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Does anxiety get worse with age?

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Anxiety symptoms may vary in intensity with age, but they do not always worsen. While some people may experience increased anxiety as they grow older, others may find their symptoms lessen or remain the same. Treatment may make a difference.
Medically reviewed by Ifeanyi Olele, DO, MBA, MS
Written by Rashida Ruwa, RN
Updated on

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions characterized by excessive and persistent worry, fear, or dread. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) lists the most common types of anxiety disorders as:

  • generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • panic disorder
  • social anxiety disorder
  • specific phobia

Anxiety may look different from person to person, and the intensity of the symptoms may also depend on the type and other factors. These symptoms may include:

  • persistent worry or fear with or without an evident cause
  • restlessness or feeling on edge
  • fatigue (low energy)
  • difficulty sleeping
  • muscle tension or aches
  • rapid heart rate
  • upset stomach
  • confusion
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating or trembling

You may experience these symptoms persistently or at different times in your life, and with different intensity each time.

Does anxiety intensify with age?

Person comforting woman with intensified anxiety symptoms by holding her hand
Fiordaliso/Getty Images

No evidence suggests that anxiety symptoms naturally intensify with age or worsen over time. Anxiety may affect people of any age, and its symptoms can vary from person to person, reaching its peak at different times.

You may develop anxiety as an older adult even if you never had it before. You may also have anxiety symptoms as a child or young adult and then barely experience any as you grow older. Many factors, like treatment, environment, and life experiences, may play a role.

Treatment, including psychotherapy and anti-anxiety medications, may help decrease the chance of your anxiety symptoms worsening over time.

Untreated anxiety may lead you to experience equally or more intense symptoms as you age, mainly if the root cause of your anxiety has not been addressed.

Effects of untreated anxiety 

If you live with an untreated anxiety disorder, you may experience long-term health effects and feel anxiety worsens over time.

Untreated anxiety effects may include:

  • Impaired quality of life: Anxiety can significantly affect your daily life, making it difficult to engage in activities and relationships you once enjoyed. This may compromise your perceived quality of life.
  • Social avoidance: You may start avoiding social situations that activate your symptoms, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Work or school challenges: Anxiety may also affect your memory, concentration, and productivity, making it difficult to perform well at work or school.
  • Sleep challenges: Untreated anxiety may result in insomnia or other sleep difficulties, leading to fatigue (low energy) and reduced overall well-being.
  • Physical health challenges: Chronic anxiety could affect your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses such as high blood pressure and chronic pain.
  • Mental health conditions: Anxiety disorders may increase the chance of developing other mental health challenges, such as depression or substance use disorder.

Signs that anxiety may be getting worse 

Signs that anxiety may be getting worse include:

  • increased symptom frequency and intensity
  • difficulty managing your emotions or actions
  • frequent and pronounced physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and trembling
  • persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • constant avoidance of situations, places, or activities
  • symptoms of depression
  • decreased quality of personal relationships
  • increased interference with major life activities like work, school, and self-care

If suicidal thoughts are surfacing

  • Call a 24-hour crisis hotline, such as the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, at 988 or 800-273-8255.
  • Text HOME to the Crisis Textline at 741741.
  • Contact a trusted friend, family member, or healthcare professional if you need immediate support. Call 911 or your local emergency number if you can’t contact them.

Does anxiety ever resolve on its own?

Temporary and occasional anxiety is a natural occurrence that tends to resolve as the trigger disappears. For example, experiencing anxiety before speaking in public is common and often resolves once you’ve faced the challenge.

But, a 2022 review indicates that anxiety disorders are unlikely to resolve on their own. Professional help is highly recommended, particularly if your symptoms affect your ability to function and interact socially.

Can you develop anxiety symptoms as an older adult?

It is possible to experience symptoms of an anxiety disorder for the first time as an older adult.

While anxiety disorders often develop in adolescence or early adulthood, symptoms can emerge at any age, including later in life.

Several factors may contribute to the development of anxiety symptoms in older adults. Some common causes include:

  • Life transitions: Significant life changes such as retirement, losing a loved one, or adjusting to a new living situation may lead to anxiety symptoms in older adults.
  • Health concerns: Dealing with chronic pain and long lasting illnesses, managing multiple medications, or worrying about age-related health concerns may contribute to the development of generalized anxiety.
  • Cognitive changes: Age-related cognitive decline or conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may lead to heightened anxiety and worry.
  • Loneliness and isolation: Losing a life partner or facing life as an empty nester may lead to social isolation or limited social interactions. This, in turn, can increase the chance of anxiety symptoms in older adults.
  • Traumatic events: Past traumatic experiences or exposure to distressing events can resurface in older age, triggering anxiety symptoms.

If you experience anxiety symptoms for the first time as an older adult, consider talking with a mental health professional. They can assess your symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment options.

How is anxiety treated?

Anxiety treatment may depend on your symptoms and type of anxiety disorder.

Options may include:

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Coping strategies for anxiety

In addition to professional support, these coping strategies for managing anxiety may help:

  • engaging in relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing
  • connecting with supportive friends and family members
  • limiting or avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, which may worsen anxiety symptoms in some people
  • engaging in regular exercise or physical activity
  • using positive self-talk and challenging negative thoughts
  • engaging in hobbies or activities that bring you joy and a sense of accomplishment
  • practicing grounding exercises like focusing on what you see, hear, touch, and smell for 5 minutes
  • joining a support group where you can interact with other people with similar experiences

Effectively coping with anxiety is a process, and finding what works best for you may take time. Patience with yourself is recommended, and seeking the support of loved ones and professionals may make a difference.


Anxiety does not necessarily worsen with age. But untreated anxiety may be more likely to intensify and affect more areas of your life.

Symptoms of anxiety may be temporary or persistent. They may develop in childhood or adolescence, or manifest in older age. Factors like life experiences, environment, and treatment may make a difference.

Seeking professional help is recommended if anxiety symptoms interfere with your ability to interact with others, and perform major life activities like school or work.

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