I consider myself an anxious person. Sometimes it serves me well—like when I’m walking home alone at night, keys wedged between my pointer and middle finger in case I have to defend myself. Other times? Let’s just say I’ve left my share of overcrowded parties in anxiety-induced tears.
So what gives? Why are some people at ease shopping in a swarming grocery store while others are searching for the nearest exit? When it comes to anxiety, there’s a lot more at play than whether or not you inherited your mother’s nervous-Nellie tendencies. Here, 6 surprising reasons why you just can’t seem to relax.
1. You really, really like your couch.
If you’re still sitting all the time even though you know it seriously ups your risk for developing diseases like cancer and diabetes, maybe this news will get you off your tuchus: Sedentary behaviors—like sitting for work, travel, or TV time—may increase your risk of developing anxiety, according to a recent review published in the journal BMC Public Health. Of the nine studies included in the review, most of them found at least one association between the time spent sitting down and the likelihood of anxiousness. Researchers believe poor health and decreased physical activity is at play, as exercise often eases anxiety.
2. You’re an urban type.
The hustle and bustle of city life puts some people on edge, of course. But even if the beeping horns and busy sidewalks aren’t making you jittery, you may still be at risk—from the stuff you’re inhaling. Research published in the British Medical Journal suggests air pollution—specifically particulate matter—can cause anxiety. Data was collected from more than 71,000 women, and roughly 15% experienced high anxiety, and those living 50 to 200 meters (approximately half a football field to two football fields in length) from the nearest major roadway were more likely to have increased anxiety than those living more than 200 meters away. Researchers believe increased levels of inflammation and free radicals caused by pollution may be to blame, but more studies are needed to nail down a specific cause and effect relationship.
3. Your hometown isn’t doing too hot economically.
According to research from the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, women living in poor areas in the United Kingdom are about twice as likely to develop anxiety as their richer-area counterparts, while an area’s economy had no effect on anxiety disorders in men. Oddly enough, a woman’s own wealth didn’t make a difference; she was still more likely to develop anxiety if the area she lived in was underprivileged, regardless of her own paycheck. This increased anxiety may result from women’s tendencies to be more involved in their communities, suggests study co-author Olivia Remes, a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. More involvement could mean more exposure to the stressors in deprived areas. Neighborhood safety could also be a factor; if women perceive a neighborhood to be unsafe, they may cut back on physical activities, ultimately harming their mental and physical health.
4. You’re a regular at the fast-food drive-in.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve probably heard about the gut-brain connection—or how your eating habits may influence your mental health. Now researchers have found that a high-fat diet (and the weight gain and high blood sugar associated with it) is linked to increased feelings of anxiety and depression. The study, published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, found that after 16 weeks of being fed a high-fat diet, mice showed higher scores in things like nervousness and listlessness compared to mice fed a standard diet. The unhealthy diet also rendered any antidepressant medications ineffective.
The good news: once the mice were put back on a standard diet, their anxious and depressive symptoms reversed. Researchers believe increased inflammation is (once again) at fault, since inflammation negatively affects the hippocampus, the region in the brain affected by both anxiety and depression.
5. You’ve got some pretty intense tummy troubles.
As if the abdominal pain, bowel abnormalities, and reduced appetite weren’t enough, irritable bowel disease (IBD) sufferers can now add anxiety to the list of related symptoms. New research from the University of Toronto finds those with IBD are twice as likely to develop anxiety than those without. Women seem to have it the worst. Their odds of developing IBD-related anxiety are four times higher than men’s. Because anxiety and pain impact the same areas of the brain, researchers believe the discomfort associated with IBD also elicits anxiety. The gut microbiome could also be at play, according to research, as IBDs alter the stomach’s microbial environment.
6. You’re unfamiliar with the concept of peace and quiet.
Noise is like that student loan debt you’re still sitting on years after the fact—it’s always there. And as it turns out (like that always-lurking debt) being surrounded by high noise levels day in and day out can seriously affect your mood and anxiety levels. A review published in the British Medical Bulletin concluded that regular exposure to loud noises (often found in settings like schools, factories, and busy streets) might cause nausea, headaches, and argumentativeness—symptoms often associated with nervousness. “Restless nights” and “being tense and edgy” have also been reported from community surveys of those living in highly noisy areas. Researchers point out that people aren’t usually passive recipients of noise—meaning they can typically move away from it if they want to, which could be the cause of anxiety surrounding constant, unavoidable noise in everyday life.