Many people ask: Is anxiety genetic? While it seems that a number of factors can put you at risk for developing anxiety disorders, research suggests that anxiety is hereditary, at least in part.
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.
What does the research say?
Decades of research has explored the hereditary connections in anxiety. For example,
More recently, a
Most researchers conclude that anxiety is genetic but can also be influenced by environmental factors. In other words, it’s possible to have anxiety without it running in your family. There is a lot about the link between genes and anxiety disorders that we don’t understand, and more research is needed.
Anxiety itself is a feeling and not a mental illness, but there are many conditions classified as anxiety disorders. These include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): chronic anxiety about common, everyday experiences and situations
- Panic disorder: frequent, recurring panic attacks
- Phobias: intense fear of a specific thing or situation
- Social anxiety disorder: an intense fear and anxiety about social situations.
- Separation anxiety disorder: an intense fear of losing the people you love or important people in your life.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are other mental health conditions that, while not technically anxiety disorders, still include anxiety as a symptom, such as:
- obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- acute stress disorder
- adjustment disorder
Anxiety is a feeling of worry or apprehension. While everyone feels anxious from time to time, some people have anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders usually involve intense, debilitating anxiety, even about things that don’t typically cause anxiety.
symptoms of anxiety disorders
The symptoms of anxiety disorders differ depending on which anxiety disorder you have. In general, the symptoms of anxiety disorders include:
- excessive worrying
- anxiety attacks
- difficulty concentrating
- memory problems
- struggling to sleep well
- tense muscles
To be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ll have to speak to a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed professional counselor (LPC), or social worker.
You’ll discuss your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. They’ll also speak to you about your symptoms and compare your symptoms to those outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Therapy can be helpful for those who have anxiety disorders. Therapy can teach you useful tools and insights, help you explore your feelings, and help you understand the impact of experiences you may have had.
One of the most common treatments for anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which involves talking to your psychologist or psychiatrist about your experiences. Through CBT, you learn to notice and change thought and behavioral patterns.
According to the American Psychological Assocation, about 75 percent of people who try talk therapy find it beneficial in some way.
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Anxiety can also be treated by medication, which your doctor may prescribe to you. There are many types of anxiety medication, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. Medication isn’t always necessary for anxiety, but it can be helpful to alleviate some symptoms.
Certain lifestyle changes can also help you manage anxiety. These changes include:
- getting more exercise
- reducing your intake of caffeine
- avoiding recreational drugs and alcohol
- eating a balanced diet
- getting adequate sleep
- using relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation
- managing your time to reduce stress
- socializing and talking to supportive people about your anxiety
- keeping a journal so that you can express and understand your feelings
See a doctor or therapist if you feel that your anxiety is unmanageable or if it prevents you from functioning in your daily life.
Most anxiety disorders are chronic, meaning they never truly disappear. However, there are lots of effective treatment options out there for anxiety disorders. Through therapy, lifestyle changes, and perhaps medication, you can learn how to cope better so that you can manage your disorder.
There are a number of possible causes for anxiety. Mental conditions involving anxiety can be genetic, but they also are influenced by other factors.
If you’re feeling anxious and it is interfering with your daily life, speak to your doctor or a therapist. No matter the cause of your anxiety, it can be treated and managed.