Our understanding of the inner workings of the human brain is still relatively basic. Moreover, something as intangible as anxiety is difficult to ‘nail down’, from a research point of view.
As such, there is very limited solid data that can be evaluated to provide a definite answer to the question of whether or not anxiety is hereditary.
What we can do is look at the available evidence and draw a sensible conclusion, whilst acknowledging that the conclusion is subject to change.
The Biological Perspective
Upon examining the (limited) conclusions of qualified experts on the matter, a general consensus became apparent – anxiety can leap the generational gap. Mark Dombeck, Ph.D., asserts that there can be “genetic vulnerabilities for anxiety-proneness that are passed on biologically from one generation to the next.”[*]
Three studies cited in an article at The Fear Course suggest links between anxiety and genetics.
One thing is clear – the argument for the impact of genetics on anxiety is far from ironclad. However, the general consensus appears to be that genetics can have an impact. You can be genetically predisposed to anxiety, but the level of impact this predisposition can have is up for debate.
The Behavioral Perspective
What is far more straightforward and universally agreed is that your surroundings in your developmental years can have a major impact on your future predisposition to anxiety.
The logical argument is as follows: if a child spends their time with a parent who is predisposed to anxiety, that child will emulate the same behavioral characteristics. As children, we learn from our surroundings. If we have a parent who has an overtly-anxious nature, we will be inclined to mimic that behavior.[*]
It certainly looks possible that you can be genetically predisposed towards anxiety, and this should be acknowledged. However, what is far more important is that you understand there is nothing you can do about your genetics.
What you can do, in a nutshell, is work on your reaction to stimuli. A genetic predisposition to anything should never be used as an excuse. Doing so is essentially throwing your hands up and surrendering to your anxiety. And that is not acceptable.
If you grew up in an environment that you feel may have promoted your anxiety issues, you should recognize that and use it to your future improvement. If you are seeking therapy then you should certainly tell your therapist all about your background. Often, when you are dealing with issues that are rooted in past experiences, there is a way to ‘unravel’ the damage and start afresh. It is never too late to ‘re-wire’ your brain’s instinctive reactions.