Investigations into the causes of anxiety are clear that anxiety, panic, and depression can be hereditary, and that usually, anxiety disorders are a concern for several members of the same family. If a parent or sibling has certain anxiety disorders or panic attacks, a child's risk increases four- to six-fold for developing an anxiety disorder himself. This is because the structure of the brain and its processes are inherited. However, many people who have no family history of the disorder can develop anxiety as well.
Studies have found that certain genetic variations lead to chemical imbalances in the brain that lie dormant until awakened by stress or trauma. The scenario used earlier illustrates this. Before you moved your son was good-natured, calm, and flexible. As a result of the move, he has difficulty with even the slightest bit of change without having intense anxiety. This finding has caused many researchers to investigate the interaction between genes and environment in causing anxiety, not just one or the other.
Incredibly, 19 million people are suffering from an anxiety disorder. Of those, about 20 to 25 percent have close relatives who have also struggled with a panic disorder sometime in their lives.
The Role of Temperament
Temperament is your child's nature present at birth. Many parents can tell almost immediately whether their child will be peaceful, irritable, sociable, or more introverted. At the forefront of temperament research is Dr. Jerome Kagan of Harvard University. The research has connected the dots between four personality traits: timid, upbeat, melancholic, and bold to patterns in brain activity.
What he discovered in timid children is that the amygdala is more easily aroused in those prone to fearfulness, creating children who are more anxious and uneasy. Compared to children in the other groups, their hearts beat faster when confronted with stressful situations, they were more finicky about eating, were introverted around strangers, and were reluctant to try anything new.
Kagan found that from birth, these children had a hyperexcitable right temporal lobe in their brains, and if fear was triggered in the child, those pathways became stronger. More research is needed, but other studies have shown that the hippocampus is smaller in people who have had a significant trauma.
The brain is constantly changing. It will reshape based on information it receives, changing itself in order to learn and respond. It is a work in progress and becomes stronger through repetition and time. Parents who are more successful in reducing their child's fearfulness and anxiety will allow the child to face fears so the pathways can become stronger.
Dr. Kagan and his team found only 10 to 15 percent of children who were shy, fearful, irritable, and introverted as babies had social anxiety throughout their adolescence. That means the majority of the kids they studied did not. Having an introverted child is not a sure bet for later issues.
It is best to challenge your child in small increments, no matter how uncomfortable, while being encouraging and loving. Reshaping as soon as you notice your child is having difficulty, even in infancy when children tend to be more flexible in their thinking and have less to unlearn, works best.
Changing your child's temperament is much less difficult when the brain is still developing. The greatest influence will occur between birth and five years old when neural pathways can still be easily sculpted.
As discussed, the research for heredity and genetics is strong and a great help toward understanding the foundation of your child's anxiety. The environment is a potent source as well.