What Causes Anxiety and Why People Feel Anxious

There are countless situations, circumstances, and life events that cause a person to feel anxiety. Anxiety is a fueling feeling to have, meaning that it tends to be the driving force behind people’s thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Most emotions, disagreements, and challenges cause a person to feel anxious, which goes to show that anxiety is a part of life that everyone sometimes needs to cope with. There are many reasons why people feel anxiety, and sometimes the process that creates anxiety is more complicated than we expect.

Anxiety can be difficult to understand, especially when we are in the middle of feeling its resulting emotions. Feeling things like irritability, panic, fear, frustration, anger, sadness, and even excitement and happiness, are all fueled by the sensation of anxiety. Anxiety is the result of feeling stress, so when we begin to feel stressed, we feel symptoms like upset or excitable feelings, anxious thoughts, and sometimes odd or irrational behavior. Stress is the core trigger for anxiety, and since each of us feels the effects of stress sometimes, we all tend to feel some degree of anxiety. The degree of anxiety we feel in reaction to stress varies from person to person, and each person will react differently from the anxiety felt as a result of that stress.

Stress And Anxiety

Each and every person experiences stress in his or her life at some point. When people think of stress they sometimes think of something negative, such as being overwhelmed with work, or juggling too many responsibilities at once. However, ‘bad stress’ is not the only type of stress. Stress is a dynamic feeling that can occur in many different ways: It can happen unexpectedly or as a result of prolonged issues, it can be good or bad, and it can be helpful or harmful. Stress is the trigger for anxiety, even though anxiety is typically uncomfortable and nerve wracking, stress is not always negative.

Stress can be felt in many different ways. It can either be short term, long term, unexpected, or pent up. It can cause different feelings, like excitement, fear, anger, frustration, happiness, and sadness. All of the effects of stress cause different reactions for a person, and trigger different levels and manifestations of anxiety. There are two main forms of stress: eustress and distress.


Eustress is a term used to describe ‘good stress’. Good stress is stress that results in positive feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Eustress is often not recognized as a form of stress because it produces positive feelings, but stress at its core is anything that causes a person to feel pressure, or influences how you emotionally and physically feel. For example, let’s consider Jane, a 49-year-old woman. Jane works hard and has a big family who she keeps safe and well. Jane sometimes gets so wrapped up in her own day-to-day stress that is filled with responsibilities, errands, and activities that she would never expect to be spending her 50th birthday with all of her friends and family. Considering this, she is very surprised and feels a rush of emotion when she walks through her front door to find that her children had planned a surprise 50th birthday party for her.

Consider what Jane must be feeling in this moment: excitement, joy, gratitude, humility, shock- all positive things that would make a person feel happy. Also consider what her body must be feeling: flushed cheeks, racing heart, racing thoughts, pins and needles in arms and legs, maybe a small ringing in her ears, all symptoms of anxiety. This is because in the moment, the eustress caused her to get anxious. Though the stress is positive and flooded her with positive feelings, she did still feel a sense of anxiety, which is normal for such a situation.

This concept can be applied to many different situations that can provoke eustress and anxiety, like:

  • Riding a roller coaster
  • Graduating from high school or college
  • Going on vacation
  • Having a baby
  • Trying something new


Along with eustress, we have distress, or ‘bad stress’. Distress is something we feel when something bad happens. Distress is often much harder to cope with than eustress because it is triggered by a negative or upsetting situation. When we feel anxiety we often associate that anxiety with distress, because its unpleasantness causes the resulting anxiety to be more noticeable and upsetting than eustress, which typically offers something pleasant. Many different situations can cause distress, like:

  • Losing a job
  • Falling behind with schoolwork
  • Needing to step out of your comfort zone
  • Coping with something sad or upsetting
  • Having to deal with a prolonged difficult situation

Each of these situations create a great deal of stress for a person, and the feelings of anxiety felt as a result of distress are more apparent and more difficult to cope with than when dealing with eustress. Even though distress is different than eustress, the symptoms of anxiety are often the same. However, distress is often more difficult to cope with or move forward from than eustress. Therefore, distress is closely linked with prolonged cases of anxiety, and is typically the driving force behind the types of anxiety-related disorders that people suffer from on a regular basis.

