Risk Factors for Developing Anxiety Disorders

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Why do some people develop anxiety disorders and others do not? Is it simply a matter of personality? Some people are more nervous than others, does that play a role or is there more to it? While scientists and researchers don't understand all the reasons why someone may develop an anxiety disorder, it does seem to be more than a personality trait. Heredity does play a large role in whether or not you have a higher risk for anxiety. If your parents or grandparents suffered from anxiety, your chances of also developing an anxiety disorder are higher.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, brain chemistry plays a role. If certain chemicals, serotonin and dopamine, are below a certain level, then you have a higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Medications for anxiety help to balance these chemicals and therefore help to reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Some of the other risk factors are:

Gender - Women are twice as likely to develop some anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder.
Past experiences - individuals who have experienced traumatic events, especially as children, have a higher chance of developing anxiety disorders. Children who suffered abuse or neglect also have a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders.

Insomnia - Although it is not really understood whether insomnia is caused by anxiety or anxiety can worsen because of insomnia, a study completed in Norway in 2007 showed that chronic insomnia was a risk factor for developing anxiety.

Chronic or serious illness - Having a serious or chronic illness can make you nervous about your future, including your physical health, emotional well being and finances. This worry can develop into generalized anxiety disorder.
Stress - Living with stress over an extended period of time can increase your chances of developing an anxiety disorder. This has been found in both those that have intense periods of stress or those that have an extended period of smaller stressors.
Other mental illnesses - Individuals who have been diagnosed with other mental illnesses, such as borderline personality disorder, may be more at risk of developing an anxiety disorder as well.

In addition to these risk factors, personal life choices, such as substance abuse or overuse of caffeine can make anxiety symptoms worse.


"Chronic Insomnia as a Risk Factor for Developing Anxiety and Depression", 2007, Dag Neckelmann et al, Associated Professional Sleep Societies, LLC

"When Worry Gets Out of Control: Generalized Anxiety Disorder", Revised 2007, National Institutes of Mental Health

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.