Accelerated leukocyte telomere shortening has been previously associated to self-perceived stress and psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and mood disorders. We set out to investigate whether telomere length is affected in patients with anxiety disorders in which stress is a known risk factor. We also studied the effects of childhood and recent psychological distress on telomere length. We utilized samples from the nationally representative population-based Health 2000 Survey that was carried out between 2000-2001 in Finland to assess major public health problems and their determinants. We measured the relative telomere length of the peripheral blood cells by quantitative real-time PCR from 321 individuals with DSM-IV anxiety disorder or subthreshold diagnosis and 653 matched controls aged 30-87 years, who all had undergone the Composite International Diagnostic Interview. While telomere length did not differ significantly between cases and controls in the entire cohort, the older half of the anxiety disorder patients (48-87 years) exhibited significantly shorter telomeres than healthy controls of the same age (P = 0.013). Interestingly, shorter telomere length was also associated with a greater number of reported childhood adverse life events, among both the anxiety disorder cases and controls (P = 0.005). Childhood chronic or serious illness was the most significantly associated single event affecting telomere length at the adult age (P = 0.004). Self-reported current psychological distress did not affect telomere length. Our results suggest that childhood stress might lead to accelerated telomere shortening seen at the adult age. This finding has potentially important implications supporting the view that childhood adversities might have a considerable impact on well being later in life.