Young women

Anxiety disorders

In the past 12 months around 21% of young women have some form of anxiety disorder. As you can see from this figure, you are not alone. Your anxiety may be caused by a traumatic event or losing someone you love. Having an illness or constant bullying can set off your anxiety. Sometimes there might be no reason, and that is okay too.

Having lots of stress in your life and not feeling like you can cope with things can mean you try and find other ways to cope with your distress and fear. Not eating properly, cutting, and experimenting with drugs and alcohol are ways that you might think you can get some control back in your life. The problem is these ways of coping often end up controlling you. The good news is there is a lot of help out there.

Is this you?

LEARN Consider the different stories and pictures below, listen to a podcast or check out the video. 

THINK Then, to understand more about what causes anxiety you can explore the different social, psychological and physical things that can increase anxiety. In this section you will find questions to ask yourself about each cause to see if it affects you.

DO Once you have explored the causes of anxiety then it is time to do something. Go to the ‘Toolkit’ to find a range of different tools to help yourself try and reduce anxiety.

View the causes of Anxiety Disorders for Young women

Do you relate to these?

Heart palpitations, anxieties are in full swing, oh goodie, it must be mercury retrograde on the horizon, where I turn uber sensitive and my electronics go haywire.

"Chances of dying in an airplane accident: 1 in 354,319 – some random statistic I pulled from some chart on some website some time ago. Now a problem: factoring in storm conditions; what are the odds then?”

“It always shocked me when I realised that I wasn’t the only person in the world who thought and felt such strange and awful things.”
Looking for Alaska

Something bad is going to happen… I can just feel it…

“I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they're here. If they like their jobs. Or us. And I wonder how smart they were when they were fifteen. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It's like looking at all the students and wondering who's had their heart broken that day, and how they are able to cope with having three quizzes and a book report due on top of that. Or wondering who did the heart breaking. And wondering why.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Let me try and explain it. It’s not just an emotion, it’s heavy. I can feel it weighing in my chest. It literally pains me sometimes, makes my stomach turn. Causes me to need to stop and think, what should I be doing right now? Am I forgetting something?

It’s almost impossible for me to sit in my French class because there are at least forty people packed into a cramped room. The desks are no more that 50cm apart. More than that, the teacher is loud and extremely enthusiastic. She’s wonderful and I love the language, but I am simply unable to be caught between all those students and the tiny spaces, with a heavy workload and loud noises to boot.

My least favourite kind of night
Blankets on too hot.
Blankets off too cold.
All alone, yet surrounded by sleeping family.
Imagination running wild.
Anxieties taking over.
I don’t think I am getting any sleep tonight.

Causes of anxiety disorders for Young women

What happens

Some personalities are more prone to anxiety - you might be a perfectionist and so become highly anxious when things aren’t done to a high standard, you might be the kind of person who over analyses your every thought, or you might be very rigid in your thinking and find uncertainty difficult to cope with or tolerate.

Questions to ask yourself

Is it in my make up to be anxious?

How much am I a perfectionist?

How much do I over think things?

How much do I over analyse my every thought?

Do I find uncertainty difficult to cope with?

What happens

Distressing and faulty thinking such as

  • catastrophising - thinking the worst possible thing will happen
  • jumping to conclusions - thinking you can predict the future (and it is bad)

create a negative cycle. Distressing thoughts cause physical symptoms such as a racing heart, feeling sick causing you to want to run away. Your self-talk remains negative - “I am hopeless” and the whole cycle starts again. If you find it hard to challenge your thoughts or if you avoid situations that cause anxiety you don’t get the benefit of facing your fear and working through the anxiety – this can lead to anxiety disorders.

Questions to ask yourself

Think of a recent time when you felt anxiety and ask yourself – in what ways were my thoughts unhelpful or faulty?

For example, do I:

  • jump to conclusions about what people think of me?
  • think something really bad is about to happen?

