Excessive Anxiety: Causes and Contributing Factors

What causes someone to develop severe anxiety? This question is asked by many struggling with anxiety issues such as panic, phobias, social anxiety, or any of the various manifestations of severe anxiety conditions. Someone with social anxiety might start to sweat and shake and be unable to concentrate when meeting someone new. Another person with agoraphobia might want to avoid driving a certain distance from home since doing that triggered the first panic attack. However the anxiety manifests, it is a helpful part of the healing process, and it can help to understand the variables that contribute to excessive anxiety.

“Bio-Psycho-Social” Lens

The development of severe anxiety can be looked at from a “bio-psycho-social” perspective:

Ineffective Coping Skills

When we do not have effective coping strategies to handle the challenges of our lives, be they desired or unwanted, we set the stage for symptoms that let us know we are not coping as well as we need to. These symptoms are typically not sleeping well, bodily aches and pains, digestive problems, and tense and tight muscles. If these warning signs are ignored, symptoms can become more frequent or severe. Some of the more common forms of maladaptive coping strategies are avoidance, obsessive worrying, and controlling behaviors.

Adding Up the Factors

Examining the various factors that may be contributing to a person’s severe anxiety is an important part of the healing process. Here’s a simple formula to consider when trying to understand where one’s anxiety is coming from:

Genetic Predisposition/Temperament


Psychological Background


Current Stressors


Ineffective Coping Strategies


Severe Anxiety

One does not need to have all of these conditions in order to develop severe anxiety. Most of the people I have worked with in therapy over the last 30 years have had at least several of these variables. Understanding what these variables are, and how they contribute to the development of a severe anxiety condition, helps a person understand themselves better. It also helps point to what needs to be done in order to work through your anxiety condition.