Have you ever heard someone say that he got his anxiety from his mother, or his grandmother?
Years ago, my ex-husband said to me “Oh, you come from a long line of crazy. That explains a lot.”
It was meant as an insult, of course, but the truth is, mental health issues are throughout my family tree.
My grandmother had chronic depression her entire life, and her father was known for violent mood swings – woe be to anyone who came near his walking stick when he was “in a mood”.
Anxiety reared its head in other branches of my family, with a lot of self-medicating that locals here call “a bad breath problem.”
With such a long history of “crazy” in my family – anxiety, depression, alcoholic “medication”, and mood swings – are my children and I doomed to repeat the past? Are we pre-programmed for mental health problems?
Well, there’s no doubt I have a tendency towards it. I have struggled with chronic mild depression, anxiety, and other problems. But is a tendency the same as a destiny?
Scientists and doctors have been trying to understand panic attacks and anxiety disorders for quite a while now. In all their studies, they haven’t yet found conclusive evidence as to what causes acute stress responses in some people. They don’t know why it happens to some and not others.
They do have a lot of theories, though! Let’s take a look at some.
Can You Inherit Panic Attacks and Anxiety?
This is a big one, isn’t it?
It’s why we say things like “Oh, she’s got bad nerves like her father.”
There’s no doubt that heredity plays a role in panic disorders and anxiety. It’s not actually that anxiety disorders are heredity, but a lot of the factors that cause you to have anxiety may be genetic.
I know, that sounds like splitting hairs. It’s not that it’s heredity, but it may be genetic. Same thing? Not quite.
So my great-grandfather may have had panic disorder and severe anxiety, making him lash out and attack. (And I’m guessing, because no one who knew him is alive.)
That doesn’t mean that I or any of his descendants will automatically have the same issue. There isn’t a specific gene that gets passed along.
But if I – or my father, or some of my cousins – inherit the same genes that control brain chemistry, and we inherit the same body reaction to chemicals in our brains, we may well develop anxiety disorders.
His daughter, my grandmother, certainly had depression and anxiety issues throughout her long life. When she moved into the nursing home and complained about it, her oldest friend said “Oh, Emma, you weren’t happy in Middle River and you’re not happy here!”
So heredity can predispose you to anxiety and depression.
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Quite a few significant studies have linked childhood environment and the development of anxiety disorders.
When you’re young, if you’re around people who are fearful and anxious, you stand a good chance of adopting those habits and behaviours.
Or if, like my grandmother, you see anxiety expressed as anger, you’re likely to repeat that behaviour. I loved my Grandma, but oh, she could be mean! I thought she’d live forever because Death would be too scared to come take her.
If you are pulled back and discouraged every time, as a child, you try to do things, you are more likely to decide that the world is a scary, dangerous place. Later, when you enter high stress environments as an adult, all of that childhood training can have a major impact on your reactions.
If you haven’t learned how to actively manage anxiety as a child, stress can eat away at your body’s ability to handle it. There’s a surefire way to develop an anxiety disorder.
There are many theories that connect how well you take care of yourself physically and emotionally to panic disorders.
Did you know that many people who suffer from panic disorders are low in magnesium?
And brain chemistry is directly connected to what you eat and exercise or physical movement. Someone who eats nutrient rich foods and takes good care of their body is less likely to suffer panic attacks.
And because many studies have shown a direct connection to brain chemistry and panic attacks, it makes sense that taking care of your health can make a difference.
There are many unknowns when it comes to brain chemistry.
What causes it to change?
How does it affect your body?
How does it contribute to panic attacks?
What scientists do know is that the chemical and hormonal changes in your brain can impact panic disorders and panic attacks.
While there are many potential causes for panic disorders, one thing is certain – panic and anxiety disorders are treatable.
If you believe you have a panic or anxiety disorder, visit your physician and get help.