Anxiety and anxiety disorders cause a lot of suffering, and often for no clear reason. Anxiety comes from worry and stress over things the brain has identified as a potential threat, even if they are completely illogical. Take for example, triskaidekaphobia, or fear of Friday the 13th. It’s not reasonable to be afraid of a date, but people still suffer from this disorder and a couple times a year will be in a panic over a date.
What we have learned is that anxiety comes from both environmental and genetic factors. The environment is everything outside of the self, both things found in nature, and normal human events, like divorce or job loss. The genetic factors, however, are encoded in our DNA, and increase the likelihood of any one of us suffering from a crippling anxiety disorder.
Genetics will increase the likelihood of certain outcomes. For example a person’s genes will have a lot of influence over their height. This does not mean, however, that their genes will solely determine how tall a person will be; their environment impacts how their traits will develop from their genes. Staying with the example of a person’s height, if a person grows up very poor and does not get enough of the right nutrients, or barely gets food at all, this severely impacts the body’s growth potential, making that person shorter than someone who gets proper nutrition, even though both their genes may be coded to be tall.
The same is true for anxiety. Looking at specific anxiety disorders, like Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), or panic disorder, evidence strongly suggests that there is a genetic link to them. What has been shown is that anxiety disorders have a strong correlation to run in families, giving evidence to it being genetic. Looking at twins that have been raised apart, the twins are equally likely to suffer from an anxiety-based condition, making it less likely that it is a learned or environmental factor, if they grew up in different environments. Although the genetic markers are not clear yet, researchers are working to find them in order to help understand anxiety and its origins better.
Whether it is environmental or genetic, what is true about anxiety is that it can be managed and eliminated with the right form of treatment. If you or someone you care about are struggling with anxiety, and it is beginning to impact your life, please reach out for help. The sooner you seek help, the sooner relief will come, and the easier it will be to treat the anxiety.