Myth: Anxiety Unwellness (disorder) is Caused by a Genetic Predisposition
Anxiety and Genetic Predisposition
Another long-held belief is that anxiety disorder is caused by a genetic predisposition. This theory came about because researchers noticed that if one person in the family experienced anxiety disorder there was a one in four chance that another person in the family would, as well. Since these researchers didn’t know the actual cause of anxiety disorder, they surmised the reason was due to genes.
But this is an example of another ‘theory,’ which came about purely by speculation and not through actual science.
It’s important to keep in mind that this conclusion was made during the early days of genetic research when not much was known about genes, how they worked, and their influence.
In this case, the ‘evidence’ was circumstantial and not actual. In other words, researchers ‘guessed’ that anxiety disorder was caused by genes, and not that it actually is.
Even after many years of genetic research, as of yet, there is still no ‘anxiety’ gene or ‘set’ of anxiety causing genes. In fact, recent research is disproving the genetic predisposition hypothesis.
Recent identical twin studies found that even though identical twins have identical genes, they often experience completely different medical and mental health outcomes. These different outcomes puzzled researchers initially because it was previously assumed that identical twins should have identical medical and mental health outcomes since their genome is identical. But they don't.
More recent research has found that the reason for the different outcomes is because environment and behavior greatly influence gene expression, which influences the different medical and mental health outcomes.
So rather than genes causing medical and mental health destinies, environment and behavior play the pivotal role. This data disproves that anxiety is caused by a genetic predisposition, since our behaviors determine gene expression rather than it being the other way around.
Unfortunately, in spite of the latest findings, the genetic predisposition for anxiety disorder theory persists in the medical and mental health communities. It's not uncommon to find references to it on many of their websites even today.
But similar to the chemical imbalance theory that was so prevalent only a few years ago, we believe it's only a matter of time until the rest of the medical and mental health communities distance themselves from the genetic predisposition fallacy.
Furthermore, practical evidence disproves the genetic predisposition theory, as well. For example, everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. Does that mean everyone has a genetic predisposition to be anxious? No, not at all. It just means we can all behave anxiously from time to time, since anxiety is caused by a certain style of behavior.
Moreover, many people have overcome problematic anxiety through addressing the behavioral issues at the root of anxiety unwellness. Their success was based on behavioral modification and not ‘gene replacement’ therapy.
Practical experience also shows that anxiety runs in families not because of genes, but because of passed on anxious behaviors. We address this in more detail in Chapter 5 in the Recovery Support area of our website.
So, no, anxiety disorder is not caused by a genetic predisposition. We believe this theory will also succumb to the facts in time, as did the recent demise of the chemical imbalance theory.
How can this myth hamper recovery?
Believing anxiety is caused by a genetic predisposition places the solution outside of our control. If a person believes genes are the reason for a struggle with anxiety unwellness, then there is nothing she can do about it. This conclusion makes her an anxiety victim rather than being empowered to make healthy change.
As we state in our materials, anxiety is a physiological, psychological, and emotional state that occurs when a person behaves apprehensively. So, anxiety is a result of a certain style of behavior and not caused by genes. Dealing with the true cause of anxiety unwellness – unhealthy behavior – solves anxiety unwellness…and for good. When you deal with the cause, you eliminate the problem.
All of us have the ability to overcome anxiety unwellness with the right information, help, effort, and support. No one needs to be a victim of anxiety, especially since anxiety is something we create rather than something we are victims of.
How can this myth make things worse?
Anxiety occurs when we worry that something bad or harmful may happen. If you believe your anxiety is caused by something outside of your control that you can never ‘correct’ or resolve, the implications of that realization could make you feel more anxious, and even depressed. If a person feels they have no hope, this mindset can produce the very outcome they fear and dread, which creates more anxiety and depression.
But if you believe anxiety is merely a behavior you can work at changing, that realization alone can bring hope, which can alleviate a great deal of unnecessary anxiety and feelings of being depressed.
Anxiety isn’t about something that’s ‘gone wrong’ and that you can’t correct. Anxiety is about behavior that all of us can control when we know how.
All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced problematic anxiety and know how out of control it can seem. But we also know that there are many ways we can gain control over it. Getting the right information, help, and support is all that is required to successfully treat anxiety unwellness. No one needs to suffer needlessly!
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - we call these core causes the underlying factors of anxiety - a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.
For more information about our Anxiety Counseling option; our Available Anxiety Therapists; to Book An Appointment with one of our anxiety therapists; common Anxiety Signs and Symptoms; common Anxiety Attack Symptoms; the symptoms of panic attack disorder; anxiety Recovery Support area; information about Anxiety; and our Anxiety 101 section; or click on the appropriate link or graphic below:
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Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated September 2016.