Is Anxiety Hereditary? | Anxiety Causes, Studies, And Treatments

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Is anxiety hereditary? Anxiety has a number of causes and triggers, with some studies suggesting it can be inherited.

RELATED: The Connection Between ADHD And Anxiety

In this article:

  1. What Is Anxiety?
  2. What Causes Anxiety?
  3. Is Anxiety Hereditary or Learned?
  4. What Are the Types of Anxiety Disorders?
  5. What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety?
  6. What Are the Treatments for Anxiety?

Is Anxiety Hereditary?

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is the way the mind and body react to what they perceive as a dangerous, stressful, or highly unfamiliar situation. It is normally how the body stays aware and alert, but many people who suffer anxiety disorder can experience debilitating symptoms.

What Causes Anxiety?

Certain triggers, irrational fears, and extreme anxiety cause enough distress to hamper an individual’s daily life. Here are some potential risk factors for anxiety disorders:

  • Neurobiological factors
  • Genetic markers
  • Environmental factors
  • Pre-existing medical conditions, such as mental health illness or thyroid disorders
  • Traumatic life experiences

Is Anxiety Hereditary or Learned?

Genetic risk factors have been studied for decades in relation to anxiety disorders. Clinical studies in genetics give indications that the chances for inheriting an anxiety disorder can range from 30-67%.

Studies show an array of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), or tiny variations in the gene code increases the likelihood of anxiety disorders. A study from 2016 notes anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), and panic disorder are linked to specific genes.

GAD, in particular, has a heritability rate of about 30%. The genes 5-HTT, MAOA, 5-HT1A, and BDNF are commonly associated as GAD susceptible genes.

The same studies note, however, trauma in the early stages of development, as well as stressful life events, can interact with certain molecular plasticity markers.

The NSPR gene, for example, is linked to several cases of panic disorder among women and can interact with environmental factors to influence the body’s neurophysiological reaction.

What Are the Types of Anxiety Disorders?

1. Specific Phobia

This is having a fear of specific situations or objects. The anxiety or fear can be triggered by the presence or the mere anticipation of the object, and exposure to it results in an instant fear response/panic attack.

Often, the fear of people with a specific phobia is disproportionate to the threat or danger posed by the object. Examples of objects or situations include birds, heights, or the sight of blood.

2. Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

This involves the extreme fear of humiliation or embarrassment in social situations. Social anxiety disorder can lead to avoidance behavior, such as complete avoidance of public places, or avoiding forming friendships.

Social anxiety disorder can also have physical manifestations in people. These symptoms include:

  • Muscle tension
  • Arrhythmia
  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea

3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

This is the most notorious of stressor-related disorders. They often come as a result of traumatic experiences such as accidents, combat, or violence, or stressful events such as moving, divorce, or an unfamiliar experience.

It’s normal for anyone to experience anxiety after a traumatic event but recovery is inevitable through time. People with PTSD often don’t and suffer symptoms for more than 6 months after a traumatic event.

Symptoms of PTSD can include:

  • Reliving the trauma
  • Intense negative feelings and moods
  • Hypervigilance

These can even lead to major depressive disorder, and substance abuse.

4. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Associated with excessive and uncontrollable worry over events, circumstances, and potentially negative outcomes, GAD can cause a significant amount of stress. It can interfere with an individual’s daily life, occupation, and even social functioning.

People suffering from GAD can constantly experience feelings of agitation, distress, or dread for no reason. These are often called “free-floating anxiety.”

GAD can instill in people constant negative expectations despite having no real cause of concern. This can spiral into a cycle of excessive worrying that, while patients may acknowledge as unfounded, still persists in unmanageable stress.

5. Panic Disorder

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This disorder is characterized by constant panic attacks or sudden feelings of fear which can come with cognitive and physical symptoms like fear of dying, trembling, dizziness, palpitations, and shortness of breath.

While panic attacks are common across all anxiety disorders, panic disorder is unique because it can occur unexpectedly without any triggers.

6. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive and obsessive thoughts which result in endless cycles of distressing fears or thoughts about certain objects or situations such as germs and cleanliness.

RELATED: 7 Tips For Dealing With Long Term Depression

7. Separation Anxiety

This is characterized by feelings of persistent anxiety in relation to separation from a figure of attachment or a person or object which individuals associate with love or comfort.

Separation disorder is common in children and can induce anxiety for up to at least six weeks. It can manifest in physical ways, such as vomiting, bed wetting, nausea, and headaches.

8. Selective Mutism

An anxiety disorder common in young children which involve them not speaking in certain situations, but speaking in more comfortable locations such as at home.

People or children with selective mutism can be observed to be talkative when at home, but freeze up when exposed to certain people, social situations, places, or activities.

9. Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)

This often comes as a result of witnessing or experiencing one or more traumatic events. Those with PTSD, a history of mental health problems, and history of dissociation can be particularly susceptible to ASD.

People with ASD can often re-experience traumatic events in many ways such as having recurring thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares of the said event. Common symptoms of ASD include dissociative amnesia and depersonalization.

What Is Dissociative Amnesia? A type of temporary amnesia which occurs following a violent or traumatic event. It occurs as the brain suppresses memories or important aspects of the traumatic events.

What Is Depersonalization? These are feelings of having emotions or thoughts which do not seem real, or that they don’t belong to you at all.

10. Adjustment Disorder

These are a group of conditions which arise when an individual has a hard time coping with a stressful situation or life event. These events can include relationship issues, the death of a loved one, or changing careers.

People with adjustment disorder may experience feelings of hopelessness, lacking focus, and even suicidal thoughts. They can even manifest physically, with insomnia, fatigue, indigestion, and muscle spasms.

What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

Symptoms vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder, but generally, they are:

  • Anxiety attacks
  • Excessive worrying
  • Lack of focus and concentration
  • Memory issues
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle tension

Speaking to licensed psychologists or psychiatrists or other mental health professionals can help pinpoint symptoms and lead to effective diagnosis.

What Are the Treatments for Anxiety?

1. Counseling

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This is a kind of talk therapy involving a mental healthcare professional helping patients develop coping skills and strategies. This helps them address stress management and interpersonal problems which may exacerbate their anxiety disorders.

2. Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is a long-term treatment option and involves targeting a wider range of issues. These include behavioral patterns, as well as specific diagnosing in order to tailor personal therapies for each patient.

The goal of psychotherapy is to help patients in regulating emotions, managing stress, and understanding their own behavioral patterns.

3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This is a type of short-term treatment which helps patients in identifying negative thinking which can trigger or cause anxiety or panic attacks. CBT gives particular focus on a patient’s ongoing problems and helps them develop strategies in processing their feelings about it.

CBT can also focus on trauma, especially with patients with PTSD. It helps patients to process and reframe their traumatic experiences, and avoid symptoms.

4. Medications

These are usually prescribed along with psychotherapy. While they are generally safe, many do come with considerable side effects such as nausea, palpitations, and panic attacks.

Here are some of the kinds of medications for those with anxiety disorders:

  • Antidepressants – They mostly treat depression but can also treat anxiety. Selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI) and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) are primary examples.
  • Buspirone – A drug which is highly effective for those with GAD by reducing cognitive problems linked to anxiety
  • Benzodiazepines – Sedatives with short-term effects but helpful with sleep disturbances. The downside of this medication is its severe sedative effect and tendency to be habit-forming

Lifestyle changes like mindfulness and medication can also be helpful in managing anxiety. Taking a healthy supplement like Dr. Seeds’ Chill Pill may also help keep you more relaxed throughout the day.

How do you relieve anxiety? Let us know in the comments!

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