Even though researchers have spent years looking for it, they have NOT found any anxiety gene. Yet, we often do see a pattern of anxiety running in a family. Does that mean your anxiety is genetic?
Nature or nurture?
This debate really isn’t a debate at all anymore. These days most researchers have come to believe that nurture actually influences nature in important ways.
If a certain gene is present, it does not guarantee that the gene will be expressed or become active. Even identical twins who share the same DNA do not express all of the same characteristics.
In psychiatry, it is now pretty broadly accepted that less than half of your personality type and temperament, such as being prone to anxiety, is due to genetics (nature). The rest is due to all sorts of other factors based on your life experiences (nurture).
What is Epigenetics?
Epigenetics is the growing field of scientific study which explains how factors in your living situation and life experiences can trump your genetic makeup. Your life circumstances and experiences can even cause modifications to your genes! So changes you make now can actually change your genetics for future generations. Big stuff.
Remember: they haven’t actually identified any anxiety gene. But even if there was such a thing as an anxiety gene, and even if you were born with a genetic propensity toward anxiety… epigenetics tells us that you likely won’t actually develop anxiety unless you have been exposed to something in your life trigger it.
Does Anxiety Run in Your Family?
Did your parents, grandparents or siblings have anxiety? Anxiety is a learned behavior. It is a way of thinking, feeling and reacting. Kids pick up on this automatically and subconsciously. Anxiety can “run in the family” that way.
This is very common.
When one of my clients was a child, her mom constantly worried when she left the house. Mom was excessively cautioning her to “be careful… don’t get hurt…don’t be careless…watch out for this or that…” My client recalls hating that as a child and telling herself she would never be like that. Yet, today as an adult she realizes she has become a worry wart.
Sometimes Anxiety is Not Genetic At All
Regardless of genetic factors, anxiety can develop at any time in response to situational factors and stressful life experiences. Particularly childhood experiences that were stressful, traumatic or chaotic can be predictors of whether kids will have anxiety as adults.
The Good News: You Have Control
Whether anxiety is genetic, or a learned response, or results from difficult life experiences, you are not stuck with it.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other holistic, non-medication tools and techniques are highly effective treatments all types of anxiety, worry, and panic attacks.
And that’s true regardless of whether there is a genetic component to it or not! So don’t worry about whether it’s in your genes. And don’t buy into the myth that you are stuck with it because it runs in your family.
The right anxiety treatment can free you from anxiety and maybe even change your genes!