Can Chronic Anxiety Hurt My Body?
Many people in our community worry about the long term health effects of chronic anxiety. For some this is concern that pops up from time to time. For others, this can become an obsession and the primary driver of anxiety. Regardless of which situation you are in, we can acknowledge that the question is a reasonable one. This is a thing that we are justified in expressing concern about. Today we need to take a look at why concern may be warranted but going into complete freak out mode is not.
Looking Through The Lens Of Fear
We must remain aware of the fact that disordered anxiety and irrational fear will skew our conclusions heavily toward disaster and catastrophe. A blurb found on a wellness website or a statement made by an influencer online can lead an anxious person to draw a conclusion that simply is not supported by actual data and quality research.
Being A Critical Consumer Of Information
When asking questions about chronic anxiety and health impacts, the conclusions drawn will vary based on who you ask or where on the Internet you ask! Asking in a general Google search will lead to more catastrophic conclusion than asking in a Google Scholar search or asking an academic and scholarly research database. The general Internet is more concerned with capturing your attention than with providing accurate or applicable information.
Correlation Does Not Equal Causation
What you are seeing and hearing is a repeated acknowledgement that there is a link between states of prolonged anxiety and depression and health problems. A LINK. There may be correlation and comorbidity. This suggests that something is going on, but correlation and comorbidity are not in any way proof that one thing causes another. This is the single biggest “research crime” I find online. When a website wants your attention it will hint at a simplistic conclusions that suggest causation when in reality no such conclusion is warranted.
Just because we can agree that there are links between depression, anxiety, and health issues does not mean that we agree that one causes the other, nor can anyone really point definitively at a mechanism that proves causality. The vast majority of quality research on this topic examines links and looks for correlation, then concludes that either this correlation is not statistically significant, or that it is, but that no causal conclusions can be drawn from that.
Be especially mindful of confusing descriptive data (as in the case of heart rate variability) and reading it as predictive data. This is a very common and really important error made when trying to draw conclusions.
Risk Is Not A Guarantee Of Disaster – Anxious Distortion Matters
Some folks turn to the famous Adverse Childhood Event (ACE) study, which states that repeated adverse (“traumatic”, if you will) events in childhood increases the risk of developing real health problems later on. The ACE study is a good study, but the folks responsible for it will always point out that there is no causality in the study, and that they are only talking about increased risk. For an anxious person, increase risk can often be interpreted as certain doom. Please remain aware of the fact that risk is not guarantee. If I told you that are at risk of being wealthy if you play the lottery, you would not take that as a guarantee and spend your life savings on lottery tickets.
You Can Work On The Anxiety You Fear Is Hurting You!
It’s hard to ask the question about chronic anxiety and future health risk without also asking about what you can do about the chronic anxiety! Anxiety disorders are among the most treatable and commonly treated mental health issues in the western world. Internally generated anxiety – the hallmark of anxiety disorders – is addressable. You have power, agency, and influence in this process. So while you may think about how chronic anxiety could impact your body down the road, you also have to recognize that the chronic anxiety is addressable. There’s no reason to sit passively, wring your hands over the impact of your anxiety, but resist the action that can improve that anxiety situation. An anxiety disorder is not an external event beyond your control over which you are powerless. Do not lose sight of this. But please remember that every human experiences anxiety sometimes so we’re always talking about addressing the DISORDERED variety that has you so worried right now.
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