2022.

Last updated: 17 August 2022 | Last reviewed: 28 June 2022

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