for better mental health

Anxiety and panic attacks

Explains anxiety and panic attacks, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

What causes anxiety?

Everyone's experience of anxiety is different, so it's hard to know exactly what causes anxiety problems. There are probably lots of factors involved.

This page covers some things which make anxiety problems more likely to happen:

Can anxiety problems be inherited genetically?

Research shows that having a close relative with anxiety problems might increase your chances of experiencing anxiety problems yourself. This is sometimes called 'anxiety sensitivity'.

At the moment there is not enough evidence to show whether this is because we share some genes that make us more vulnerable to developing anxiety, or because we learn particular ways of thinking and behaving from our parents and other family members as we grow up.

Past or childhood experiences

Difficult experiences in childhood, adolescence or adulthood are a common trigger for anxiety problems. Going through stress and trauma when you're very young is likely to have a particularly big impact. Experiences which can trigger anxiety problems include things like:

Having parents who don't treat you warmly or are overprotective can also be a factor.

"I was sent to boarding school and suffered acute separation anxiety, being away from home, and my brother nearly died when I was 12. My mum had an acute breakdown for a period of about a year and had to be home-nursed."

Your current life situation

Current problems in your life can also trigger anxiety. For example:

Big changes to your day-to-day life can be a particular trigger for anxiety, so you may find that you've experienced anxiety problems during the coronavirus pandemic. For information on how coronavirus may have affected your mental health and what could help see our coronavirus and mental health pages.

"I have recently realised that I spend money when anxious, which in turn makes me feel anxious about how much I'm spending."

Physical or mental health problems

Other health problems can sometimes cause anxiety, or might make it worse. For example:

  • Physical health problems – living with a serious, ongoing or life-threatening physical health condition can sometimes trigger anxiety.
  • Other mental health problems – it's also common to develop anxiety while living with other mental health problems, such as depression.

Drugs and medication

Anxiety can sometimes be a side effect of taking:

To report medication side effects see the government's Yellow Card website.

Could diet be a factor?

Some types of food or drink can trigger symptoms of anxiety or panic, or make them worse. These include sugar and caffeine. See our pages on food and mood for more information about the relationship between what you eat and how you feel.

"I had cut out alcohol. Many think drinking alcohol helps with anxiety, but it actually makes it worse in the long run."

This information was published in February 2021. We will revise it in 2024.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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