I have two wonderful teenage children and I love them very much. Over the years, I’ve pondered how my panic attack and anxiety-generating genes would one day impact them. Yes, would my children struggle as I did? You know, isn’t it odd that as much as I had nothing to do with my genetic composition, I would feel any measure of guilt regarding the potential for passing my pathology to my children? Have you ever felt the same?

Well, let’s first determine if genetics is even an issue here. Research indicates panic disorder occurs five times more often in monozygotic (“identical”) twins of panic sufferers than dizygotic. Relatives of panic disorder sufferers have a 10% increased risk for the disorder. And a panic disorder sufferer has a 78% probability of having a family history of panic disorder. All of this translates into an estimated heritability as high as 40%. And let’s not forget that women are twice as likely to suffer from panic disorder. Yes, I have a daughter. So it appears as though genetics is a legitimate factor.

So what does that mean for my children? Well, that’s a good question. In spite of my history of some pretty nasty panic and anxiety they aren’t necessarily fated likewise. I mean, who really knows how the genetic cards were dealt. And let’s not forget my children weren’t raised within my familial environment. That’s a huge consideration. On the other hand, maybe they will follow in dad’s anxious footsteps. I suppose if I had tons of money to blow I could call upon genetic science to truly tell the tale, but I’m very content in accepting and dealing with what may come.

See, I believe in the power of insight, discretion, and well-considered action in dealing with such eventualities. In terms of insight I’m suggesting we make sure we understand, embrace, and manage our own panic and anxiety situation before endeavoring to help our children. What aid could we possibly offer if our own baggage isn’t checked? And should an anxiety issue befall our children the issue of insight must be impressed upon them. They need to come to know their own pathology, and who better to provide the introduction than us?

When I talk about discretion I’m emphasizing objectivity as we observe signs of atypical anxiety in our children. Given our desire to protect them from the hell we endured our observations may be subject to misinterpretation, overreaction, and catastrophe. Remember, we’re pretty good at those. We simply have to make sure we’re receiving and perceiving things as they truly are.

Finally, in mentioning well-considered action, which requires a good bit of discretion, I’m advocating really thinking through how we’ll approach our children with their genetic potential for pathological anxiety. Now, do I recommend providing advance notice? Not necessarily. That said, it’s something I gave my children with regard to my alcoholism and our familial prevalence of the disease. I felt it very much need-to-know information as they approached their teen years.

As it applies to panic and anxiety, I’m recommending “the talk” not take place until we’re darned sure legitimate signs of atypical anxiety are presenting. And well-considered action is an absolute must as we approach intervention strategy. A huge bit of caution here. Given our experience with panic and anxiety, we may consider ourselves the best possible counselor for our children. Not so. Please seek the assistance of a licensed professional and allow him/her to lead the charge. By the way, when we begin to implement our intervention strategy, what better time to have our children come to know their disorder? And how cool would it be to have them participate in their own treatment planning?

Oops. So what about the issue of guilt with which I opened? The truth of the matter is guilt won’t do my children, or me, an ounce of good. It’s really a very selfish and counterproductive emotion. And, anyway, it’s my problem, not theirs. Instead, it’s time to reach beyond Bill and replace this self-defeating demon with the power of open-mindedness and positive action. Only then can I realistically expect something better for my children, void of my personal experience and identity.

Author's Bio: 

After a winning bout with panic disorder, a career in the business world, and a part-time job working with socially challenged adolescents, Bill found his life's passion and work. So he earned his master's degree and counseling credentials, and is doing all he can to lend a hand to those having a tough time.

Bill has some powerful mentoring and service packages available on his website, which include his panic attack education and recovery eWorkbook, "Panic! ...and Poetic Justice." The eWorkbook is ready for immediate download. You'll also find a link on the website to Bill's "Panic Attack Freedom!" blog. Lots of good stuff going on and much more to come.

In addition to doing psychiatric emergency work, Bill continues to do a lot of writing and speaking. He's conducted numerous mental health workshops for non-profit organizations and remains available to present more. Bill is a national and local member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (N.A.M.I.).

Subscribe to the Hope and Healing Dynamics newsletter