Previous studies have found that depression is partially hereditary, and now we've got more unfortunate news on the "Can I get it from my parents?" front: New studies are suggesting that anxiety may be hereditary, too. A research group from the University of Wisconsin - Madison, led by Dr. Ned Kalin, recently published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that indicates your parents may be responsible for both your likelihood developing and your expression of anxiety.
In the study, Kalin and his team studied the behavior of rhesus monkeys (for the curious, rhesus monkeys look like adorable little old men) and found that eleveted levels of anxiety and depression in certain parts of the brain were passed down every generation. How did they figure this out? They took 600 monkeys from the same famly and exposed them to mildly anxiety-inducing experiments — one of them being, for example, exposure to a stranger who wouldn't make eye contact with them. The team imaged the monkey's brains and found that a younger monkey was much more likely to experience anxiety if there was significant family history of it.
Even though about 40 million adults in the United States suffer from anxiety disorders (and the number is much larger when children and teens are added to the mix), we are still constantly learning about it and other mental health illnesses, including where they come from, how best to treat them, and what can be done to prevent them. Here are three other facts about anxiety you should know, besides the fact that it may be genetic.
1. There are many different kinds of anxiety disorders.
Many people are familiar with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) which is characterized by chronic worry about day-to-day things, but there are a lot of other ways people experience anxiety as well. These include, but are not limited to: panic disorder, which causes people to experience sudden bouts of terror and physical pain; obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which can cause people to experience unwanted thoughts or perform rituals when its inconvenient or distressing; post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which causes people to have painful flashbacks to stressful events; and social anxiety disorder, which can cause people to refrain from social situations because of a variety of fears. Many experience more than one form of anxiety at the same time.
2. A healthy diet and exercise may reduce anxiety.
Fast food, processed foods, sweets, and beers are usually found to contribute to higher anxiety levels. Poultry, vegetables, fish, fruits, seeds, nuts, fermented foods, and other natural foods are recommended to reduce anxiety, as well as exercise and meditation. An important note, however, about exercise: While it can be effective for a lot of people, exercise doesn't work for everyone as a form of therapy, and it's important not to undermine people's differences in preferred treatment.
3. Just because you worry sometimes doesn't mean you have an anxiety disorder.
Being stressed or sad about things like breakups, paying bills, or public speaking doesn't necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder. But if these things are constant worries that cause severe distress, cause you to avoid social situations, or change your routine in a way that causes you inconvenience, they might be — use your judgment, and visit a doctor if you think you might be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
To learn more about anxiety you can find resources at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and the National Institute of Mental Health.
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