Circumstances That Cause Anxiety

Anxiety is a dynamic feeling that can be caused by almost any situation or circumstance. The possible issues, situations, and circumstances that can cause anxiety is endless, and depends more on the circumstances of each individual person, rather than the triggers for the anxiety themselves. There are many different issues that contribute to feeling anxiety, including:

  • The way a person handles his or her emotions
  • The way in which a person grew up
  • A person’s ability to accept situations for what they are
  • A person’s need to remain in control of a situation
  • A person’s mental health or medical history
  • A person’s perception of himself or herself, the world, and the future
  • A history of substance abuse
  • A history of trauma or abuse

Each of these is a major contributor to the way a person is affected by anxiety. Each can trigger different symptoms, like:

  • Hyperventilation
  • Panicky feelings
  • Panic attacks or anxiety attacks
  • Racing thoughts
  • Unusual behavior
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Ringing in ears
  • Chest pain
  • Stomachaches
  • Headaches
  • Pins and needles in arms and legs
  • Indigestion
  • Uncontrollable bowel movements or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Depression and mood swings

Each of these symptoms is common for those who suffer from anxiety. Everyone will experience anxiety in his or her own way, and not everyone will experience each of these symptoms. However, when dealing with different situations that cause anxiety, a person can be left thinking, feeling, and experiencing different things. Each trigger for anxiety will generate a different effect for each individual, so it is important to understand what predisposes you to experiencing anxiety and why you feel anxious in reaction to certain situations. The following are common situations, circumstances, and issues that tend to cause people to feel anxious:


Emotions are powerful forces that greatly affect the way we experience anxiety. Almost all emotions are triggered or can trigger anxiety. Both negative and positive emotions will induce an element of anxiety, and sometimes that anxiety can be a good thing or a bad thing. Anxiety will tend to make the feelings feel more intense and may trigger other feelings. Anxiety may also sometimes help us realize the root behind our feelings and how they affect us so deeply. Anxiety serves a central role in the way we interpret our emotions and the situations that cause our emotions, so it is important to stay in tune with it, rather than fight it off.

For example, let’s say that Jane is having a difficult time staying positive at work. She seems to have a cloud of irritability and negativity surrounding her, and as a result, she is getting headaches and stomachaches and other symptoms of anxiety. Jane may be trying to move forward with her work, while ignoring these negative feelings and symptoms, which only makes the irritability and resulting negative feelings grow stronger. One day, Jane decides to stop, take a break, and really think about the way she is feeling. Through reflecting on how she feels and why she is so frustrated and anxious, she realizes that she is taking on too much at work. The stress from her heavy workload is causing her to neglect her other needs, like taking care of her body and mind. Through feeling anxious and low she recognized a problem and identified the trigger of a heavy workload, which is causing her anxiety to have a negative effect on her overall mental health.


There are many different situations besides managing day-to-day stress and negative emotions that can cause a person to feel anxious. Common situations that provoke anxiety in a person include:

Having to deal with a traumatic event

Trauma causes a great deal of anxiety for a person. Experiencing something traumatic can rattle a person’s nerves by causing intense fears, upset feelings, and confusion. Experiencing a traumatic event is a lot for one person to handle, so anxiety is often high in those who are dealing with a traumatic event. Common traumatic experiences that people have difficulty coping with include:

  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Natural disasters
  • Acts of terror
  • Unexpected or accidental death of a loved one
  • Witnessing a violent or fatal event to another person
  • Near death experiences
  • A history of verbal, mental, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Witnessing or being victim to domestic violence

Adjusting to a new environment, living situation, or life change

Having to adjust to a new living situation, transitional change, or lifestyle change can cause anxiety for someone. The transition to a new lifestyle can be stressful for a person, and sometimes it can be difficult for people to cope with change. Issues such as losing a sense of control can feel uncomfortable for a person, and that discomfort results in tension, stress and anxiety.

Grief and loss

Coping with the loss of a loved one causes a person to feel many different emotions. Being overwhelmed from the feelings and thoughts felt when grieving will cause a great deal of anxiety. The anxiety that a person feels following a loss will vary in severity and duration. This is because loss brings a great deal of subsequent changes, and often involves a difficult coping process.

Chronic illness

People who are suffering from chronic illness tend to suffer from a great deal of anxiety. When a person suffers from chronic illness they have daily challenges that are overwhelming to many people. There are new concerns, issues, responsibilities, thoughts and feelings that people with chronic illness have to cope with on a daily basis, including:

  • Chronic pain
  • Medication management
  • Keeping up with doctor appointments
  • Stress about longevity and quality of life
  • Relationship issues
  • Financial strain
  • Restricted lifestyle

Mental Health Issues

Suffering from mental health disorders cause a person to experience anxiety. Suffering from a mental illness that causes a person to experience mood swings, paranoia, avoidance tendencies, or psychotic symptoms are especially anxiety provoking, as they cause inner turmoil and can make a person feel unsafe or insecure. Such mental health disorders that can cause a person to feel anxious include:

  • Depression
  • General anxiety disorder
  • Bereavement disorder
  • Adjustment disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Dependent personality disorder
  • Acute stress disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Phobias
  • Bipolar disorder

This list is comprised of the disorders that cause a person to regularly feel a notable amount of anxiety on a daily basis. Those who suffer from the mental health disorders listed above, or mental health disorders that are not listed, put an affected person at high risk from suffering from anxiety. This is because the changes in mood, emotions, thoughts, sense of self, and/or the perception of reality as a whole, is often altered, which causes confusion, frustration, fear for the future, and resulting anxiety within a person who is suffering from a mental health disorder.