Is Anxiety Inherited?

In a recent conversation with my mother (age 76), the topic of social anxiety came up. This is something I have had a lot of struggles with over the years. We got to talking and I just can’t believe how similar some of our fears and anxieties have been in our lives! It got me wondering if anxiety is inherited.

is anxiety genetic

Now I’ve been talking to my mother for my whole life, but we never really delved too deeply into this subject. When I was a young college student and the frequent panic attacks were making it difficult to stay in class, I didn’t go to my parents.

Unfortunately, our family didn’t have an open communication style in those days.The message I received from my parents was Don’t be dramatic. I remember stealing the insurance card out of my mother’s wallet and going to see a social worker in secret.

Now that I’m middle aged and the times have changed, I can talk to my mother about just about anything. So as I said we were talking about social anxiety and she said, “Didn’t you notice at your wedding, how I couldn’t go around to the tables and talk to all the guests?”

Oh my goodness Mom, no I never noticed that! I was so caught up in being a bride that day. In 24 years she never mentioned this. 🙁

And then she said the same about the 50th wedding anniversary party me and my siblings threw for her and my Dad a few years ago.

She said she was so nervous during the party she couldn’t go around to the tables and talk to her guests.

It made me sad to hear this. Sad for her that she has suffered her whole life and never gotten a bit of help for it.

And also sad that we never spoke about these things over the years.

She always knew that I struggled with anxiety and panic attacks. But she never told me about her struggles. I think I probably wouldn’t have felt so freakish in my own family growing up had she been more forthcoming with me.

It is pretty weird to me that I have had the exact same experience– namely, being very socially anxious at parties. To the point where I freeze and cannot go around and socialize.

I have heard that nervous tendencies can be genetic and I have also heard the opposite. But I have to think there is definitely a component that is inherited.

Anxious Brains Are Inherited, Study Finds. The brain function that underlies anxiety and depression is inherited, a new study finds — but there is still plenty of space for experience and environment to reduce the risk of a full-blown mental disorder. The research focused on rhesus monkeys. Jul 8, 2015. –Source

My own daughter has had her own experience doing battle with anxiety and panic too. She is now a junior in college. Her anxiety started in 2nd grade. That was actually around the time I started experiencing anxiety.

She is handling her anxiety much better that I did.

And I can say that I have handled my anxiety probably a little better than my mother did.

Why is that?

Well, they say there is the inherited component to anxiety, and there is also the experience and the environment components.

In my mother’s case, my case, and my daughter’s case, we all inherited the tendency to be anxious. But we have all dealt with our anxiety in different ways.

My mother is a very devout and religious woman. She prays and goes to church. That is how she has found comfort over the years for her troubles. But as I said, aside from prayer, she never talked about her troubles or got any professional help for herself.

When my daughter started expressing fears about the weather and going to school in 2nd grade, I understood immediately that she needed help beyond what I could do for her. She was afraid and didn’t know how to calm herself down.

I got her into therapy and she also was on Prozac for a short course of time. It helped her.

Her transition to middle school was stressful and I remember her anxiety resurfaced at that time.

I remember when I started this blog and first learned about the Anxiety Free Child Program. How I wish I had that as a resource for my daughter, it really would have helped ME help HER, but she was by then a teenager. (you can read my review of that program here).

Anxiety is such serious business. The thing that sucked for me having an anxious child (besides the fact that she was anxious), was that I myself was an anxious adult, not in any sort of anxiety recovery. Therefore, in addition to my daughter inheriting an anxious brain, she also learned to be anxious and how to deny she was anxious by watching me.

Now this isn’t very easy for me to admit. In fact it hurts. When my girls were little, I did the best I could of course. But I hid my anxiety and was very private and secretive about it. I went to the doctor and took my medication faithfully. And I acted like everything was fine. I didn’t know what else to do frankly.

It was fine sometimes. But sometimes it wasn’t…

When my daughter became phobic of school and the weather, I was out of my mind with worry. And she knew it! That probably wasn’t very helpful. In fact, if anything it probably made things harder for her in some way.

Once I was a little more settled into myself (in my 40s), I actively started practicing massive anxiety self help strategies. I started this blog and just went for it- I read anxiety books and tried just about every anxiety busting program out there. Being trained as an advanced hypnotherapist, I also realized hypnosis could help me, so I did use this and benefited from it.

I took care of my body, mind, and spirit. That is what changed once I matured. I became more balanced in that sense.  And that is also how I live my life today.

Now that I’m middle aged and my girls are pretty much grown and well. I have one with anxiety and one without it.

Sam is now a junior in college and (knock on wood) she is doing ok.

One thing we have today that is an open dialogue about our feelings. I always want to know how my girls are feeling. Like any parent, when your kids are well and happy, you feel well and happy. That said, they know that they are predisposed to anxiety, being that it does run in the family

I like to “check in” every so often and see how my Sam is doing with her anxiety. Especially around times I know are stressful for her, such as during exams, or if she has a big presentation coming up. That type of thing.

And I don’t cover up or deny how I’m feeling either. Without being inappropriate or sharing too much, I have let them known when I was anxious or having a setback. For example, I shared with them a few years ago how my anxiety resurfaced and made flying hard for me on our vacation that year. They were really sweet and kind about the whole thing. Their love and concern really helped in fact 🙂

And you, what are your thoughts on how became anxious? Do you think you inherited it? Or are you someone who just got it seemingly out of nowhere?

Do you think anxiety is genetic? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

I wish you peace,

Jill G.

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4 Responses to Is Anxiety Inherited?

  1. Terralln says:

    Great Post! I would dare say I picked up a lot of my behaviors from my mom. Her rule is, if something scares you, you never ever do it again. That is no way to live & early on I fought hard to push through limits anxiety had put on me. I am so glad I did! I also eat clean & exercise….that is a huge help for me. I was encouraged by my health care provider to also take a probiotic since anxiety starts in the gut. This does seem to help. It is a journey we are on…some things work, some don’t, but it has all made me a kinder more patient woman so for that I am grateful!

    • JillG says:

      Hi Terralin,

      Thank you 🙂

      It’s true, we learn and pick up so much by watching our parents’ behaviors. How wonderful that you have been challenging your fear and anxiety from early on- hats off to you! I too feel better when I exercise and eat right, so I’m in total agreement with you there. I have never heard of taking a probiotic for anxiety. And I also never heard that anxiety starts in the gut. That’s very interesting…

      I love that you see this as a journey and that yours has made you kinder and more patient. That’s turning lemons into lemonade- and the RIGHT attitude to deal with anxiety! Thank you so much for the comment 🙂

  2. Tammy Twiggs says:

    Great post! I have done so much reading about the anxiety/depression genetic connection, and just knowing that I am predisposed helped me to help my two sons, who both suffer from anxiety. If I look to my mom and grandmother, they both have/had it, but self-medicated with alcohol. I did not start treating mine until I hit menopause and it was get well or die! By beginning my own journey, I have been able to assist my sons with their mental health, and they are doing so much better than I ever did at their age. Knowledge is powerful; it gives us what we need to make informed decisions. Thanks for posting!

    • JillG says:

      Tammy I love that you use your knowledge as power. What a wonderful, life-affirming way to deal with the cards you were dealt. I am so loving that you are taking the bull by the horns, so to speak. You are no victim and I applaud that! Your sons are both very blessed to have you as their mom, and I have no doubt they will thrive and live full lives. Thank you for your comment!

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