Anxiety disorders can have both genetic and environmental roots.
Photo Credit: Ian Simpson/AlamyKey TakeawaysYou might have inherited the tendency to develop an anxiety disorder from your parents or other close relatives.
Anxiety disorders can also be caused or triggered by traumatic events or other aspects of your environment and life experience.
If you have an anxiety disorder, you might notice signs of the same condition when you look through your family tree. Or you might not.
Unlike some personal traits like eye color and facial features, anxiety in the family isn't always easy to see through the generations. 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. The search for specific genes related to anxiety disorders is in the preliminary phase. Consider this: Researchers analyzed the genetic make-up of 1,065 families — some of whom had OCD — and found that the gene in question was not associated with the disease.
However, in their May 2014 issue of Molecular Psychiatry paper, they drew upon other research to conclude that there still may be a link between our DNA code and the occurrence of OCD, but these ideas still needed to be researched.
The Link Between Genetics and anxiety for most people, genetic risk for anxiety is less likely to be an on/off switch than a complicated mix of genes that can put you at risk for developing anxiety. Even then your anxiety disorder might be different from your relative’s in important ways.“Individuals inherit a predisposition to being an anxious person, [and] about 30 to 40 percent of the variability is related to genetic factors,” explains psychologist Amy Przeworski, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.RELATED: What It's Like to Have an Anxiety AttackA genetic predisposition to anxiety could start young.
Studies have shown that when anxiety develops before age 20, close relatives are more likely to have anxiety as well. A study published in the June 2013 issue of the Journal of Anxiety Disorders underscored that certain anxiety traits correlated with panic disorder are evident by the age of 8. Researchers have tried to better understand the genetics behind anxiety disorders by looking at whether relatives have the same anxiety disorder. They have found that people are at significantly greater risk for panic disorder if they have a twin who has it and at somewhat greater risk for panic disorder if a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, has it.
Studies show that the risk of anxiety tends to run in families, but the role of genetic influence versus the influence of the family environment remains unclear, conclude researchers in an article published in the June 2011 issue of the Journal of Korean Medical Science. As it stands now, experts believe the genes involved may modify your emotional responses in a way that might lead to anxiety.
If two people have a similar mix of genes, whether they develop anxiety or not, could depend on their experiences or environmental risk factors.
Environmental Risk Factors for anxiety some of the environmental risk factors that can trigger anxiety include abuse of all kinds, traumatic events, stressful life events, difficult family relationships, lack of a strong social support system, low-income status, and poor overall health. Research has also suggested that when anxiety develops despite an environment that has none or few of these risk factors; it’s probably due to underlying genetic risk.
Anxiety Treatment StrategiesThe good news is that anxiety treatment, which could include medications and cognitive behavioral therapy, appears to be just as effective for people with a genetic history as for those without, Przeworski says. At least to date, research into the genetic roots of anxiety hasn’t revealed any treatment strategies that might work better than cognitive behavioral therapy.