Can Anxiety Be Passed From One Generation To The Next?

Anxiety is a common disorder affecting 40 million adults in the United States. Anxiety develops from a complex set of brain chemistry, traumatic life events and personality traits.  However, genetics can also put you at the risk of developing anxiety. 

What is Anxiety? 

Anxiety is a feeling of apprehension and fear about possible future events. It is also a natural stress response.  

Anxiety can be felt on the first day of school, going for a job interview or giving a speech in front of a large crowd. Nervousness and fear accompany anxiety. 

However, if your anxiety is too extreme, lasting for more than six months or negatively interfering with your everyday life, you may have developed an anxiety disorder. 

an older woman suffering with anxiety

Anxiety Disorders 

Ordinary anxiety may motivate you to work harder and do better at work. It is a feeling that comes and goes but does not hinder you. 

An anxiety disorder, on the other hand, is a feeling of fear which remains with you all the time. It gradually becomes intense and paralyzing. This type of anxiety will restrict you from enjoying the things you usually do. 

In extreme cases, anxiety might prevent you from performing everyday actions such as walking down the street or taking an elevator. If left untreated, anxiety can become worse. 

The Health and Human Services (HHS) identifies five major types of anxiety disorders:

  • Social anxiety disorder,
  • Panic disorder,
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder,
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder,
  • PTSD. 

Genetics and Anxiety

While researchers are not sure about the precise cause of anxiety, each anxiety disorder is likely a combination of factors playing a role together. However, the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) suggests that genetics can also cause anxiety along with environmental factors. 

Studies show that when you develop anxiety at the age of 20, close relatives are likely to have anxiety as well. Another research notes that specific chromosomal characteristics associate with panic disorders. 

Researchers have strived to understand the role of genetics in anxiety disorders which has become evident in the case of twins. A 2015 study focused on mental illness and twins and found that the RBFOXI gene present in the genetic makeup can make you more likely to develop GAD (generalized anxiety disorder). 

In fact, some reviews state that mental illnesses such as panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and GAD identify with particular genes.

A more recent review of studies conducted in 2017 culminated that GAD can be inherited and is associated with conditions linked to several genes. 

The anxiety disorder being hereditary does not mean that all family members will suffer from anxiety. Each person has a different combination of genes except for identical twins. 

Although most researchers do conclude that anxiety is genetic, environmental factors influence it as well. It is also possible to develop anxiety disorders even though it does not run in your family.  

Ongoing studies and research may give us a better understanding of the link between anxiety and genetics in the future. 

Symptoms of Anxiety 

The symptoms of anxiety you may experience depends on the type of anxiety disorder you have. Here are some of the general symptoms of disorders: 

  • Having anxiety attacks 
  • Excessive worrying 
  • Having trouble concentrating 
  • Memory problems 
  • Unable to sleep well 
  • Feeling irritable all the time 
  • Being stiff or having tense muscles 

Treatments for Anxiety 

You can effectively treat anxiety disorders with the help of selected treatment options. Once you are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder you can proceed to receive treatment for it. Your diagnosis will be carried out by a mental health professional. 

  • Therapy

Therapy teaches you tactics and insights on how you can manage your anxiety. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is one of the common treatments for anxiety. It involves talking to a psychologist or psychiatrist about your experiences.  

  • Medication 

Medications can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety. The medicines differ from various anxiety disorders, each having its benefits. 

  • Lifestyle 

Changing lifestyle habits such as exercising, avoiding drugs and alcohol, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and many more can help manage anxiety. 

Genetics, as well as environmental factors, can cause anxiety disorders. If you feel anxious or identify with anxiety symptoms, don’t hesitate to speak to your therapist or doctor.