Anxiety & Panic Disorders: Risk Factors for Anxiety

Reviewed on 9/5/2019

What’s Anxiety?

Intense anxiety and worry are symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

Everyone gets a little anxious from the ups and downs of life. But if everyday experiences cause intense or constant worry, you may have an anxiety disorder. This can lead to sudden episodes of fear or terror (called panic attacks) that last a few minutes. Talk to your doctor if you notice these symptoms.

There are things that can make anxiety more likely.

Genetics

Genetics likely play a role in one's risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

You're more likely to have an anxiety disorder if you have a family history of them. That suggests your genes at least play a role. Still, scientists haven't found an "anxiety gene." So just because you have a parent or close relative with one doesn't mean you'll get one, too.

Absent Parent

Loss or absence of a parent before age 18 is associated with anxiety.

If you lose a parent, or they're gone from the home for long stretches before you're 18, you're more likely to have anxiety. Other family problems like violence, alcoholism, and sexual abuse can also lead to it.

Trauma

Having a history of trauma increases the risk of anxiety later in life.

The more high-stress events (like violence or sexual abuse) you endure before age 21, the more likely you are to have anxiety later in life. It could take the form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That's when you relive stressful events in dreams or obsessive memories. When this happens, you might start to sweat. Your heart might race, too. Talk to your doctor if you have these symptoms. They can suggest therapy and medication.

Depression

Anxiety is more common in people who suffer from depression.

It's when a feeling of depression stays around long enough to affect your daily life. If your doctor tells you that you have depression, you're also more likely to have some type of anxiety disorder. Talk with your doctor if you feel anxious or depressed. There are treatments for both that can include talk therapy and medication.

Self-Harm

Self-harm is a coping mechanism for traumatic memories and mental pain.

Teenagers and young adults do it most often, though it's possible as you get older. It's a way to cope with the memory of a traumatic event or pattern of abuse. You might cut yourself on the arm to distract yourself from mental pain. The behavior is tied to mental illnesses like anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder. Talk to your doctor if you've harmed yourself or thought of doing so.

Constant Stress

Constant stress can trigger anxiety.

Stressful environments like a war zone or a high-activity workspace can lead to anxiety if you're there too long. Ongoing worry about serious illness, financial issues, work, or distressed loved ones could do it, too. If this sounds familiar, You can help keep anxiety at bay if you:

  • Get outside
  • Stay physically active
  • Engage regularly with your family and community

Get help if you have trouble doing this on your own.

Personality

Personality traits like shyness are associated with anxiety.

Certain traits make anxiety more likely, like:

  • Shyness in social situations
  • Oversensitivity to criticism
  • Fixation on details
  • Moral rigidness

Sometimes these are serious enough to amount to a personality disorder. Your doctor may be able to help you work through some of these things with talk and other therapies.

Substance Abuse

Having an anxiety disorder increases your risk of substance abuse.

You're up to three times more likely to misuse drugs or alcohol if you have an anxiety disorder. You might use alcohol or use drugs to ease stress in uncomfortable social situations. The misuse itself might cause shame, embarrassment, personal problems, and other issues that lead to anxiety.

Talk to your doctor if you suspect drug or alcohol misuse in yourself or a loved one.

Loneliness

Loneliness and isolation may contribute to anxiety and depression.

Being by yourself isn't always bad. And it's normal to feel alone after the loss of a close loved one. But if you feel disconnected from the world for too long, it could lead to anxiety and depression or make it worse. That can isolate you even more and trigger a terrible cycle.

Find ways to connect regularly with friends, neighbors, and loved ones. Talk to your doctor if you still feel lonely after you do.

Physical Illness

Anxiety sometimes can be a sign of an underlying physical issue.

Feelings of anxiety are sometimes the first sign of a different issue. These could include:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid problems, such as hyperthyroidism
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Asthma
  • Drug/medication withdrawal

Your Gender

Women are more likely than men to suffer from anxiety disorders.

The reasons why aren't clear, but women are more likely to have anxiety. Doctors diagnose twice as many women with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and specific phobias like fear of flying or fear of public crowded spaces.

Anxiety & Panic Disorders: Risk Factors for Anxiety

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This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information: Disclaimer

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