According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 20 percent of American adults report having had an anxiety disorder in the past year, and about 30 percent of Americans will have an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. These disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, specific phobia, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and separation anxiety disorder. While it’s normal to get nervous sometimes, especially before important events, an anxiety disorder is a completely different matter. People with anxiety disorders may feel anxious most of the time for no good reason or they may become acutely anxious about particular things. For example, while it’s normal to be nervous about a job interview, if you panic and have trouble breathing, you might have an anxiety disorder. If left untreated, an anxiety disorder can negatively affect your life in many ways, including the following.
There are many ways an anxiety disorder can affect your health. Anxiety essentially means you are under perpetual stress, as if you are being threatened. This can cause many kinds of problems.
One of the earliest problems caused by an anxiety disorder is digestive problems, such as nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. You may lose your appetite, causing you to lose weight. An anxiety disorder may worsen irritable bowel syndrome and crohn’s disease. Ulcers were once thought to be caused by overactive stomach acid from stress, but have since been found to be caused by bacteria. However, chronic anxiety can also impair your immune system, making you more prone to ulcers.
When you have an anxiety disorder, your sympathetic nervous system is working overtime. Your sympathetic nervous system, or SNS, is known as the “fight or flight” system, which is activated by threats. It is meant to act temporarily, to get you out of trouble, but when it’s working all the time, it causes health problems. Certain biological functions are the responsibility of the SNS, and others are the responsibility of the counteracting system, the parasympathetic nervous system, or PNS. When the SNS is underactive, you have more trouble sleeping and healing from injuries and illnesses. You may also have a lot more muscle tension, leading to headaches and back and joint pain.
Most people are now aware that stress is bad for your cardiovascular system. When you’re stressed–and when you’re anxious, you’re usually stressed–your heart rate and blood pressure increase. Eventually, your blood vessels become stiffer, leading to a greater risk of heart attack and stroke.
As noted above, anxiety activates you SNS, which has a strange effect on immunity. It temporarily boosts your immune system to prepare to fight infections that might result from injury. However, over the long term, it damages your immune system. Fighting infections and healing injuries is an energy-intensive process and you’re body won’t devote resources to it unless you have a chance to rest and recovery. If you feel constantly anxious, though, that time never comes and the maintenance is deferred indefinitely. As a result, you end up getting sick more often.
Quality of life
Quality of life is probably the biggest way an anxiety disorder can affect you. To have an anxiety disorder is essentially to live in fear, and often in fear of nothing in particular. That is unpleasant in itself, but it can also limit you in other ways. Anxiety makes it harder to try new things, to take risks in your work or personal life, or sometimes to even leave your house. Many people with anxiety feel caged in. They see things they want to do in life but their anxiety keeps them from trying. This can lead to loss of income and unfulfilled potential.
As social creatures, having good relationships is crucial to happiness. Unfortunately, anxiety disorders are very hard on relationships. Since anxiety limits your willingness to try new things, it limits what you’re willing to try with your friends. It can even limit your willingness to meet new people and make friends. Ironically, the premium we place on social acceptance also drives social anxiety. The stakes just feel too high to some people to risk rejection. Instead, they become socially isolated, and even more anxious. Anxiety disorders can affect relationships in other ways too. For example, if you have PTSD, you might become short-tempered and controlling, getting unreasonably angry with people you care about. This can alienate you or even lead to legal troubles.
There’s a very high overlap between people with anxiety disorders and people with substance use disorders. For example, about 20 percent of people with social anxiety disorder, about 25 percent of people with OCD, and more than half of people with PTSD develop substance use issues. People with anxiety disorders often want some kind of relief from their symptoms. Many people find that alcohol helps temporarily. Doctors often prescribe benzodiazepines for anxiety. Unfortunately, those are extremely addictive and you can form a dependence in as little as two weeks of regular use. Then your anxiety returns anyway. An anxiety disorder can damage your health, relationships and quality of life, but anxiety disorders can usually be effectively treated. Treatment typically includes some form of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, and may also include medication such as an SSRI. With the right help, most people are able to get their anxiety under control and live a much happier life.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or anxiety, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.