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Is Anxiety Genetic?

Angela Sheddan

Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 6/10/2022

While there are a number of therapeutic outlets to understand, contain and beat back anxiety, one critical factor in combating anxiety is understanding its source. Specifically: do we acquire anxiety, or is anxiety something inherited — is anxiety genetic?

Let’s look at whether or not anxiety is genetic and, if so, what we can do about that.

Read on to learn more.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a state in which one experiences feelings and thoughts of tension and worry. Further, when one’s anxious they also experience physical symptoms like muscle tension and heightened blood pressure.

However, there are many kinds of anxiety, and each kind can manifest differently. 

Generally speaking, there are five different kinds of anxiety disorders. They are:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), in which one exhibits anxious symptoms for at least six months. Among the symptoms one can exhibit with generalized anxiety disorder are: restlessness, difficulty concentrating or absorbing information, irritability, sleep problems and muscle tension. 

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), whichis characterized as a mental state in which uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts recur and force the person suffering from OCD to engage in repetitive behaviors.

  • Panic Disorder, in which one suffers from frequent panic attacks. A panic attack is an anxious episode in which one experiences intense fear, accompanied by physical symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, sweating or abdominal distress.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) is typically experienced after a dangerous, shocking or scary event. Although PTSD can rear its head in a number of ways, some signs of PTSD can be seen in: flashbacks, bad dreams, frightening thoughts, easily startled or angered experiencing difficulty sleeping.

  • Social Anxiety or Social Phobia Disorder focuses on one’s fear and terror in stepping out into the world. 

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Genetic Anxiety — The Science

Yes, anxiety is inheritable. In fact, some studies have shown anxiety carries a 30 percent risk of being passed from one generation to the next. 

At the same time, however, there are studies that focus on trying to link generalized anxiety disorder with being genetically predisposed to anxiety. 

In those studies, researchers found generalized anxiety disorder is a heritable condition that carries a medium genetic risk for anxiety.

These same studies concluded there are a number of environmental factors that can work with one’s genetic makeup to affect their anxiety.

Those factors include::

  • Childhood trauma.

  • Adverse, difficult environment.

  • Stressful life events.

  • Traumatic life events.

Treating Anxiety

When it comes to treating anxiety, there’s good news: there are a number of excellent resources available. 

Psychology/Therapy

Psychology is the study of the brain and its mental and emotional processes. 

In psychology, you work one-on-one with a therapy provider who’s trained to talk with and help you through your difficulties. 

Through therapy, patients learn about their mental capacities and how to better cope with feelings of anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges and disorders.

While there are many different approaches psychology takes, here are some of the forms of therapy that could be employed to help you with your anxiety:

  • Psychodynamic Therapy is a form of therapy that looks to understand your emotional and mental pedigree — your past — and the unconscious influences it has on your present. That could be a huge help in understanding and combating, say, your anxiety.

  • Behavioral Therapy looks at the behaviors one exhibits and changes them in order to improve one’s mental state. Anxiety has many manifestations. Any kind of nervous tic or anxious habit you might have — if it can be contained or changed, could have a huge impact on your mental health. 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on thoughts and behaviors — and how both influence each other. 

  • Humanistic Therapy emphasizes your ability to make rational choices on your own behalf so as to better your mental state of being.

Group Therapy

Group therapy is another powerful tool one can use to ease one’s symptoms of anxiety.

In group therapy, you’re in a group of people who experience the same mental health challenges as you.

Regulated by a trained medical professional or a licensed social worker, group therapy can be a cathartic, transcendent practice in gaining an understanding of your mental health challenges by listening and commiserating with others.

Community, a tribe — those can be powerful building blocks in cutting down the severity of one’s anxiety.

Medication

Psychiatry is a form of mental health care in which you work one-on-one with a psychiatrist.

It’s important to understand that a psychiatrist is not a psychologist.

A psychiatrist is a trained medical professional who has gone to medical school, as well as someone who’s accrued years of additional training in the field of mental healthcare.

