Is Anxiety Hereditary?

Updated January 22, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers


Have you ever wondered why two individuals experiencing similar life events have such different and opposing psychological reactions and coping mechanisms? While one may have full control over their composure in dealing with life's obstacles, the other might feel completely stressed out!

Most of us have come across the hostile symptoms of anxiety; whether taking an exam, speaking in front of a large audience, or preparing for a date, there are times that feeling of nervousness and apprehension, might seem challenging to stop even in seemingly ordinary situations. So what's going on and what makes you so restless? What is the reason that the people around you performing the same tasks seem much more relaxed? Does it have anything to do with how you were born or is it something you've developed in the course of life?

Anxiety Hereditary Facts

Anxiety is not always hereditary. However, studies have shown those with certain genes or genetic variation may have a higher risk of it. A study sponsored by The National Institute of Mental Health has established that genetics do play a part in at least some portion of the population experiencing an anxiety disorder.

Where statistics are concerned, individuals having family-members with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are believed to be nearly ten times more likely to be diagnosed with it during their lifetime. Around half of all patients experiencing panic disorder have one or more relatives who have been diagnosed with it. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is slightly less hereditary with only 40% of patients having family members with a similar diagnosis. Scientists have discovered many individuals with mental health issues in the family have differences in the genes that regulate the brain's neurotransmitters. The way the brain regulates glutamate and serotonin may be different for those who have a family history of anxiety disorders.

While heredity may be one of the reasons, other elements such as environmental influences like family issues, work pressure, or a traumatic event may cause someone with no family history to develop an anxiety disorder. While it is still too early to answer the question " is anxiety hereditary," but there is enough evidence to verify that genetics again do play a significant role in shaping an individual's psychological and emotional behavior.

'Genetic Variations, or Genetic Variability' might have more influence on a person's reaction to nerve-wracking environments than genetics itself. You will learn more about it as you progress through the article.


For now, it is essential to note that individuals should pay close attention to their reactions to stress and seek professional help if they believe they have anxiety issues regardless of their family history. Experts at can guide you through your journey to overcoming and beating anxiety once and for all.

The Link Between Genetics And Anxiety

'Genetic Variation, or Genetic Variability' is one broad factor that is associated with causing depression and anxiety in adolescents. Research suggests that one or more genetic variations may both enhance as well as diminish the risk of anxiety advancements in young adults. Such findings are based on an interesting hypothesis known as 'Differential Susceptibility,' which suggests that individuals' emotional development is associated with the interaction of genetic variations with 'environmental factors,' which may be in the form of stressful events, family problems, social difficulties, or something else along the same lines. The presence of these differences might explain a lot why different personalities have distinctive responses to the same situations.

According to recent research, the presence of a specific allele combination (one of the possible variant forms of a gene) - 'ss' in the 5-HITLPR region of DNA, is associated with increased levels of depression in the presence of a high-stress environment. At the same time, the same research states that people with this allele combination are likely to experience lower levels of anxiety in non-stressful environments when compared to those who do not exhibit this genetic combination.

Our Brain's Chemistry To Stressful Environments And The Role Of Genetic Variation

Let's have a quick talk about receptors. We have neurons all throughout our bodies that communicate with each other through chemicals known as 'neurotransmitters.' One such neurotransmitter is anandamide, or the bliss chemical, which (you guessed it) is responsible for joy, happiness, and comfort. It plays a crucial role in mediating things like pain, appetite, and depression and is synthesized in the narratives of our brains that are important in memory motivation and movement control. The levels of anandamide neurotransmitters in our body are maintained by FAAH or fatty acid amide hydrolase which converts the excessive anandamide to other fatty acids.


Here, we arrive at an inference which draws a question mark. What if a gene variation occurs which causes an individual to have less FAAH than normal?

Much to your surprise, as much as one-fifth of the adult population is lucky enough to have the variation, causing the anandamide levels in their bodies to persist longer in sending delightful chemical messages even in tense situations.

While all this might sound a little too complex for most of us, it goes on to prove that genetics do play their role in anxiety and depression. What is still yet to be known, is the extent of their effect.

Factors That Contribute More Towards Anxiety

While we've already established that genetics do play some role in anxiety, other factors appear to contribute more towards their development. Environmental elements and the way a person's brain functions are believed to have a much greater impact.

Brain Chemistry: Anxiety has been known to be connected with the irregular functioning of certain neurotransmitters which can disrupt the proper transfer of messages in the brain. This might cause an altercation in the way our brain reacts to certain events, leading to anxiety. Also, areas of the brain that are responsible for regulating mood and emotions are often believed to function abnormally in individuals with anxiety disorders. For example, a malformed link between the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system may restrict an individual's risk evaluating capability to make the right decisions, popularly known as 'fear generalization.'

Environmental Factors: This probably has to be the most dominant element responsible for anxiety. Trauma or shocking incidents, such as the death of a close family member or friend, abuse, divorce, or getting used to a new environment, may have a big hand in contributing towards anxiety-related issues, especially when it comes to Generalized Anxiety Disorders (GAD), a condition characterized by excessive and persistent worry about certain events. Also, using or withdrawing from substances like caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and other addictive elements can also worsen the condition.

Is It Normal To Have Occasional Anxiety?

What we haven't yet discussed are the differences between feeling anxious at some point in life and having an actual anxiety disorder. In the fullness of time, there will occur a situation or an event that will make you feel anxious. One might be scared to sing in front of people while another might feel nervous to talk to a stranger.

While each of us might get restless in different and specific situations, we all know that more often than not these feelings of worry, nervousness, and excitement are temporary and might last only for a little while.


An anxiety disorder, however, has a much greater impact on your life and might be very debilitating. Unlike just being scared about a test you know will pass pretty soon and is only minimal as it happens for a very short time, an anxiety disorder is prolonged and sometimes can even last for days even after the test is over. The feelings of uneasiness don't fade for good; they keep going and going! Like said earlier, an anxiety disorder can be very debilitating and can affect your whole life to the point that simple tasks like going to the departmental store for groceries might seem intimidating.

Still trying to decide if you have an anxiety disorder, hereditary related or not, The biggest factors that separate feeling anxious from an anxiety disorder are the physical symptoms. One might have tightness in the chest, find it difficult to breathe, have pain in the stomach, get a headache, always feel tired, experience insomnia, or have a high-speed pulse. These symptoms might also be visible with normal anxiety but when it comes to a disorder they might last for much longer, sometimes can even go on for weeks or even months.

Final Thoughts

Although the genetics vs. environment argument when it comes to anxiety might not be solved anytime soon, that shouldn't stop you from being proactive and working on your issues. Keep in mind that feelings of anxiety are temporary and might occur for a certain period depending on the cause, while an anxiety disorder is a mental illness that shows its symptoms even when the event triggering it might have perished a long time ago. This brings us to a conclusion - it certainly is normal to have occasional anxiety, but when it comes to an anxiety disorder, it isn't something that should be easily ignored. If you feel you are experiencing anxiety that negatively affects your life, reaches out to a professional counselor, who has the tools to help you overcome your negative thoughts and feelings once and for all.

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