How to avoid passing anxiety on to your children

If you're a parent with an anxiety disorder, I'm sure you've worried about passing it along to your child. But how hereditary is anxiety? And is there a way to prevent your child from experiencing it all?

To understand the answers, let's look a little closer at what anxiety really is...

Here's the good news, anxiety is a normal human emotion. You might feel anxious when you have to take a test or perform a task for the first time. Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life. Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, can cause distress to the point that they interfere with a person's ability to lead a normal life. 

You're probably familiar with anxiety disorders to some point. Just in case you're not, here's the definition according to the DSM IV (the diagnostic manual for mental health professionals). I could go on, but I want to try and stick closer to the subject at hand - how we can avoid passing on anxiety disorders to our children.

So here are the big questions :

Are anxiety disorders hereditary?
The exact cause of anxiety disorders is not known, however there are multiple factors that can contribute to someone experiencing anxiety at these levels - environmental stresses*, and biology.

Yes, we're back to nature vs. nurture or nature and nurture combined.

So while a parent may pass along a genetic disposition for an anxiety disorder, it's not a guarantee that their child will have one. Studies have shown that it's typically a combination of  environmental stresses and genetic disposition*. 

What can we do as a family as a preventative measure?
According to a recent article from NPR and The American Journal of Psychiatry, families where at least one parent had been diagnosed with anxiety disorder, showed a much lower incidence of anxiety disorders in their children after attending 8 weeks of family therapy (vs. families who only received a handout on anxiety disorders).  

The results showed that the incidence of anxiety disorders was 5% in families attending therapy vs. 31% in the other group. By the way 30% is , coincidentally, the likelihood that you'll develop an anxiety disorder if one or both of your parents have one according to Child Anxiety Disorders: A Guide to Research and Treatment 2nd Edition. 

The researchers in this study suggested that prevention may be key, proposing that if families received a yearly mental health checkup, perhaps they could reduce their odds of developing an anxiety disorder. 

What do you think? I love the idea of a yearly checkup. I think we all could benefit from a little one on one therapy, even if it's short term.


Anxiety Disorders | Center for Behavioral Health | Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2015.

Beidel, D., & Alfano, C. (2011). Child Anxiety Disorders A Guide to Research and Treatment, 2nd Edition. (2nd ed.). Hoboken: Taylor & Francis.

What Parents Can Do To Avoid Passing Anxiety On To Their Kids. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2015.

*This can range anywhere from experiencing/witnessing a traumatic event, to receiving cues from others that something isn't "safe"
* Studies show that about 30% of the risk in developing an anxiety disorder is attributed to genetic factors -(Bolton et al., 2006; Eley, Rijsdijk, Perrin, O'Connor, & Bolton, 2008)

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