Are anxiety disorders inherited? Can they be genetic, or do we develop anxiety?
That’s what I want to explore in this post about anxiety disorders. My honest personal opinion is it can be both or either.
However, that’s simply my opinion, so I want to dig deeper. Let’s look at some research and facts. Then perhaps also some of my own story with anxiety.
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Are Anxiety Disorders Inherited?
I have dealt with anxiety most all of my adult life, maybe even longer. But as a young care-free child, I didn’t seem to notice it as much. At least I don’t remember feeling anxious or worried when I was a child.
As I’ve grown older the anxiety has intensified more and more. Anxiety greatly affects my daily life now. I mindfully work to cope and control my anxiety.
Coping strategies have also pushed me to do a lot of self-reflection. In doing so I have realized how my own Daddy was obviously dealing with anxiety his entire life. Although he was never diagnosed, I can see the effects and habits of his that were brought on by anxiety.
My oldest daughter also suffers from anxiety. Her anxiety is very intense, even more so than my own.
These facts are what spurred me to research the possibility of anxiety disorders being inherited or genetic.
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
According to Wikipedia; “Anxiety disorders are a group of mental disorders characterized by significant feelings of anxiety and fear. Anxiety is a worry about future events, and fear is a reaction to current events. These feelings may cause physical symptoms, such as a fast heart rate and shakiness.”
An article on Everyday Health explained; Anxiety disorders include a variety of conditions, such as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.
Is Anxiety Inherited or Environmental?
Research is still in very early stages. But as I stated previously, my opinion is that it can be some of either or both.
Researchers concluded in an article published in the June 2011 issue of the Journal of Korean Medical Science, that while studies show that the risk of anxiety does tend to run in families, the role of genetic influence versus the influence of the family environment is still unclear.
Again, my personal opinion leans toward some of both. Obviously my Daddy suffered from anxiety. He described himself as a constant “worrier”.
My daughter and I both suffer from anxiety. She nor I ever saw my Daddy “freak-out”. We knew he worried about things, but we never saw it cause fear in him or witnessed the anxiety affecting his daily life.
So is ours genetics? Inherited? or Family environment?
Anxious brain is another term used to describe people suffering from anxiety, specifically generalized anxiety disorder.
Anxiety, simply put, is excessive worry or concern. Anxiety prepares you to fight against danger. But what if there isn’t an actual danger?
If there is no real danger, then anxiety can leave the “anxious brain” running from an invisible monster to some unknown destination.
This is when most anxious brains, such as mine and my daughter’s, go into “what if?” modes. Suddenly thousands of scenarios fire off in our brains, none of them good.
The scenarios play out quickly in our minds such as; “If W happens then I should do X, but then if Y happens I should do Z”. On and on it goes! We feel as if we MUST always have a plan if the worst starts to happen.
How Anxiety Affects Sufferers
In an article on Psychology Today, anxiety is explained in this way; “Anxiety is different from fear. Fear is directed towards a specific stimulus; when the stimulus is gone so is the fear. Anxiety does not go away when the stimulus is gone because sometimes there is no stimulus! Particularly with the common generalized anxiety disorder, it is just a vague sense of intense worry and certainty that something dangerous will happen.”
As with myself and with my daughter, there does not have to be a stimulus. There does not have to be an actual danger there to trigger the anxiety.
Many times the simple act of going into crowded places IS the stimulus to trigger our anxiety and fear. Setting off the “what if? scenarios” in our minds.
What Causes Anxiety?
As quoted from an article on Healthline;
“Researchers aren’t 100 percent certain what causes anxiety disorders. Each anxiety disorder has its own risk factors, but according to the National Institute of Mental Health, you’re more likely to develop an anxiety disorder if:
- you’ve had traumatic life experiences
- you have a physical condition that is linked to anxiety, such as thyroid disorders
- your biological relatives have anxiety disorders or other mental illnesses
In other words, anxiety disorders can be both genetic and caused by environmental factors.”
The article went on to discuss that DNA, genes, and that certain chromosomal characteristics can be linked to anxiety disorders, panic and phobias.
It also stated that while most researchers conclude that anxiety is genetic, it can also be influenced by our environmental situations, meaning you can have anxiety without it being genetic.1
Has Anxiety Passed Through My Family’s Generations?
I believe that Anxiety is in the “Green Genes” so to speak! As previously stated my Daddy was a worrier. He loved taking us to Six Flags when we were young, but constantly worried about us getting on the rides. He was afraid of the rides malfunctioning and us getting hurt. Just to name one of his many worries.
Daddy did not take overnight trips/vacations unless he was forced to be gone from home for some reason. He also did not allow us to spend the night with friends. At least not much, there were three friends of mine that he eventually trusted their parents enough to let me stay overnight with them. Only because he grew up with their parents. 🙂
How Anxiety Has Affected My Life
Once I had children of my own, I could see how I had inherited Daddy’s anxiety. I would not be away from my children unless they were with one of their grandparents, my brother and his wife, or one my two very best childhood friends.
Early in my first marriage, my husband worked in the logging woods with chain saws and heavy equipment. All day I worried about him being injured. Every evening my oldest daughter and I sat by the window near time for him to arrive home, waiting and watching for his truck. A few minutes late and deep panic set in, thinking the worst had happened.
Especially when my children were young, I would not go to stores without my husband or my mother. I had my oldest daughter and a set of twins. I did not feel safe or able to protect all three of them by myself.
When crossing long bridges or train tracks in the car, I had to pull over and unbuckle the car seats first. In case the car stalled on the train tracks, or we were in a wreck on the bridge and shoved over into the water. I had a scenario/plan in my mind about how I’d get all three children out of the car quickly.
Have I Passed the Anxiety on Down
The anxiety continues, in as much as I continue to do such things with my grandchildren like I did when my own children were young.
But also my oldest daughter is constantly anxious and worried. Overall her anxiety is more severe than mine. Her anxiety has even manifested an obsessive/compulsive disorder (OCD).
Both of my daughters suffer with forms of anxiety. Each of them cope in different ways. The anxiety affects each of them differently and of course, each of them have different triggers/stimuli.
However, my oldest daughter also suffers from severe panic attacks. She has a young daughter, and works extremely hard at never “freaking out” or “losing her s%*t” in front of A.
A is a vibrant, super intelligent, and care-free little girl. My daughter talks openly with A, but never gives A any reason to feel anxious or worried.
Recently, A’s teachers reached out to my daughter about A possibly having an “anxious brain” and that it may be affecting her test scores. Have we done it again? Have we passed this monster called anxiety on to our sweet, young little girl? Hopefully we can start helping her cope at a much younger age!
Now It’s Your Turn!
Leave me a comment!! I need to hear your opinions!
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Until next time,