Are Anxiety Disorders Hereditary?

January 27th, 2013

By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

Do you believe that you were born a worrier, panicker, or phobic? Have you been told that worry and panic “run in the family?” The medical establishment and the popular media would like you to think so. You might even think so yourself. For years, researchers studying anxiety disorders thought so, too. The idea that people are born worriers, panickers, or phobics stems from the belief that biology and heredity are at the core of anxiety disorders. Now, the research is showing us that genes and biology are only a small part of the equation.

So what does this mean?

It means that people aren’t born with anxiety disorders. Researchers (e.g., Leonardo & Hen, 2006) have found that the genetic contribution to anxiety disorders is about 30-40%. While your genes may make you more vulnerable to an anxiety problem, it’s not the same as inheriting an anxiety disorder.

So what makes an anxiety problem cross the line to an anxiety disorder? A lot of it has to do with how you relate to anxiety and fear – what you do about anxious feelings and thoughts. How you relate to anxiety is important because it’s something you can control and change.

You can’t change your genes, but you can change what you do when anxious thoughts and feelings come up. And that makes a world of difference when you’re feeling anxious or worried.



Leonardo, E. D., & Hen, R. (2006). Genetics of affective and anxiety disorders. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 117-137.

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