In our previous article, we highlighted the idea that mental health disorders occur when two components are satisfied. One must have a genetic predisposition toward the condition, and one must have environmental stressors that act on this predisposition (Rutter, 2003). We already had the opportunity to discuss some of the known genetic factors that influence one’s experience with anxiety. In this article, we are going to break down some of the external stimuli that can trigger the onset of anxiety and anxiety-related disorders.
The stress response occurs when our body readies itself to handle tough situations. Our brain releases the hormone, cortisol, which leads to a variety of downstream changes in the body to heighten perception and our ability to mobilize (McEwen et al., 2015). When an individual experiences chronic, low-level stress or an acutely traumatic event it can lead to persistent elevation in cortisol levels. This heightened cortisol can damage the emotional processing and memory centers of the brain (Sroykham & Wongsawat, 2019). The increased levels of cortisol also signal your body to modify the expression of your DNA. These modifications can “re-center” your body’s homeostasis toward increased stress responses (Stress Hormone Causes Epigenetic Changes, 2015).
Now I know this sounds scary, but it’s important to understand that damage done by stress can be repaired! The beautiful thing about the human body is its ability to heal itself from injury. That being said, the younger you are and the earlier you begin treating it both have a large effect on how quickly things get better (Bernstein, 2016). This is why it is so important to learn healthy, effective coping mechanisms at a young age.