Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States and affect both children and adults of all ages and backgrounds. Anxiety disorders are characterized by extreme stress and worry that interfere with the individual’s everyday life. Causes range from underlying medical conditions, genetic and biological factors, substance abuse, childhood trauma to cognitive disorders, co-occurring mental health disorders, and eating disorders. Anxiety does stem from both genetics and learned behavior. Our predisposition to be anxious, to have heightened anxiety reactions, and even to suffer from anxiety disorders definitely has a genetic component, and often we can see predisposing signs and symptoms from our parents’ actions and behaviors.

One of your parents was anxious all the time

If your parents or grandparents had anxiety disorders or were ‘high strung’ or ‘stressed out’ all the time, there is a decent chance that you inherited some of those genetic traits. Maybe your mom was always stressed out about getting you to school in the mornings, or your dad was always under pressure from his job and took it out at the dinner table. These high strung and anxious behaviors over time, most likely affected how you handle stress and anxiety.

Your parents were cold and unattached

Your environment and how you were raised can drive your anxiety. If your parents were cold and distant, or highly authoritative, then your anxiety could stem from their parenting practices, even if they never had an anxiety problem. Physical affection, words of affirmation, and a warm, welcoming personality can help a child feel secure, and loves were as distant, and unattached parenting can lead a child to feel uncomfortable and on edge.

Your parents did not handle stress well

If your mom had a fit over the smallest things and your dad become angry daily over external factors, this stress could have easily rubbed off onto you. Even if your parents did not handle big traumatic moments such as a death in the family, appropriately, these traumatic experiences most likely shaped how you now deal with stress.

Your parents self-soothed in unhealthy ways

Dealing with stress and anxiety is half the battle. If you learned to use healthy coping skills to work through your anxiety and negative feels then you are more likely to live a happy and healthy life however if you grew up in a household where your parents dealt with their stress and anxiety in unhealthy ways, such as reaching for alcohol, cigarettes, or by getting super angry, then there’s a chance you never learned how to manage anxiety in a healthy manner.

You and your parents get anxious about the same things

If you and your parents get anxious about the same sort of things, such as traveling, socializing in big groups, or changing jobs, this may be an anxiety pattern you learned from your family.

Treating anxiety

Although genetics and background do play a prominent role in the development of anxiety disorders, treatment is always available regardless of how old you are or where you are at in terms of your anxiety disorder. Treatment aims at teaching healthy coping skills as a way to work through the negative thought cycle that leads to anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most commonly used and widely accepted psychotherapy treatments for anxiety. This treatment modality uses a combination of interventions such as worry exposure, applied-relaxation, psychoeducation, cognitive restructuring and problem-solving skills to educate the individual about their triggers and symptoms and then uses behavioral modifications to release their irrational thoughts and anxiety triggers.

Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy in which the individual is exposed to the trigger or threat for a repeated number of times until the feared stimulus or response is eliminated. Exposing an individual to images of crowded malls or train stations who becomes anxious in congested spaces is an example of imaginal exposure therapy. Over time this individual will become more comfortable with the image and will be able to venture into crowded areas without having this unrealistic fear.