Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in Canada, with approximately 1 in every 8 Canadians affected.

There are several distinctive types of anxiety disorder, and each may have its own set of unique risk factors. In general, some of the most common risk factors for the different kinds of anxiety disorder are the following.

Genetics and family health history: Anxiety disorders seem to run in the family. Thus, if you have a blood relative who has an anxiety disorder, you are at higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder as well. This could be due to a combination of underlying biological factors and learning coping behaviours from family members who are children's "teachers" for the way to behave.

Gender: More women report, are diagnosed with, and are hospitalized for anxiety than men. During a one-year period, it was estimated that 9% of Canadian men and 16% of Canadian women were affected by anxiety disorders.

Stressful and traumatic life experiences: Anxiety disorders may develop as a result of chronic daily stress from, for example, worrying about your finances or struggling to manage a chronic medical condition. These experiences are particularly likely to contribute to the development of anxiety disorders in a person who is already predisposed to them. On their own, these experiences do not cause anxiety disorders. Acutely stressful or traumatic events in childhood or adulthood (e.g., death of a loved one, natural disaster, war, rape, or physical or emotional abuse) can also make you vulnerable to anxiety disorders.

Substance abuse: Anxiety disorders and substance abuse are linked, but it can be hard to figure out which comes first. What is known is that the abuse of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco can worsen anxiety symptoms, and anxiety can make it harder to quit taking drugs, drinking, or smoking tobacco. Treating and resolving substance abuse may simplify treatment of an anxiety disorder.