Life can be challenging. There’s no way around it as we navigate through arguments, job changes, health problems, feeling sad or angry, etc. But sometimes, various events or things can occur that make life completely overwhelming. In fact, sometimes those things and struggles can even create anxiety.
Before we dive in, we want to make a distinction between two different types of anxiety—emotional and clinical. We all deal with anxiety as an emotion when we are stressing over a test or afraid about a future outcome. But sometimes, that anxiety is more constant and disruptive and can be the result of a clinical mental health disorder—generalized anxiety disorder.
Here we will be mainly discussing anxiety as an emotion, and the things that can trigger that. However, if you are struggling with clinical anxiety, the things we mention can also play a part in exacerbating your symptoms as well. While you can’t control all the chaos that happens around you in life, we hope that being aware of these triggers will allow you to better manage or live with the anxiety you’re facing.
The following are seven things that can create anxiety:
Not Feeling “Good” Enough
Other Mental Health Disorders
Physical Health Issues
We’ll go over each of these seven in more detail including how and why each creates anxiety and what you can do to respond.
1. Relationship Issues
Being well-connected relationally and socially has incredible positive effects on our mental and physical well-being. So, it’s only natural the opposite—not being well-connected— would be true; that relationship issues would have harmful effects on our health. In fact, studies have found that “negative social interactions and relationships, especially with partners/spouses, increase the risk of depression and anxiety.”1
When you’re struggling with an important relationship in your life, it’s easy to have a fear of rejection, abandonment, isolation, or neglect. Left unaddressed, these fears can develop into anxiety for you—anxiety about overthinking what to say or different situations; anxiety about the future of your relationship or your life.
If you think a problem in one of your relationships is causing you to be anxious, talk about it! Ideally, you can discuss it with the other person in that relationship; but if that’s not an option, find a trusted person or professional to open up to. Talking through your feelings, fears, and issues can help you work through them and untangle the lies from the truth.
2. Not Feeling "Good" Enough
Do you ever look around at the people in your life or on social media and see all the ways you don’t measure up? We’ve all been there before. And it’s easy to do when highlights and success stories are posted all around us. Pretty soon, our minds begin to tell us that we must not be “good” or “successful” enough. These thoughts and lies creep up until they’ve turned into anxiety—anxiously hustling to keep up, fearing the future or afraid you don’t have one, or worried others will see your imperfection, flaws, or failures.
Not feeling “good” or “successful” enough also often comes from our inner critic which can create self-esteem problems. Low self-esteem or self-worth can create or worsen mental health struggles such as anxiety.
If you’re struggling with this, first know it’s okay to not be okay. It can take time to learn to love and accept yourself. Next time you start to not feel “good” enough, take some time to make a list of things you’ve accomplished or qualities you like about yourself. This can help set your mind on the positive aspects of yourself rather than focusing on the negative or flaws (which, we all have!). If you can’t think of any yourself, ask a friend or family member what they like about you.
It’s also important to remember that “good” or “successful” is subjective and can look very different for different people, seasons, or situations. You’re likely doing way better than you give yourself credit for!
3. Other Mental Health Disorders
It’s actually common for anxiety to develop or worsen when you’re living with other mental health problems such as depression or addiction. Roughly 60% of people who have anxiety also show symptoms of depression and vice versa.2 For example, struggling with depression often disrupts your routine and the way you’re used to living your life, and for some, this could create anxiety. Or, another struggle might flare up, causing you to be anxious trying to juggle it all.
Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s easy to deal with. If you struggle with one or multiple mental health disorders, we recommend you consider talking to a professional. They can help you navigate handling those things you struggle with. At the very least, find a trusted person in your life that you can talk to about what you’re going through.
Conflict can unfortunately pop up in lots of places in your life—in relationships, at work, inner turmoil, on the internet, etc. If you have a fear of confrontation or dislike of disagreements, this can definitely stir up extra anxiety for you. Even if you don’t have those fears, conflict in general can leave you worrying about what happens next, how someone might think of you differently, or what things could change in your life.
The good news is you can find some relief from conflict-induced anxiety by learning conflict resolution and talking through it with someone you trust. Remember, you can only control what you say and do, not others actions or reactions.
5. Physical Health Issues
Our physical and mental health are closely tied together. One can affect the other and vice versa. In fact, there are physical health problems—such as thyroid issues, adrenal problems, and inflammatory conditions—that can trigger anxiety.3 But any physical problem or disability you deal with regularly can cause additional stress and anxiety to your life.
Other physical health issues that could be creating anxiety include things like not eating enough, lack of sleep, or consuming too much caffeine or alcohol. If you are battling a health issue, consult with a doctor for a plan to manage it. As far as not eating enough or lack of sleep goes, try making a bedtime routine for yourself, working on your sleep hygiene, or keeping snacks easily accessible to ensure you’re fueling your body.
Some amount of stress is normal in life, and honestly, unavoidable. It’s our body’s trigger when something that needs our attention is happening. Longer hours at work, an upcoming deadline, starting a new job, fighting with our partner, moving to a new area, financial troubles, a long to-do list—these can all be sources of added stress in our life. However, that stress can quickly move beyond basic worry or happening every-now-and-then to constant anxiety.
From a physiological perspective, stress causes our cortisol levels to rise. And you guessed it, heightened levels of cortisol can lead to anxiety. Stress can also affect work, your relationships, any internal struggle you’re wrestling with—and all of this can create more anxiety in your life on top of the original stress.
While you can’t remove all stress from your life, you can do your best to take care of yourself through the stress. Things like eating regularly, having a consistent sleep schedule, moving your body, and making time to spend with loved ones can help you manage your stress better. If you’re noticing the anxiety getting high, try a relaxation technique that you like such as deep breathing, journaling, coloring, or taking a relaxing bath to help you manage and move forward.
Unfortunately, while being connected can be a great thing, it also means we’re surrounded by the news more than ever. Most of which is neither great nor positive. Social media platforms, email newsletters, online articles, YouTube videos…all show us the devastating, negative things happening around us. This can often lead to anxiety.
Negative news tends to cause an uptick in cortisol, which we just learned above can lead to higher levels of anxiety. What you see on the news can also make you worry or stressed out, therefore, creating more anxiety in your life.
As with stress, you can’t necessarily cut out all of the news you’re seeing or hearing. However, you can try to control some of what you take in by muting certain accounts on social media or unsubscribing from emails you get that put the news right in your face. You can also always take breaks when your mental health is being affected by the news and try a relaxation technique to calm your system and yourself down.
As we mentioned at the beginning, these seven things are mainly wrapped around struggling with emotional anxiety. But please know if you are struggling with clinical anxiety, there’s no shame in that and there are resources you can use to seek professional help for it. If you believe your anxiety is caused by something else though, we hope this helps you identify potential triggers of anxiety in your life and find tools to manage. Remember, you are never alone in this!