Anxiety Causes and Prevention

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 24, 2022

Anxiety may be caused by a mental condition, a physical condition, the effects of drugs, stressful life events, or a combination of these. The doctor's initial task is to see if your anxiety is a symptom of another medical condition.

Anxiety disorders are different from normal anxiety. They are the most common form of mental illness in the United States, affecting nearly 1 in 5 adults. They can involve periods of excessive worrying or fear that is more than you would expect from everyday kinds of stressors.

Common causes of anxiety include these disorders:

Life events that can cause anxiety:

  • Stress at work
  • Stress from school
  • Stress in a personal relationship such as marriage
  • Financial stress
  • Stress from global occurrences or political issues
  • Stress from unpredictable or uncertain world events, like a pandemic
  • Stress from an emotional trauma such as the death of a loved one
  • Stress from a serious medical illness

Other outside factors that can cause anxiety:

The doctor has the often-difficult task of determining which symptoms come from which causes. For example, in a study of people with chest pain -- a sign of heart disease -- 43% were found to have a panic disorder, not a heart-related condition.

The United States Preventive Service Task Force recommends screening for anxiety in children and adolescents ages 8 to 18 years and recommends screening for major depressive disorder (MDD) in adolescents ages 12 to 18 years.

How Can I Prevent Anxiety?

Coping mechanisms may help you handle anxiety that comes from life’s stressors. Here are some things you can try:

  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Relaxation exercises, including deep breathing
  • Visualization
  • Good sleep habits
  • Healthy diet
  • Learn interpersonal skills for dealing with difficult people and situations or get parenting skills training for help dealing with your children