Causes & Effects of Anxiety

Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of anxiety and get help for your child, teen, or young adult.

Understanding Anxiety

Learn about anxiety

Generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and specific phobias are examples of anxiety disorders that can affect children and adolescents. These conditions are among the most common mental health conditions diagnosed in young people. And while most young people will experience some degree of anxiety at some point in life, cornerstone to these conditions is the ongoing and unrelenting feelings of worry, fear, and/or apprehension that can impair functioning in a myriad of settings.

Children and adolescents who struggle with anxiety disorders often perform poorly in school, experience difficulty when interacting with peers, be overtly attached to caregivers, or possess fears of certain people, places, or things. The damage pervasive anxiety can do to an individual’s life can be permanent and untreated symptoms of anxiety can carry over into adulthood. Treatment that reduces harmful effects and alleviates symptoms of these disorders exists and can be life-altering for youth who meet diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder. Because of this, it is important that parents and guardians seek such care to better the lives of anxiety-stricken young people.


Anxiety statistics

Many young people are diagnosed with a form of anxiety. It has been estimated that 1 in every 88 children and adolescents are suffering from an anxiety disorder. Additionally, studies have concluded that one fourth of individuals between the ages of 13 and 18 battle anxiety symptoms at some point in life.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for anxiety

The development of anxiety is rooted in a person’s genetics, physiological makeup, and the environments in which an individual is exposed. Additionally, there are a number of other risk factors that can cause anxiety to appear. Consider following elaborations on these notions that explain the causes and risk factors for anxiety disorders:

Genetic: Research has found that anxiety disorders tend to be found among individuals who share similar genes.  Especially for those who have a biological parent or sibling with anxiety, there is often an increased risk for symptoms of anxiety to be present. Because of this finding, experts agree that genetic play an integral role in the development of an anxiety disorder.

Physical: When chemicals in the brain are not in balance, there is a greater chance for anxiety symptoms to result. Serotonin, specifically, is one chemical that has been found to be extremely influential in the development of anxiety. When this neurotransmitter has not reached homeostasis, a person’s ability to respond appropriately to stress is hindered, in addition to the ability to feel content when not experiencing stress. Children and adolescents who suffer from anxiety have been found to have imbalanced serotonin levels in their brains.

Environmental: Certain environments or situations can lead to the development of an anxiety disorder. Children and adolescents, for example, can be influenced in this way early in life as caregiver interaction and exposure to certain stressors can bring about anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, when young people are subjected to trauma, abuse, or neglect, there is an increased likelihood that anxiety symptoms will eventually manifest.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of anxiety disorders or other mental health condition
  • Experiencing, witnessing, or hearing about a trauma
  • Lack of parental or caregiver involvement
  • Experiencing a great deal of pressure to achieve
  • Experiencing abuse and/or neglect
  • Exposure to violence or aggression
  • Exposure to chronic stress

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety can present in many forms. Depending on the individual’s age, type of anxiety disorder present, and the setting in which symptoms of these disorders occur can impact the how observable anxiety is in a person. If you suspect that your child is struggling with anxiety, note the presence of the following symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Restlessness
  • Temper tantrums
  • Rapid speech
  • Decreased academic functioning
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Cyclical talking
  • Avoidance of certain people, places, and/or situations
  • Refusing to attend school
  • Self-injury

Physical symptoms:

  • Stomachaches
  • Frequent urination due to pervasive nervousness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Tense muscles
  • Changes in eating patterns, leading to weight gain or weight loss
  • Headaches or migraines

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Repetitious thinking
  • Low tolerance threshold
  • Rapid thoughts
  • Poor concentration

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Abrupt shifts in mood
  • Elevated levels of stress
  • Increased irritability
  • Loneliness
  • Feelings of helplessness


Effects of anxiety

Pervasive symptoms of anxiety can cause a variety of adverse effects when these disorders are not treated. When a young person does not receive care to alleviate such symptoms, the listed effects have the potential to occur:

  • Academic failure
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Conflict with peers or loved ones
  • Substance use / abuse/ addiction / dependence
  • Development of another mental health condition
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Anxiety and co-occurring disorders

Children and adolescents who suffer from anxiety disorders are often grappling with symptoms associated with other mental health conditions. This is due in part because anxiety is known to trigger or be brought on by other mental health conditions. The following mental health disorders are known to be diagnosed at the same time as anxiety disorders:

  • Additional anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Sleep disorders
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Body dysmorphic disorder
  • Substance abuse disorders

I feel so much happier and healthier after getting help at Millcreek of Pontotoc.

– A former patient