Written by Tara Boustany on
August 27, 2021
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Tara Boustany on:

“Why is my anxiety so bad?” This is one of the most common questions we get asked almost all the time. So, we listed all the possible reasons why—according to research. So, if you’re feeling anxious, this article is for you.

Anxiety disorders are incredibly common. They affect 40 million people in the United States yearly, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Anxiety can be a debilitating condition and affects people in many different ways.

If you’re looking for help with your anxiety, this article might be able to provide some insight into what you’re going through. We’ll explore the different types, triggers, and symptoms of anxiety. Then, we’ll talk about the different treatments available and how to prevent anxiety from happening again.

Continue reading to learn more about anxiety!

Regular Anxiety Versus Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It can cause feelings of worry, fear, or apprehension about what’s to come. Feeling anxious is normal when people must do things like take a test, give a speech, or make an important decision.

But, if your feelings of anxiety are severe, long-lasting, and interfering with your day-to-day life, you may have an anxiety disorder.

Regular anxiety is a feeling that comes and goes but does not negatively affect your everyday life. It’s normal to have an ounce of anxiety before doing something as intimidating as moving to a new place or starting a new job. This type of anxiety is unpleasant, but it may motivate you to work hard and to do better in the long run.

Anxiety disorders may be with you every second of the day. The feelings are intense and sometimes crippling. Suffering from an anxiety disorder may cause you to stop doing things that you enjoy.

In the worst cases, it may prevent you from leaving your house to avoid social situations. If left untreated, it may keep getting worse.

There are many types of anxiety disorders. They include:

  • phobias
  • panic disorder (PD)
  • separation anxiety disorder
  • social anxiety disorder (SAD)
  • generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Anxiety Triggers

The causes of anxiety and anxiety disorders can be complicated. Anxiety disorders are caused by a combination of environmental reasons and genetics.

Genetics refers to anxiety that runs in families. Environmental stress refers to stressful events a person has lived through. These events often include childhood abuse, the death of a loved one, being attacked, or seeing violence. For some people, symptoms of anxiety can begin or become worse due to no reason at all.

But sometimes, anxiety attacks happen because of specific triggers. These triggers may include certain events, emotions, or experiences. Anxiety attacks can be due to one or many triggers. It’s important to identify any trigger that you may have to be able to manage your anxiety.

  • Stress

Daily stressors like running late and losing your keys can make you feel anxious. But, when anxiety becomes excessive, your symptoms may worsen, leading to an anxiety disorder.

Stress can also lead to unhealthy daily behaviors like skipping meals, drinking alcohol, or not getting enough sleep. These factors can trigger or worsen anxiety, too. If you are experiencing constant anxiety symptoms, make sure to pay a visit to your doctor. They will help you find ways to cope with the symptoms.

  • Health problems

A health diagnosis such as cancer or a chronic illness may trigger anxiety or aggravate it. This is due to the immediate and personal implications that come with such diagnoses.

You can manage the anxiety that comes with a health diagnosis by talking to a therapist. They will help you learn to cope with your emotions when faced with an illness.

  • Medications

Certain drugs may trigger anxiety symptoms, especially if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety condition. If you’re experiencing anxiety symptoms and have ruled out other causes, it might be because of the medication you’re taking. Here are the different types of medications that can cause or worsen anxiety as a side effect.

Stimulants

Stimulants are drugs used in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Examples of stimulants include:

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are used for many conditions that cause swelling (inflammation) or rashes. Corticosteroids are well-known for their long list of side effects.

One of these side effects is anxiety. Steroid-induced anxiety is often seen when taking high doses of steroids. It is also seen when the dose is lowered too quickly, or when they are stopped suddenly. Examples of corticosteroids include:

Medications with caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant. The caffeine in certain medications can cause anxiety as a side effect as well. Examples of medications that contain caffeine include:

  • diet pills and headache remedies (Excedrin, BC Powder, and Goody’s Powder)
  • Fioricet (butalbital/acetaminophen/caffeine), which is used for migraines

Decongestants

Nasal decongestants are medications used to help ease a stuffy nose, a sinus headache, or allergies. Examples of nasal decongestants include:

Antihistamines

Antihistamines are commonly used to treat allergy symptoms like runny noses, and itchy eyes and skin. Examples of antihistamines include:

Sometimes, antihistamines and decongestants are combined:

Rescue inhalers

A rescue inhaler is a type of inhaler that dispenses medication to relieve or stop the symptoms of an asthma attack. Example of a rescue inhaler includes:

Thyroid medications

Thyroid hormones are hormones that play a large role in the body’s metabolism and function. Thyroid medications are synthetic versions of thyroid hormones.

These medications are usually taken when your levels of thyroid hormones are lower than the normal range. Treating hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels) improves fatigue, weight gain, and depression.  Examples of thyroid medications:

Antidepressants

Antidepressants work by increasing levels of serotonin, a chemical that plays a vital role in mood regulation. Antidepressants are the main treatment for both depression and anxiety, but for some people, they can lead to anxiety as a side effect. Examples of antidepressants include:

Recreational drugs

Most people use illicit drugs as a way to cope with stress, self-medicate conditions like depression or anxiety, or simply to escape the world. But, these drugs can sometimes have the opposite effect and cause anxiety or worsen an anxiety condition. Examples of recreational drugs include:

Tapering medications

Sometimes, anxiety is not a side effect of these medications but a result of stopping them abruptly. Some medications can cause withdrawal symptoms if they are stopped suddenly.

These medications include stimulants, antidepressants, and recreational drugs. Withdrawal symptoms are the symptoms that occur when somebody suddenly stops using a substance they are addicted to.

Withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety, irritability, insomnia, depression, and a pounding heart. Withdrawal symptoms may be reduced by decreasing the dose over time.