What is the evidence to support my thoughts?

What is the worst thing that could happen? How likely is this?

What happens

On the one hand you may judge yourself and focus on all the things you can't do and this can make you anxious. Or you become so afraid you might fail that it stops you from taking any action to achieve what you want. Or you may think other people are critical of you -  your looks, what you say and what you do and this fear of their judgment stops you from taking action. 

Questions to ask yourself

How anxious am I about people judging me?

How anxious am I that I will be seen as a failure?

What happens

If you define yourself too much by how you look, it can cause anxiety that interferes with your daily life. This anxiety includes obsessing about the way you look and your weight so you behave in ways that are destructive to both your physical and mental health. You need to deal with these thoughts and feelings as early as you can.

Questions to ask yourself

How much does the anxiety I feel about how my body looks affect my daily life?

How anxious am I about my weight?

Do I:

  • starve myself
  • severely restrict the foods I eat
  • binge on food
  • purge after eating my food?
What happens

Physical, emotional, mental and sexual abuse can significantly affect your mental and emotional health. Ever having felt neglected, threatened or that you may be harmed in some way increases the risk of you experiencing an anxiety disorder. With maltreatment, you learn you can't trust that people will do the right thing by you - even sometimes those you thought loved and cared about you. With abuse you may lose the idea that everything in your world will be okay in the future and you may no longer feel safe.

Questions to ask yourself

Have I felt

  • neglected
  • threatened
  • that I might be harmed

at any time during my life?

Has abuse put me more at risk of anxiety?

How much can I trust others?

How safe do I feel?

What happens

Having roles that give you meaning and a sense of purpose are important to your mental and emotional health. You might be a best friend, a daughter, a student, in a new career, an artist, a hockey player, a dancer… there are many roles you may have. Sometimes these roles are given to you and other times you choose the roles you have. If you don’t feel good about your roles, or feel a sense of purpose and meaning in your life you are more likely to have problems with anxiety.

Questions to ask yourself

What roles do I have?

How anxious am I about the roles I have?

Social causes →
What happens

Problems with your family can include lots of things. It might be that your parents are separated or divorced, or you have lost a parent, or one parent lets you do whatever you want and the other parent is stricter. Witnessing your parents fighting or one harming the other can cause distress. Having an anxious parent or caregiver increases the chances of you also being anxious. If one of your parents (and it is often mothers) is very overprotective - this can make you more fearful that something bad will happen. The way your family operates can make you feel like you have too little control in your world and this can make you anxious.

Questions to ask yourself

Are there family problems which cause me to be anxious?

Have there been changes to our family which I am anxious about? If so, what are these changes?

Do I have an over protective caregiver?

What happens

Being placed in a situation where you experience fear of actual harm or death, helplessness or horror can cause a type of anxiety called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Experiencing trauma can make you realise your world can change quickly and this can make you fear the future will not always be okay and that you are more unsafe than you thought.

Questions to ask yourself

Have I experienced any traumatic events in my life?

How do I think and feel about my future safety?

What happens

Your family may have just moved or may be having financial problems. Perhaps one of your parents has lost their job. These things can make you feel anxious. 

Questions to ask yourself

Have there been any changes to my family’s finances that I know of?

What happens

Being accepted by friends who you care about and trust is good for your mental and emotional health. Being rejected by friends that you care about can be bad for your mental and emotional health causing great anxiety. Social media makes that rejection immediate and often public, increasing the anxiety even more.

Your concern for your friends may escalate into anxiety if a friend is cutting or bingeing.  Cutting and bingeing are expressions of pain but they are also destructive and challenging for you to have to face and deal with.

Questions to ask yourself

Do I feel accepted by my friends?

Do I feel rejected by my friends?

Who accepts or does not accept me?

Are my friends behaving in ways that make me feel anxious?

What happens

Having people to talk to when you need support is one of the most important ways to feel good about yourself. Being connected with others in a positive way makes us feel involved and cared for. 

