“All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced debilitating anxiety. But we’ve also overcome it and returned to normal and lasting health. Because we know the hardship anxiety unwellness can cause, we are committed to helping others, with over 30 years of service.” - Jim Folk, President, anxietycentre.com

Anxiety Disorder Is Caused By A Genetic Predisposition

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: December 3, 2019

anxiety disorder caused by a genetic predisposition

Anxiety Disorder Myth #2: Anxiety Disorder Is Caused By A Genetic Predisposition

Another common belief is that anxiety disorder and its symptoms are caused by a genetic predisposition. This theory became popular 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. This observation led to the conclusion that anxiety disorder must be genetically linked.

Is this conclusion accurate?

It’s well established that anxiety disorders run in families.[1] But is the reason genetic or something else?

Even though the study of genetics is well underway, we’re still in its infancy with a great deal yet to learn.

For instance, it was previously thought that genes determined many aspects of our lives and that our destinies were “hard-wired” to the genes we inherited.

But that’s not what researchers found. It was discovered that behavior and environment played a major role in how genes expressed.[2] This discovery led to the study of epigenetics – the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.

Even after years of genetic research, as of yet, there is still no “anxiety gene” or “set of anxiety genes.” Likely, they will never be found, such as researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) recently concluded about depression.

The enormous study, published in the American Journal Of Psychiatry, found that after investigating candidate genes for depression, the 18 candidate genes most commonly referred to in previous research were no more influential than genes picked out at random.[3]

The team concluded that early theories about “depression candidate genes” were wrong.

"This study confirms that efforts to find a single gene or handful of genes which determine depression are doomed to fail.” said first study author Richard Border, who is a researcher and graduate student in CU Boulder's Institute for Behavioral Genetics.

Regarding finding candidate genes for depression, senior study author Dr. Matthew C. Keller said:

"There's just nothing there. I hope this is the final nail in the coffin for those kind[s] of studies."

Dr. Keller didn’t intend to say that depression is not heritable, but if it is, depression is likely influenced by many, many variants with each variant having a minuscule effect.

Notice the word “likely.” Here again, the genetic predisposition link is speculation.

At this time, no one knows the full extent of how our genes affect behavior. Indeed, more research is required.

But we do know some things.

We know that our environment and behavior have significant influence over gene expression,[4] which accounts for identical twins having vastly different medical and mental health outcomes.

Rather than genes causing medical and mental health destinies, environment and behavior play a pivotal role.

In spite of the latest research, the genetic predisposition for anxiety disorder theory persists. It's not uncommon to find references to it on many medical and mental health websites even though the theory remains speculation.

While there is much exuberance about what genes can and can’t do, much of genetic science remains unknown.

Other causes for the development of anxiety disorder

Even though the genetic link to the development of anxiety disorder is theorized, research is clear about other causes.

For instance, experiencing early life trauma, poverty, cross-generational transmission, abandonment, and so on are well-established factors in the development of anxiety disorder.[5][6]

These are the factors we regularly see when working with anxious clients.

In my opinion, these are the factors that should be emphasized rather than a “theory” about a genetic predisposition.

Even if there is a genetic link

Even if it is determined that there is a genetic predisposition to the development of anxiety disorder, genes are not our destiny.[7]

Research has not only shown that talk therapy is an effective treatment for anxiety disorder,[8][9] it’s the “Gold Standard” treatment because of its effectiveness.[10]

Research has also shown that mind/body interventions can change our DNA and that talk therapy changes the brain.

Again, even IF there is a genetic link, anxiety disorder can be successfully overcome with the right information, therapy, and support.[11]

How can this myth hamper recovery?

Our ability to overcome anxiety disorder could be undermined if we believe our behavior is at the mercy of our genes.

This perception can make us victims of anxiety disorder rather than empowering us to make healthy change.

As we state in our materials, anxiety is a physiological, psychological, and emotional state that occurs when we behave apprehensively.

Therefore, anxiety is a result of a certain style of behavior and not caused by genes. Dealing with the true cause of anxiety disorder – unhealthy apprehensive behavior that is motivated by unhealthy underlying factors – solves the anxiety disorder problem.

When you successfully address the cause of anxiety disorder, you eliminate the anxiety disorder problem and its symptoms.

All of us have the ability to overcome anxiety disorder when we access the right information, help, and support, and when we do the required work.

How can this myth make things worse?

Anxiety is caused by apprehensive behavior. If you believe your anxiety is caused by your DNA, which is outside of your control, you might also conclude there is nothing you can do about it.

The implications of that realization could make you feel more anxious, and even depressed.

If you believe you have no hope, this mindset can produce the very outcome you dread – trapped in an anxious life with no hope of ever escaping it – which can create more anxiety and depression.

But if you believe there is a lot you can do to overcome issues with anxiety, that realization alone can bring hope and encouragement, both of which can alleviate a great deal of anxiety and hopelessness.

Anxiety isn’t about something that’s “gone wrong” in the brain that you can’t correct. Anxiety is about behavior we can change.

All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced anxiety disorder and know how out of control it can seem. But we’ve also overcome it and know it can be successfully overcome with the right information, help, and support.

Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder and its symptoms.

No one needs to suffer needlessly!


The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources:

Return to Anxiety Myths.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including that anxiety disorder is caused by a genetic predisposition.


1. Telman, Liesbeth, et al. "What are the odds of anxiety disorders running in families? A family study of anxiety disorders in mothers, fathers, and siblings of children with anxiety disorders." European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Nov. 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5945734/

2. Tyson, Frederick, et al. "Environmental Influences on Epigenetic Regulation." Environmental Health Perspectives, Dec. 2005, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1314949/

3. Border, Richard, et al. "No Support for Historical Candidate Gene or Candidate Gene-by-Interaction Hypotheses for Major Depression Across Multiple Large Samples." The American Journal of Psychiatry, 8 Mar 2019, https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.18070881

4. Lobo, Ingrid. "Environmental Influences on Gene Expression." Nature Education, 2008, https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/environmental-influences-on-gene-expression-536

5. Lebowitz, Eli, et al. "Cross-generational influences on childhood anxiety disorders: pathways and mechanisms." Journal of Neural Transmission, May 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5007197/

6. Meghan Crosby Budinger, Tess K. Drazdowski, Golda S. Ginsburg. Anxiety-Promoting Parenting Behaviors: A Comparison of Anxious Parents with and without Social Anxiety Disorder. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 2012; DOI: 10.1007/s10578-012-0335-9

7. Cloud, John. "Why Genes Aren't Destiny." III[.I1 Why Genes Aren’t Destiny (n.d.): n. pag. MIT Biology. Web.

8. Hofmann, Stefan G., et al. “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3584580/.

9. Driessen, Ellen, et al. "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Mood Disorders: Efficacy, Moderators and Mediators." Psychiatry Clinics of North America, Sep. 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2933381/

10. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017, jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2654783.

11. DISCLAIMER: Because each body is somewhat chemically unique, and because each person will have a unique mix of symptoms and underlying factors, recovery results may vary. Variances can occur for many reasons, including due to the severity of the condition, the ability of the person to apply the recovery concepts, and the commitment to making behavioral change.