Chronic anxiety can not only interfere with your quality of life, but it can affect your lifespan and your health. Find out why.
Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May in the US since 1949, and in the UK, Mental Health Awareness Week, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, will take place from 10-16 May 2021. With that in mind, pun definitely intended, let’s take a look at anxiety.
Life is full of ups and downs, and some curveballs are impossible to avoid. The vicissitudes of life can see us veering between days where we can’t put a foot wrong to days when the world itself seems out to get us. Generally, things are resolved – we pay the outstanding bill, replace the lost keys, mend the broken heart.
However, dealing with these stressful moments can have an impact on our health, sometimes stretching into the long-term. How you deal with worry can sometimes predict what sort of condition your health will be years down the line.
Scientists have found that perpetual worry, over-reaction to mishaps and being constantly anxious can actually reduce life expectancy. So, in order to give yourself the best chance at a long and healthy life, anticipating and managing stress is the order of the day.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is the body’s way of preparing to deal with difficulty or danger, and teeing up the ‘flight or fight’ response. Breathing and heart rate increases, pumping blood to the brain ready to send signals to our muscles, or make rapid decisions.
If these feelings of anxiety are too intense, you might feel queasy, lightheaded or even Nauseated. Anxiety-related vomiting is more common that you might think. An excessive or persistent state of anxiety can have a debilitating effect, both mentally and physically, even becoming a disorder.
These can occur at any time in your life, with symptoms even beginning during the childhood or the teen years. Examples of anxiety disorders include generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and separation anxiety disorder. Specific phobias (flying, crowds) can also cause a great deal of anxiety.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), women are more likely to have an anxiety disorder than men.
Am I neurotic?
According to a 2009 article in American Psychology, “there is growing evidence that neuroticism is a psychological trait of profound public health significance. Neuroticism is a robust correlate and predictor of many different mental and physical disorders, comorbidity among them.”
Neuroticism, defined by psychologists as one of the Big 5 personality traits, is typically defined as “a tendency toward anxiety, depression, self-doubt and other negative feelings.” Like all personality traits, neuroticism is on a spectrum, with some people exhibiting more neurotic tendencies than others – some people are just much more neurotic than others.
Effects of anxiety on health
Long-term anxiety, stress and panic attacks can trigger your brain to release stress hormones on a regular basis. This can result in an increase the frequency of symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, sleep issues and depression.
When your body is readying itself to deal with a fight or flight, it releases waves of chemicals and hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. However, constant anxiety can lead to long-term exposure to these stress hormones, which can cause harm to your health in the long term. For example, being exposed to cortisol over long periods, or frequently, can contribute to weight gain, and weaken your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to illnesses and viral infections.
As well as contributing to stomach aches, diarrhoea and IBS, anxiety can cause rapid, shallow breathing, which can make aggravate asthma symptoms and increase the risk of hospitalisation for COPD sufferers.
Anxiety – the heart of the matter
Anxiety disorders can cause tachycardia (a rapid heart rate), palpitations and even chest pain; this can put you at an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Should you already suffer from heart disease, perpetual anxiety or anxiety disorders could raise the risk of coronary events.
Tips for managing anxiety
Exercise, even something as simple as a daily walk, can help and so can breathing exercises or some tried-and-tested calming techniques.
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The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.