Is anxiety dangerous to your health?

Spending all of your time worrying is a draining exercise. However, spending time worrying about whether your worry is itself destructive is a whole new level of stress. Luckily, the answer is not as bad as you may think.

Some people worry that anxiety is dangerous to their health. They are concerned that the process of worrying will somehow damage their brain, to have a physical and measurable effect on their physical health.

Editor's Note: This article no longer represents the latest scientific research. We are working on a replacement. Until then, this information should be considered inaccurate.

Anxiety is not physically dangerous

It might feel like you are doing yourself serious physical harm when you are having a panic attack or experiencing severe anxiety. However, the evidence says that you are not.

Panic causes similar symptoms to exercising. One of the reasons that exercise is recommended is that it helps habituate you to those types of feelings. The body can cope with this stuff. People rarely die from too much exercise, and regularly die from too little.

What changes occur when we worry?

It is true that anxiety does have some effect on the body. We see this in the physical symptoms that it causes: sweating, increased heart rate, tight chest, etc. However, these are all short-term effects.

There are also some longer-term effects: repeating anxious thoughts leads to us forming those patterns in our brain. However, there is nothing inherently dangerous about a thought! Best of all, the fact that we _learnt_ these thought patterns means we can _unlearn_ them as well.

What about anxiety and life expectancy?

There is a correlation between people with anxiety and shorter life expectancy. However, the important word here is "correlation". There is no evidence that anxiety causes premature death. In fact, it makes sense that it is the other way round.

If you have been dealt a poor hand in life, such as a medical condition or genetic illness that will shorten your life, or one of the many socioeconomic factors that affects life expectancy, you are more likely to have anxiety. It is short life expectancy that causes anxiety, not the other way round.

Worry, but don't worry about worry

Anxiety is unpleasant and something none of us wants to go through. However, you can struggle with it safe in the knowledge that the act of worrying is not doing further damage to your body.


Published 30 January 2017. Written by Chris Worfolk.

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