Anxiety Can Affect Mental And Physical Health

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, 19 million adults suffer from various disorders of anxiety. Anxiety disorder is the most common diagnosis in the child population. It is estimated to afflict thirteen percent of our children.

Among the various disorders of anxiety, we need to pay special attention to "generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)." GAD can have far reaching negative effects on physical and mental health and in the life span of an affected child may develop into phobias, panic attacks, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder or even post-traumatic disorder under certain circumstances.

As regards the medical consequences, GAD is implicated in such stress-related medical disorders as the irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, obesity, asthma or coronary heart disease.

Because excessive distress to potentially threatening event can be observed during early infancy, many psychologists believe that some children are born with "anxious temperament." During early childhood, many children are identified as being "overanxious" or "shy." Adults in common parlance are referred to as, "nervous" "high strung" or "worry warts."

Anxiety or worry within reasonable degree helps us to anticipate, plan and prepare for a challenge or a threatening situation. However, when anxiety or the act of worrying becomes excessive and all consuming, you may be entering the realm of GAD, especially if this is what you habitually do.

Chronic generalized anxiety is often associated with several of the following physical symptoms: restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge; being easily fatigued; difficulty concentrating or experiencing times when the mind goes blank; irritability; muscle tension or inability to relax or difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless unsatisfying sleep.

Anxiety and fear are two different things. Anxiety is anticipation of pending threat or danger. Incidentally, we anxious people anticipate and worry about a whole host of things, which most of the time do not materialize. Fear is what we feel when we are actually faced with a threatening or dangerous event.

In fear your "fight-flight" emergency response is activated which dissipates after the event has come to pass. But the problem with anxiety and worrying is that you can't turn it off. You can't fight it, avoid or run away from it or hide from it. It's just there! Physical and mental stress continues forever, in a manner of speaking, and consequently at least in some cases causes mental, emotional and physical health problems.

It is common knowledge that obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are associated with heart disease. Perhaps, not so common is knowledge of the connection between anger, hostility and depression with heart disease. But would you ever suspect GAD having any bearing on heart disease? It appears that it is not such a far fetched idea as it sounds.

Steven Barger and Summer Sydeman of Northern Arizona University found that GAD can independently predict the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Let's take an example to explain independent risk prediction. Say person A and B are of the same age and body mass index. Both use medication for high blood pressure and high cholesterol but A also has generalized anxiety disorder while B does not. The risk of A suffering from CHD is higher than that for B. The study was reported by Barger and Sydeman in the Journal of Affect Disorder in a 2005 issue.

Another study involving 20-year follow up showed that people with panic disorder were 6 times more likely to develop asthma than people without an anxiety disorder. This study was reported by G. Hasler in American journal of Respiratory & Critical Care in a 2005 issue.

If you are a parent of a child who has excessive anxiety or shyness or an adult finding it difficult to control the worry, it makes sense for your overall health and wellbeing to explore if you need professional help.

Self-help tips for excessive anxiety and worrying: Schedule a "worry time" such as 15 to 20 minutes to do nothing else but to worrying. Fifteen to twenty minutes is not asking yourself too much if you are someone who worries all day long (or all night). You must exercise utmost discipline in this matter. Don't use the worry time for anything but to worry. If you can't worry, don't worry! Just try, try and try to worry.

If you don't like the idea of spending 15 to 20 minutes for worrying, you may take the option of worrying for less than one minute. Exercise discipline, you must break the worry thought in less than 20 minutes and think of a non-worry thought such as thinking of the blue sky or daffodils.

Schedule specific times through out the day for worry free physical, mental and emotional relaxation. If bothersome thoughts intrude upon your relaxation time, set them aside until the scheduled worry time.

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Copyright 2005, Mind Publications 
Posted November 2005


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