Genetics vs. Environment: What’s the Leading Cause of Anxiety?

If you’ve been feeling out of sorts recently and you’re not sure why, you’re not alone. The world has gone off-kilter since the pandemic, and people just like you are still dealing with the fallout.

Although mental health conditions like anxiety and depression were already prevalent before COVID, a global shutdown and the fear the virus brought with it have created a significant spike in diagnoses all over the world.

But what causes some of us to feel anxiety over changes in our circumstances while others shrug off the same worries and go about their lives? Studies show that the answers are part genetics, part environment. Let’s dig into the leading causes of anxiety and how your risk factors may be impacting your ability to let go of your concerns.

mental health
Photo by Nathan Cowley from Pexels

Understanding Anxiety

The thing about the word “anxiety” is that it’s an often overused term today. People may say they “have anxiety” when they’re simply concerned about a legitimate problem they’re facing, like an important test or a big meeting. Feeling anxious and nervous in those situations is normal, and it can even be a positive stress (eustress) that pushes you to prepare more for the big event.

On the other hand, when you have ongoing distress, or it seems out of proportion with the problem, you might have chronic anxiety. This mental health disorder typically stems from an emotional trigger, such as worry about passing a test because you feel failure could plummet you into a pit you’ll never dig out of. That would likely be disproportionate to the consequences, but you (and others) struggle to convince yourself of that reality.

With anxiety comes the inability to “shake it off” the way others tell you to do. So what causes this deep and life-altering condition? Yours might be passed on through genetics, a product of your environment, or a combination of the two factors.

Photo by Tonik on Unsplash

Genetic Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are characterized by recurring worries and intrusive thoughts or concerns about external or internal things. Your anxiety could be due to something in your genes. Some studies show that those with a family history of anxiety are more likely to develop the condition due to a latent anxiety trait, even if they aren’t raised by their biological parent(s).

Similar to genetic anxiety is medical anxiety. This is still a byproduct of your health, and to address the disorder, you must tackle it from a physiological approach. Medical anxiety usually happens when you have a serious medical condition or are taking a medication that produces the symptoms of anxiety in your body as a side effect.

However, it’s more likely that your anxiety stems from environmental factors, as these are the leading causes of the disorder.

Environmental Anxiety

When you have an anxiety disorder, you tend to live in a way that has you focused on the future. You’re preparing your mind and surroundings to address events as you anticipate them to occur, and these events are always threatening.

This keeps your fight-or-flight response system activated and on high alert most of the time, which causes your brain to continually release stress hormones into your body. You don’t want to live like this. It’s damaging physically, mentally, and socially. But there are many reasons why your environment could be contributing to your feelings of anxiousness.

Similar to genetics, your family might be a reason why you’re more prone to anxiety. Even if you don’t have that latent anxiety trait, if your parents teach you to be always worried, it becomes a product of your upbringing. Additionally, your culture, religion, gender, or race and the society around you may cause you to worry more.

Other leading causes of anxiety disorder include:

● Childhood traumas

● Life stressors (large changes, such as marriage, a move, a career transition, or a death)

● Societal expectations and worries about not meeting them

● Sexual identity or gender dysphoria

● Systemic racism

● Concern for the political or environmental structure of the world

While these forms of anxiety are external and more difficult to control, with professional help, you can understand why you’re feeling the way you do and how to use strategies to move forward.

However, one form of environmental anxiety that may be contributing to your issues is caused by recreational drugs. Unless you quit the substance, it’s going to be extremely challenging to stop your anxious thoughts, even with the best strategies at your disposal.

In general, anxiety is part of human nature, and it can save your life. But when it’s chronic and debilitating, it’s time to reach out for professional help.

Leave a Comment