Talk with a health care provider about the anxiety you’re experiencing and the medications you take to see if there’s a connection between the two. They will find an alternative that doesn’t trigger your anxiety or worsen your symptoms.

  • Caffeine

According to one 2010 study, people with PD and SAD are particularly sensitive to the anxiety-inducing effects of caffeine. Cut back on your caffeine intake by avoiding caffeinated drinks and opting for non-caffeinated ones.

  • Poor nutrition

Eating too little may result in a drop in blood sugar. This can lead to lightheadedness, irritability, and anxiety. Thus, eating a healthy, balanced diet is necessary to prevent low blood sugar and maintain good health. This means eating a wide variety of foods and consuming the right amount of food and drink.

  • Negative thinking

Your thoughts are the source of your emotions and mood. Negative thoughts and beliefs can badly impact your feelings, emotions, and mental health.

Constantly using negative words when talking about yourself can make you feel anxious. Constantly thinking negative thoughts about yourself may trigger anxiety as well. Working with a therapist can be tremendously helpful to learn how to shift your thought process.

  • Financial concerns

Common factors leading to anxiety include financial insecurities and debts. About 80% of millennial Americans (and 75% of Americans) deal with some kind of stress or anxiety related to money. 

Seeking professional help from a financial advisor in these cases will help provide you with needed guidance.

  • Parties or social events

We all had to go to events where we knew absolutely no one. If social or public situations do not sound like a pleasant experience, you are not alone.

Events that require small talk with unfamiliar people can trigger thoughts of anxiety. If this anxiety is regular and over a long period, you may be diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder.

If you know you’ll be faced with a stressful situation, bring along a companion. But, it’s also important to work with a professional to find long-term coping mechanisms to be able to manage those events.

  • Conflict

Relationship problems, arguments, disagreements. These conflicts can both trigger and worsen anxiety. If these conflicts hurt your emotional state, you may need to learn conflict resolution strategies.

Working with a therapist or other mental health expert will allow you to manage the feelings these types of conflicts cause.

  •  Public speaking

Fear of public speaking is a common trigger of anxiety. It can range from slight nervousness to severe panic attacks or physical symptoms like chest pain.

Many people with this fear avoid public speaking situations, or they suffer through them with shaking hands and a trembling voice.

If public speaking is a problem for you, a mental health professional can help you to learn ways to be more comfortable in such situations. Also, positive reinforcements from friends and co-workers can help you build self-esteem.

  • Personal triggers

Identifying personal triggers may take time, but it’s important so you can learn to overcome them. Personal triggers might not be easy to identify, but a mental health specialist can help you pinpoint them.

They may start with specific smells, places, or songs, all of which remind you of either bad memory or a traumatic event in your life.

Those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience anxiety as a result of such triggers. Support groups provide a safe space where you can discuss your feelings with other people who have PTSD. This can help you understand that you’re not alone.

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

Common signs and symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Trembling
  • Weakness
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Difficulty controlling worry
  • Nervousness, restlessness
  • Having the urge to avoid anxiety triggers
  • Having a sense of upcoming danger or panic
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry

Ways to treat your anxiety

The first step when it comes to treating anxiety is to take care of yourself. There are many healthy habits you can include in your daily life such as:

  • maintaining a healthy social support network
  • be physically active
  • getting 8 hours of sleep per night
  • Relaxation techniques such as meditating or doing yoga
  • avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine

If you are still feeling anxious, your doctor can help you find ways to cope with your symptoms. Treatment usually includes therapy alone. But, if symptoms persist, your doctor may prescribe prescription medications as well.

Medications

Medications may be very helpful for a person to function in their daily life. But, they don’t cure anxiety and they come with some significant side effects.

Also, it can be very hard to get off of anxiety medications. Stopping them abruptly can lead to withdrawal symptoms. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), there are 4 major classes of drugs for anxiety disorders:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are a class of antidepressants, but they are currently the first-line treatment for most anxiety disorders. They take 2 to 6 weeks to start relieving anxiety symptoms. Examples of SSRIs used for anxiety include:

  • Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs are another class of antidepressants also used for anxiety. SNRIs are as effective as SSRIs in treating anxiety and are also considered a first-line treatment.

SNRIs may also be an effective alternative for people who’ve had unsuccessful treatment with SSRIs. Examples of SNRIs used for anxiety are:

  • Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that generate a quick sedative effect, typically bringing relief within 1 hour. They are sometimes prescribed with antidepressants, as the latter takes time to start showing an effect.

Benzodiazepines are usually used for the short-term management of anxiety. They are also used as an add-on treatment, in treatment-resistant anxiety disorders. Examples of benzodiazepines used for anxiety include:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)

TCAs are an older class of antidepressants. TCAs are usually only prescribed when other antidepressants fail. This is because newer drugs are usually more effective and have fewer side effects.

Examples of TCAs used for anxiety include:

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is a type of counseling that helps people with a variety of mental illnesses. It also helps people overcome emotional difficulties.

A trained mental health professional listens and talks to you about your thoughts and feelings. He or she then helps you understand and manage them. Psychotherapy is frequently used in combination with medication to treat anxiety.

For many people combining medication and psychotherapy treatment is better than either alone. About 75% of people who enter psychotherapy show some benefit from it.

The choice of therapy type depends on the patient’s particular illness and preferences. Therapists may combine elements from different approaches to best meet the needs of the patient.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most widely-used therapy for anxiety disorders. CBT focuses on teaching you skills to improve your symptoms and return to the activities you’ve avoided because of anxiety.

CBT includes exposure therapy, where a safe environment in which individuals are “exposed” to the things they fear is created. Exposure to the feared objects or situations in a safe environment helps reduce fear and decrease avoidance.

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