Is Anxiety Genetic?

Why can some people more easily take life's challenges in stride while others feel stressed out? Do our genes predispose us to being anxious? Or do our environments and life experiences dictate how mellow we are? Everyday Einsten explores new research linking genetics to our stress levels.

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #138

Both the humans and mice with the gene variation, and thus excess anandamide, were able to more quickly forget those feelings of fear and anxiety and begin to see the stimulus as neutral again. They were thus not only less anxious to start, but also could more easily recover from stressful situations.

The next step for doctors is to determine how this new knowledge can be translated into a way to help those not lucky enough to have the gene variation. If the lower levels of the FAAH enzyme can be otherwise recreated, such a change in brain chemistry could give a boost to those fighting post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and even drug addiction.

While having the FAAH variant gene certainly goes a long way to de-stressing an individual, environmental factors can still trump genetics if they are strong enough.

Other medical issues, traumatic experiences, stressful work or family lives, and even our hard-wired personalities all have an influence over how anxious we feel when taking on new challenges.

Tips to Feel Less Anxious

If you aren’t working through more serious anxiety issues that are best treated through therapy and possibly medication, but are still looking for ways to de-stress your approach to life, there are some lifestyle choices that can help.

  • Find time to be active every day, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. Exercise improves your mood, lowers your stress levels, and has the added bonus of improving your health. (Less to worry about!)

  • Do your best to get full night’s rest. Prioritize sleep over watching one more episode of television or putting additional finishing touches on your work or school project. Relaxation techniques, like meditation or yoga, can help you de-clutter your thoughts and get some much needed rest.

  • Some doctors also suggest giving up caffeine which can amplify anxiety. However, since both Nutrition Diva and House Call Doctor have described the benefits of caffeine recently, nothing is coming between me and my morning cup of joe. 

Until next time, this is Dr. Sabrina Stierwalt with Ask Science’s Quick and Dirty Tips for helping you make sense of science.

You can become a fan of Ask Science on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, where I’m @QDTeinstein. If you have a question that you’d like to see on a future episode, send me an email at everydayeinstein@quickanddirtytips.com..



Please note that archive episodes of this podcast may include references to Ask Science. Rights of Albert Einstein are used with permission of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Represented exclusively by Greenlight.

About the Author

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD

Dr Sabrina Stierwalt earned a Ph.D. in Astronomy & Astrophysics from Cornell University and is now a Professor of Physics at Occidental College.