“It is not a question of genes versus environment. It is a question of how genes interact with whatever the environmental factors might be. And that is probably true of all of the disorders that we call mental illness.” ~ Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institutes of Mental Health
Anxiety: It’s Not All in Your Head
With modern life’s stresses and increasing complexity, many struggle to find a sense of calm amidst the noise. They may wonder whether their anxiety is ‘normal’ everyday anxiety or a genetic condition.
Anxiety disorders encompass a broad range of conditions and are among the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions.
Anxiety Disorders include:
- Social Anxiety Disorder: intense fear and anxiety around social situations.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: chronic anxiety, tension, and worry centered around everyday experiences and situations.
- Panic Disorder: anxiety leading to recurring panic attacks.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder: an intense fear of losing your loved ones or the important people in your life.
While not technically anxiety disorders, according to the American Psychiatric Association, these disorders still include anxiety as a significant symptom:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Acute Stress Disorder
- Adjustment Disorder
Studies have shown that if a person has a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with an anxiety disorder, they are at a higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder themselves.
Research also suggests that there may be a genetic component to their development, and researchers have identified specific genes that may contribute to the development of anxiety disorders.
Genetic Risk Factors for Anxiety
While many genetic factors may increase the risk of anxiety, below are a few foundational genes that can impact anxiety and associated personality and behavior traits.
COMT is a gene that encodes for the COMT enzyme that metabolizes neurotransmitters.
Those with the slow variation of COMT have been described as “worriers”, vs. the fast-COMT variations being more associated with a “warrior” type attitude to challenges.
Those with the slow COMT variation also tend to have a greater response to noradrenaline, one of our major stress neurotransmitters, increasing the anxiety response and being more prone to obsessive-compulsive thinking and behaviors.
ADRA2B is a gene associated with the sensitivity of noradrenaline binding, with the suboptimal variations being associated with an increased memory of adverse events and an increased likelihood of developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
5HTTLPR is a gene associated with the secretion and reuptake of serotonin, where suboptimal variations increase the likelihood an individual will have an increased sensitivity to stress and an increased fear response.
The BDNF gene encodes Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF), which helps the brain recover from physical or mental trauma.
Suboptimal variations are associated with personality characteristics such as introversion and neuroticism, and those with specific suboptimal variations have been shown to have a more significant attention bias to social threats.
Genetics, however, is not the only factor that contributes to anxiety. Environmental factors, such as a history of trauma or stress, can also play a significant role.
In addition, the interplay between genetics and the environment can be complex and challenging.
It’s also important to remember that just because anxiety may run in the family doesn’t mean every family member will develop an anxiety disorder. Many factors contribute to the development of anxiety, and genetics is only one of them.
Next Steps to Reduce Your Anxiety Levels
While anxiety disorders can run in families and genetics may play a role, it is not the only factor contributing to their development. Genetic and environmental factors likely contribute to the development of anxiety disorders.
Whatever kind of anxiety you are struggling with, you have what it takes inside you to make a definite choice that will change the future trajectory of your health.
Our team at Tiger Medical has the experience, clinical skills, and coaching acumen to help you regain your health and sense of calm.
To talk to one of our professionals, click here to schedule your call!
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