Is anxiety genetic? The causes of anxiety and when to seek help
A number of factors can put people at risk of developing symptoms of anxiety. But, research suggests that the disorder can, in part, be hereditary.
It's common to experience feelings of anxiety at certain points of life. Especially when you're going through a stressful time, whether that be at work, or in your personal relationships.
However, some people experience more intrusive and consistent symptoms of anxiety, which affect their day-to-day life. The symptoms of GAD include nervousness and restlessness. As well as having trouble concentrating, sleep issues, and in some cases, dizziness and panic attacks.
Is anxiety genetic?
Despite intensive research, experts have not been able to conclusively determine if anxiety is genetic, and its exact causes.
However, there is an undeniable link between genetics and Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
Back in 2002, in a study titled 'Are There Anxious Genes' researchers found that certain chromosomal characteristics are linked to phobias and panic disorder. And in 2015, a study exploring genetic architecture, which analysed mental illnesses in twins, discovered that the RBFOX1 gene may make someone more likely to develop GAD.
In 2017, research titled 'Genetics of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Related Traits' found that GAD can be inherited, and that it is linked to a number of different genes.
How is anxiety diagnosed?
Anxiety disorders are common in both adults and children.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 18% of US adults and 25% of teenagers (aged 13-18) will experience anxiety at some point. And nearly 4% of adults and 6% of adolescents have anxiety disorders that are classed as severe.
If you suspect that you have an anxiety disorder, the first port of call is to speak to your doctor. They will then recommend you to a mental health expert, such as a psychiatrist or counsellor.
To get a diagnosis, you will speak about your feelings, thoughts and behaviour. The healthcare professional will also discuss your symptoms.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Speaking to SELF, clinical psychologist Monique Reynolds, explained the science behind why we experience anxiety.
"Anxiety is a reaction to a situation we perceive as stressful or dangerous. A major part of our brain's job is to keep us alive, and fear and anxiety are a big part of that. You feel very much the way you do when in a dangerous situation…[but] there’s no real danger there," she said.
Feelings of anxiety vary from person to person. However, there are several common symptoms of GAD, according to the NHS.
These include excessive worrying, restlessness, or difficulty concentrating, memory problems, anxiety attacks, sleep issues, irritability, and muscle aches.
How do you treat anxiety?
As Reyolds continues to SELF: "When your world starts to become limited because of anxiety, that is a good signal that it's time to seek treatment. What is it doing to your life, your relationships, your sleep, health, work, and ability to learn and pursue things that are important to you?"
But luckily, anxiety can effectively be treated in a number of ways.
Therapy is a popular way to treat GAD. Therapy helps you explore your feelings and thoughts, and this can provide you with tools to manage the symptoms of anxiety when they arise.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is another common treatment. This involves your psychologist helping you to notice and change your thought and behavioural patterns. This is especially useful when it comes to dealing with panic disorders and anxiety attacks.
Medication can also be used to treat anxiety
Medication also helps patients manage GAD. There are many types of drugs that treat anxiety, and you may have to try out several kinds before you find the option that works best for you.
Each medication has its advantages and disadvantages. Drugs are not necessary to treat anxiety, but they can be useful for some people.
What helps anxiety naturally?
Changing your lifestyle can help ease anxiety, according to the NHS, who state that a few changes can make a marked difference.
These include getting more exercise, and eating a healthy and balanced diet.
Other measures that can help are:
- Reducing your intake of caffeine
- Avoiding recreational drugs and alcohol
- Getting the right amount of sleep
- Keeping a journal to record your feelings
- Relaxation techniques, including mindfulness, yoga and meditation
- Use calming breathing exercises
- Reducing stress
- Speaking openly to trusted people about your symptoms and issues
During the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it is also advisable to moderate your news consumption. Speaking to the Time's Up foundation, healthcare and clinical psychiatrist, Kali Cyrus, advises being mindful of the content we consume online:
"One thing I would do is limit news consumption. Too much news will drive you more insane. For folks who are getting triggered by the news, set boundaries, for example by listening to the morning news or before you go to bed, but allowing yourself not to listen to it or watch it on the television all day long."
Can you fully recover from anxiety?
Remember, GAD is likely to be a chronic condition, which means that symptoms may not completely disappear. But, they can be managed with help.
Often, people report the best outcomes by engaging in a mix of therapy and lifestyle changes. In some instances, medication may be necessary.
Ultimately, there are a number of causes of anxiety. While it can be genetic, it is also influenced by a number of things, including short and long-term lifestyle factors.
If you are suffering from symptoms of anxiety, please consult with a healthcare professional. You can also contact the Samaritans if you would like some support, as well as someone to speak to. You can call at 116 123, or email at [email protected].