Diathesis Stress Theory: Cause of Anxiety and Other Mental Disorders

Mental health disorders, particularly anxiety disorders, are very common and often quite treatable. However, many of them remain poorly or at least incompletely understood. There are many theories about the cause of anxiety and other mental disorders, focusing on a variety of factors including genetic, biological, physiological, cognitive, and social factors. One theory that has a long history in the medical field and is often applied to mental disorders is the diathesis-stress model.

According to the diathesis-stress model, psychological disorders like anxiety disorders are the result of environmental stressors combining with a genetic predisposition to the psychological problem. The term "diathesis" refers to this genetic or biological vulnerability, and the term "stress" refers to the different types of environmental stressors that a person may experience (from work or relationship stressors to physical stressors like illness).

Treatment plans based on the diathesis-stress theory tend to focus on identifying what environmental stressors tend to exacerbate a person's condition and developing protective measures to deal with those stressors. These protective measures may include medications, skill building, relaxation techniques, and the development of social and clinical support systems. The theory also suggests that reducing and avoiding stressors could help postpone, avoid, or better the prognosis of some mental illnesses in those with a genetic vulnerability who do not yet show symptoms of a mental disorder.

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