Does Anxiety Run in Families?

father with anxiety

Anxiety can be a natural response we have to a perceived threat, causing feelings of fear, worry, and uneasiness. Situational anxiety symptoms can range from mild to severe and may be both psychological and physical. While occasional anxiety is typical, excessive or persistent symptoms that are interfering with your daily life can indicate an anxiety disorder. There are different types of anxiety. These include generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety, among others.

There is evidence that anxiety can run in families or that there is a genetic component, but there are many other factors that contribute to these mental health disorders. Just because you have a family member with anxiety doesn’t mean you’ll have it, but it can be one of several key risk factors.

A Brief Overview of Anxiety Disorders

Some of the different types of anxiety disorders a person can be diagnosed with include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is characterized by uncontrollable and excessive worry about different parts of life, such as health, work, relationships, and everyday situations. Your concern is usually not proportionate to the actual problem, and physical symptoms can occur with GAD, like fatigue and muscle tension.
  • Panic disorder involves the experience of unexpected panic attacks, which are sudden, intense episodes of discomfort or fear, peaking in minutes. Symptoms can include feelings of impending doom and physical symptoms like sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness, and chest pain.
  • Social anxiety disorder is also known as social phobia, which involves an intense fear of social or performance-related situations. If you have a social anxiety disorder, you may fear judgment, humiliation, or embarrassment from others. When it’s not treated, the disorder can lead to avoiding social gatherings and day-to-day situations where you interact with others.
  • Specific phobias involve an intense, irrational fear of certain situations, activities, or objects. If you have a phobia, you might go to extreme lengths to avoid what you’re afraid of.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, includes intrusive, unwanted thoughts which are labeled obsessions. Then, there are repetitive behaviors and mental acts, known as compulsions, that you perform to alleviate your anxiety or prevent an outcome you fear. Obsessions include fears of harm or contamination or causing damage to others.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD occurs after exposure to a traumatic event, with symptoms including flashbacks or intrusive memories.

You can experience symptoms from more than one type of anxiety disorder, and symptoms tend to come and go in terms of severity.

Anxiety in Families

Anxiety can run in families, and there is a genetic link and increased risk among close relatives. There is research suggesting genetics play a role in someone being more prone to developing an anxiety disorder. As an example, if you have a family member like a sibling or parent and they have an anxiety disorder, you have an increased chance of developing one as well.

In one study, children with an anxiety disorder were found two to three times more likely to have at least one parent with a current anxiety disorder.

Genetics isn’t the only determining factor, however. Environmental influences and life experiences significantly impact the risk of developing anxiety. As is valid with other mental health disorders, anxiety is partly hereditary but also influenced by other factors.

There is a term called heritability. This refers to the proportion of variability of a trait like anxiety that can be attributed to genetic factors. For anxiety disorders, this range is 30-40%, which means that genetics are significant in anxiety disorders but aren’t the exclusive determinant.

The Interaction Between Genetic and Environmental Factors

Genetic and environmental factors can influence anxiety disorders. There may be specific mutations that lead to abnormal brain development. This can increase vulnerability to certain environmental factors that can lead to anxiety disorders. For example, mutations in the genes linked to serotonin in the brain can result in increased anxiety if you’re in a stressful situation during development.

Twin studies have shown that having a small hippocampus can predispose you to post-traumatic stress disorder. That can then leave you more susceptible to things in your environment that lead to the development of anxiety disorders.

Genetic and environmental factors interact in a dynamic, complex way to influence the development of anxiety disorders. While there are genetic factors that predispose you to anxiety, the impact tends to be modulated by the influence of your environment.

Examples of environmental factors that can interact with genetics to contribute to anxiety disorders include:

  • Life events like trauma, a sudden loss, or an unexpected change.
  • Recreational drugs.
  • Underlying medical and health-related concerns.
  • Social situations like childhood experiences.
  • Experiencing abuse or neglect.

How Much More Likely Are You to Have an Anxiety Disorder If You Have a Family Member Who Does?

While the likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder is higher if you have a family member who has one, the exact increase in the risk depends on the specific type of disorder, the degree of your genetic relatedness to the person, and the number of your affected family members.

In one study, individuals with a first-degree relative who had an anxiety disorder are two to six times more likely to develop one themselves when compared to people with a family history. A first-degree relative is a parent or sibling.

With that being said, these are general estimates, varying greatly based on your individual circumstances.

Other Anxiety Risk Factors

Aside from genetics and the environmental factors discussed above, other risk factors for developing an anxiety disorder can include:

  • Your brain chemistry and neurobiology. Imbalances in neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin influence anxiety, as do alterations in brain structure and the circuits that are involved in your emotional regulation and threat perception.
  • Certain personality traits like neuroticism are associated with a higher vulnerability to anxiety disorder. If you’re someone who is a perfectionist or who is prone to worrying or highly sensitive to stress, you are more likely to develop anxiety symptoms.
  • Cognitive factors that contribute to the risk of developing anxiety disorders include dysfunctional beliefs and maladaptive thought patterns. For example, you might be someone who displays catastrophic thinking or avoidance behaviors, and that can perpetuate the symptoms of anxiety.
  • Learned behaviors and coping mechanisms that you acquire through your past experiences can influence the development of anxiety disorders.
  • Societal norms and cultural beliefs about mental health can be a factor. For example, if there’s a cultural stigma you experience about mental health, it may shape how you experience and express anxiety.

While genetics can lead to an anxiety predisposition, it doesn’t determine your fate. There are a lot of factors that contribute to mental health and the development of disorders, but anxiety is also very treatable. Interventions like therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and learning new coping and stress management techniques can all be helpful, no matter your genetic predisposition.

Why Choose Midwest Recovery Centers For Anxiety?

At Midwest Recovery Centers, we treat all anxiety disorders in our unique 45-day inpatient mental health program. We offer care in a supportive and structured environment, preparing you for successful re-entry to your daily life. Additionally, our holistic treatment plans are designed individually for each patient.

If you’d like to learn more about anxiety disorder treatment, mental health, or substance use disorder treatment, please contact our team at Midwest Recovery Centers.

Staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Click or Call Today! 844-990-1578

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