There are several complex theories and explanations about the causes of an anxiety disorder. These are learning theory, psychodynamic and neurobiological explanations.
Scientists assume that the interaction of various factors leads to an anxiety disorder. These include:
Especially in the case of threatening loss (for example, a close caregiver, relative or loss of social recognition), acute anxieties, such as separation anxiety disorder occur.
In the case of phobias, it is thought that the person is shifting his internal conflicts (for example, repressed sexual fantasies) outward through defense mechanisms. The phobist is then not really afraid of the object he is responding to (such as a spider), but in fact he is afraid of the unconscious phantasy that is figuratively related to that object. The outer fear is therefore an inner fear.
Learning theory explanations
Learning theory approaches can be used to explain how a phobia develops.
It is believed that a multi-step process leads to a phobia, provided that the corresponding favorable and triggering factors coincide. First, a person "learns" the fear from a previously neutral situation. This can be explained through the example of fear of flying: this means that a person who has never been afraid of flying experiences the fear during a restless flight. The once neutral or even pleasant experience of flying is now filled with fear. If this person repeatedly exposes himself to this situation and sees that the fear is unfounded, flying would lose its menacing character. However, the acquired fear of flying keeps the person from exposing himself to this situation again. By avoiding the fearful situation, the fear continues to be sustained - avoiding the situation "rewards" the absence of anxiety.
You can also acquire a phobic fear of a situation or object with which you’ve never had an unpleasant experience. For example, children may become afraid of mice because they have seen with what fear their mother has responded to the sight of a mouse. Through this observation, it has learned that a mouse is something to be afraid of.
In the development of anxiety disorders, the perception of physical symptoms also plays an important role. If a person feels fear, they will experience physical reactions such as tachycardia, sweating or shaking. These symptoms are internally interpreted as a danger, which causes the anxiety to become even greater. The associated stress reaction in turn increases the physical symptoms. In this way, a vicious cycle of fear has formed, which causes the fear to continue to increase.
If a panic attack occurs repeatedly, the person is afraid of further attacks; it creates a fear of fear.
Neurobiological findings show that in people with an anxiety disorder, among other things, a special brain region has special features: the so-called limbic system. Among other things, the limbic system plays a major role in the processing and sensation of human emotions.
Another factor that seems to play a role is the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The autonomic nervous system regulates and controls the functions of the internal organs, such as heart and respiration. In people suffering from an anxiety disorder, the autonomic nervous system seems to be unstable - it is very quickly excited by a variety of stimuli. As a result, anxiety symptoms can develop very quickly. This lability of the autonomic nervous system is apparently innate.
It is suspected that certain transmitter systems in the brain of anxiety patients are out of balance. These include:
There is also a hereditary factor, i.e. in some families anxiety disorders are more common.