The big difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is that a psychiatrist can prescribe antidepressants and other prescription medications.

When it comes to anxiety, antidepressants can assist in mitigating the pain anxiety might cause. Other prescriptions to treat anxiety can be an anti-anxiety medication or even sedatives or beta-blockers to help mitigate the effects of anxiety symptoms.

Lifestyle Choices

There are great, natural ways to relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety.

When it comes to employing some all-natural anxiety relief techniques, it’s best to think about calming yourself down in two ways: body and mind.

Body

  • Progressive muscle relaxation is a form of relaxing one muscle group at a time. Progressive muscle relaxation is often employed to help people not just with panic disorders but sleep disorders as well. The idea behind progressive muscle relaxation is that by relaxing one’s muscles, by ‘breathing into them,’ you can relax your mind, too.

  • Yoga combines linking one’s body with one’s breath, and it emphasizes controlling your body with loving kindness and focusing on the present.

  • General exercise can be helpful in reducing the anxiety one experiences.

Mind

Whether you have generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder (in which you suffer from consistent panic attacks) or something else, relaxing the mind is a critical step in taking control over your mental health.

While we’ve run down some of the prescriptive and therapeutic options, we think it’s important to provide some basic techniques you can use to ease your mind and keep you mentally calm.

  • First, breathe.Your best tool is your breath. Take long, slow breaths in order to calm your mind.

  • Others suggest a warm bath — and, if you can throw some soothing music into the mix, even better.

  • Meditationcan be a great tool as well. 

  • Journalingis a quick, easy and meditative practice to begin. By writing out your thoughts and concerns, you may see a marked improvement in your anxiety and overall mental health.

  • Use guided imagery.Simply closing your eyes and imagining you’re in a warmer, happier place may do your mental health and anxiety wonders.

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What We Know About Inherited Anxiety

Analysis has proven that anxiety is inheritable. Research has also shown, however, that if you have a parent or relative with anxiety, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve passed anxiety onto you.

What the study of anxiety has shown, above all else, is that there is a multitude of outlets to better one’s mental health. Whether it’s group therapy, psychotherapy or medication — or simply doing some exercise — there are so many proven, effective ways to help yourself out.

While it can be challenging to admit that you need a helping hand, doing so — and then seeking that help out — can be one of your life’s most empowering moments.

14 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. What Is the Difference Between Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Social Workers? (n.d.). American Psychological Association. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/psychotherapy-professionals
  2. Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress. (2010, September 8). Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://adaa.org/tips
  3. Psychotherapy: Understanding group therapy. (2019, October 31). American Psychological Association. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/topics/psychotherapy/group-therapy
  4. What are the five major types of anxiety disorders? (n.d.). HHS.gov. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from https://www.hhs.gov/answers/mental-health-and-substance-abuse/what-are-the-five-major-types-of-anxiety-disorders/index.html
  5. NIMH » Anxiety Disorders. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorder
  6. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: When Unwanted Thoughts or Repetitive Behaviors Take Over. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved January 17, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-when-unwanted-thoughts-take-overs
  7. Research on Anxiety. (n.d.). American Psychological Association. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety
  8. Gottschalk, M. G., & Domschke, K. (2017). Genetics of generalized anxiety disorder and related traits. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 19(2), 159—168. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5573560/.
  9. NIMH » Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved January 17, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd
  10. Different approaches to psychotherapy. (n.d.). American Psychological Association. Retrieved January 17, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/topics/psychotherapy/approaches
  11. NIMH » Panic Disorder. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/panic-disorder
  12. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: When Unwanted Thoughts or Repetitive Behaviors Take Over. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved January 17, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-when-unwanted-thoughts-take-over
  13. Psychotherapy: Understanding group therapy. (2019, October 31). American Psychological Association. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/topics/psychotherapy/group-therapy
  14. NIMH » Anxiety Disorders. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.