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Why we experience anxiety

Some events in our lives may trigger anxiety. Whether they do or not depends on other factors in our lives.

There is usually no one single reason or event that explains why we experience anxiety; it is more often a combination of reasons and/or events. And these are different for all of us.

If we were to write down the ‘recipe’ for anxiety, there is a whole list of possible ingredients, but for each of us this list can be very different.

We can group sources of anxiety into the following:

  • our own personality and traits
  • aspects of our close relationships (partner, family, friends)
  • organisations we are involved with (such as places of work or education, sports clubs, community groups)
  • our community (social, political and economic factors)
  • our society in which we live (general beliefs and attitudes).

We can change some of the reasons why we experience anxiety, but there may be some that we cannot change.

To manage anxiety, we focus on what we can change.

Topics on this page

Our own personality and traits

Aspects of these that can contribute to anxiety include:

  • the ways we think about our lives (eg wanting to be perfect in everything we do) and the ways we try to make sense of the world in which we live
  • how confident we feel about who we are
  • the skills we have for coping with events in our lives – for solving problems, interacting with others, and nurturing ourselves
  • genetics/family history – whether other family members have had mental health problems
  • physical features, such as hormone levels, alcohol and/or drug use, not getting enough sleep, poor diet (ie, too little fruit and vegetables, too much fatty and sugar food).
Two young women exercising walking outside

Our close relationships

Aspects of these that can contribute to anxiety are:

  • not getting the support we need from friends and family
  • how our parents talked and interacted with us when we were growing up (eg, we may have been raised to think that we need to be perfect, or to care for others instead of ourselves)
  • how other family members handle potential sources of anxiety
  • living in a situation where there is maltreatment, violence or abuse
  • disagreements with our friends and family
  • friends and/or family not accepting us for who we are.

Organisations

Aspects of organisations we’re involved with that can contribute to anxiety are:

  • our working conditions, such as pay rates, working unpaid hours, working long hours, not enough staff at work, feeling unsafe
  • conditions at school or other places of education – we may not feel supported, or that policies do not take into account individual situations and learning needs, or we may feel unsafe
  • the way maternal and child health centres we attend are run
  • the structure of government departments such as Centrelink.
Women group at gym laughing working out resting

Our community (social, political and economic conditions)

Community factors that can contribute to anxiety include:

  • living where there is violence or crime
  • living where we do not feel safe
  • feeling as though we do not belong in our community
  • living where health and other services are limited
  • feeling we are treated unfairly or with prejudice
  • the number of people nearby living in poverty
  • the roles women have in the local community.

Our society (general beliefs and attitudes shared by members of society)

Aspects of our society that can increase our risk of anxiety include:

  • beliefs that limit our choices about the roles we have in our society (such as participation in work, access to education)
  • beliefs that devalue women relative to men
  • attitudes that accept violence towards us and our children
  • limited opportunities for us to learn skills to help us to manage our own mental health and to seek help when needed
  • not being allowing to make choices about our own sexual and reproductive health
  • acceptance of treating us unfairly or with prejudice
  • government policies that are unfair or inconsistently applied to our disadvantage.

What you can do about anxiety

Remember, there is no one single reason why we might experience anxiety. And the reasons for anxiety in each of us differs. You may not be able to work out what causes yours, but that’s OK – you can still take steps to manage anxiety. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve had anxiety, it’s never too late to do something about it. Help and support is available.

These pages include the following sections to help you to do something about anxiety:

  1. Ways we can nurture ourselves;
  2. E-programs for managing anxiety;
  3. How to seek help from a health professional.

References

  • 1
    Commission on Social Determinants of Health [CSDH] (2008). Closing the gap in a generation: health equity through action on the social determinants of health. Final Report of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health. Geneva, World Health Organization.
  • 2
    Fisher, J. (2017). Women and mental health. InPsych, 39(1), 12-15.
Last updated: 30 March 2020 | Last reviewed: 29 February 2020

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