Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on November 18, 2021
What’s Anxiety?

What’s Anxiety?


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.




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

Absent Parent


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.  




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.




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.




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


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.




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

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.




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

Physical Illness


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

Your Gender


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.

Show Sources


1) AJPhoto / Science Source


3) monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images

4) diane39 / Thinkstock

5) Jonah_M / Getty Images

6) grummanaa5 / Getty Images

7) defenseimagery / Wikipedia

8) Ron Nickel / Design Pics / Science Source

9) Bunyos / Thinkstock

10) Artush / Thinkstock

11) Fuse / Getty Images

12) riskms / Getty Images



American Psychiatric Association: “What Is Depression?” “Anxiety & addiction part 1: the connection.”

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Understand the Facts,” “Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Facts & Statistics,” “Substance Use Disorders.” “What causes anxiety?”

Current Psychiatry Reports: “Personality and anxiety disorders.”

Depression & Anxiety: “Risk Factors For Anxiety Disorders: Common And Specific Effects In A National Sample.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Anxiety and physical illness.” “Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Anxiety and Heart Disease.”

Journal of Geriatric Mental Health: “Relationship of loneliness and social connectedness with depression in elderly: A multicentric study under the aegis of Indian Association for Geriatric Mental Health.”

Mayo Clinic: “Personality disorders,” “Anxiety disorders.” “DSM-5 The Ten Personality Disorders: Cluster C.” “Loneliness.”

National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Self-Harm.”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

National Institute of Mental Health: “Anxiety Disorders,” “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”