Understanding the Root Cause of Anxiety & Depression

Stress + Mood

As we continue to focus on mental health during October, mental health awareness month, I want to emphasize again that your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

Your mental wellness can affect every aspect of your life, including your work, your relationships, and the way you experience the world. Similarly, the causes of mental illness, anxiety, and depression specifically are multifactorial, so in this blog post, I want to discuss the root causes of anxiety and depression based on what I see most frequently in my clinic.

Root Causes of Anxiety and Depression

1. Chronic Stress and Overwhelm

In times of stress, your brain signals different glands in your body to produce the hormones you need to respond to the stressful situation. This process is known most commonly as “fight or flight” and one of the glands it involves are the adrenal glands. In this process, your adrenal glands secrete a hormone that you’ve most likely heard of, adrenaline.

Adrenaline can cause your heart rate to increase, your breathing to become more rapid, and you become more sensitive and aware of any potential threat or danger in your environment. This process is helpful when there is an actual threat or dangerous situation. However, because we live such busy and stressful lives, our adrenals are often working overtime to adjust, even when there is no real threat or danger.

Being in this state of hyperarousal continuously can cause anxiety.

The longer you remain in this state, the more fatigued your adrenals become, which can lead to depression and many of the symptoms that accompany it, like fatigue, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and trouble sleeping.

This is something I see often with my patients, but have also experienced myself – when I overwork and push myself beyond my natural limits, I start to feel anxiety and overwhelm.

It’s important that we take the time to decompress and practice self-care so our adrenal glands don’t become stressed and fatigued, so we can avoid this root cause of depression and anxiety.

2. Hormone Imbalances

It’s not uncommon to experience depression and anxiety during periods in life when we undergo natural hormonal changes. For women, these major hormone shifts happen during puberty, during and after pregnancy, and before and during menopause. Similarly, for men, hormonal changes occur during puberty and andropause.

Many of my patients that have gone through pregnancy experience postpartum depression. I also have several patients who experience depression and anxiety due to premenstrual syndrome or PMS (1).

If you aren’t under a significant amount of stress, the root cause of anxiety and depression, for you, could be a hormone imbalance. Be sure to have your hormone levels checked regularly by your healthcare provider.

3. Isolation

As humans were are social creatures, meant to interact and commune with others. However, many of us are living behind the screens of our computers and our phones missing out on in-person social interactions and the nourishment we get from being in community with others. This can lead to the third root cause of depression and anxiety: isolation.

If you find yourself glued to your phone frequently, designate time to put it down and interact with the people around you.

Share your experiences with friends, enjoy the company of family. Connect with others in real time, not just via social media, email, and text messages (2).

Support groups are also a great resource for community and connection if you’re feeling isolated and want to connect with people who may have similar interests or concerns.

4. Lack of Purpose

Another root cause of depression and anxiety is a lack of purpose, or living an unfulfilled life.

What often gets overlooked in mental health are the spiritual components, those that would be considered more existential in nature. I believe we are all here for a reason and we all have a life path that will make us feel fulfilled and give our lives meaning.

If you find that your life is lacking joy, meaning or purpose, take some time access your life and think about what might bring you joy and the gifts you have to share with the world. Examining these things and incorporating more of them into your life may help you experience life differently.

5. Diet

Your gut is your second brain (3). It is home to bacteria and fungi that can affect your mood if imbalanced. It also produces many of the neurochemicals that you need for mood regulation and stabilization, like serotonin and dopamine. I often see patients that have an overgrowth of specific fungi or bacteria, like Candida, that are also struggling with anxiety or depression.

Avoiding this root cause of anxiety and depression is one of many reasons to eat a well-balanced diet.

Many people think of mental illness as a chemical imbalance in the brain and while there are imbalances at play, they are not just happening in the brain.

If you are living with mental illness and want to better understand what the root causes may be, access the five elements mentioned in this blog post and take a look at the first blog post in this series if you haven’t already.

I hope they provide you with some of the information you need to understand and assess what might be contributing to any anxiety or depression you may be experiencing.


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Disclaimer: In a crisis or having thoughts of suicide? Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.TALK (8255). It is a free, 24-hour hotline.