Questions to ask yourself

Do I have good friends, family or people I trust who can be there for me?

Who can I turn to if I need support or someone to talk to?

Community causes →
What happens

The community in which you live is important to your mental health. Feeling safe, that there are places to go, ways to get there and things to do, can help you to feel connected to your community and that you belong somewhere. 

Questions to ask yourself

How do I feel about the community where I live?

How safe am I in my community?

How connected do I feel and do I feel that I belong in my community?

What happens

There may be good times at school and there will also be times which are stressful, confusing, lonely and frustrating. However, if you don’t feel your school supports you or that you belong there, it can make it difficult to feel confident or battle through the tough times. High study stress adds a pressure that often makes anxiety worse.

Questions to ask yourself

Does my school make me feel supported even when I am having a bad day or I am challenged? If so, in what ways?

What things about school make me feel like I can achieve or not achieve there?

Do I put myself under so much stress at school to belong or to achieve that it makes me highly anxious?

What happens

Work can provide a source of anxieties such as

  • how much you feel you are in the right career or job?
  • how safe and secure you feel in your job
  • how flexible your workplace is so you can meet other commitments
  • how demanding your job is of your time and energy
  • how much the politics and gossiping of a workplace affects you
Questions to ask yourself

Am I anxious about my work?

Do I like my work?

Do I feel secure in my job?

How supported do I feel by my boss and work place?

Do I feel exhausted by my job?

What things about work make me feel like I

Can achieve or not achieve there?

What happens

Bullying can happen anywhere. It can happen at school, at work, at home, or in your community. Bullying is having someone else tell you how you should think, feel and act in a way that leaves you no room to express yourself and gives you no respect. If you are being bullied, it can cause distress, anxious feelings and perhaps fear. You may have an overwhelming fear that you have no control and don’t know how to get it back.

Questions to ask yourself

Are there people in my life who bully me?

How anxious does being bullied make me feel?

Physical causes →
What happens

Binge drinking and taking drugs, especially if you are doing it to counteract the anxiety you feel in social situations, can actually make your anxiety worse. Some drugs can cause severe anxiety, paranoia and serious mental illness.

Questions to ask yourself

How much am I drinking?

Could drugs be making me more sensitive to anxiety?

Is my drug taking increasing my risk of severe anxiety?

What happens

If you don't get the sleep you need, your ability to manage your thoughts is reduced and this can generate anxious thoughts and feelings. If these become severe they really impact on your daily life. Interrupted sleep and irregular sleep patterns are particularly bad for making anxious feelings worse.

Questions to ask yourself

How much sleep do I get per night?

Is it hard to go to sleep or do I wake in the night and find it hard to go back to sleep?

Do I feel rested?

What happens

A diet with too many sugary and fatty foods combined with too little exercise = more negative moods = more worry and anxiety. If you already have an anxiety disorder the impact of your anxiety symptoms may be making it more difficult to have a healthy diet and get the activity you need.

Questions to ask yourself

Do I generally eat a range of healthy foods? Do I exercise at least 3-4 times per week for more than 30 minutes?

How much do my current anxiety symptoms affect my diet and stop me eating healthy foods?

How much do my current anxiety symptoms stop me from exercising?

Created on 18/08/2013 | Updated on 10/12/2015
References for this page
    v

Not sure? Use our quick self assessment tool to check.

About Jean Hailes

Jean Hailes is Australia’s leading and most trusted women’s health organisation. We believe in physical and emotional health and wellbeing in all its dimensions for all women in Australia throughout their lives.

We offer a range of free resources and easy to understand information on women’s health and wellbeing. Appointments at our specialist women’s health clinics can be made in person (East Melbourne and Clayton, VIC) or across Australia via our Telehealth consultation service. www.jeanhailes.org.au

Stay in touch

Keep up to date about your health and sign up to our monthly emails.

Follow us