Can Anxiety Kill You?
The title is not meant to be sensational, but rhetorical. Anxiety is a self feeding beast, and can be incredibly debilitating to those suffering from it. While it is sometimes misdiagnosed, it is also unfortunately classified as a “mental illness” carrying a certain stigma in our society.
According to Wikipedia, 40 million Americans suffer from some form of anxiety condition. That’s just America, so if you suffer, you’re certainly not alone my friend. Take heart in that.
It’s easy to worry in this day and age. In a post 9-11 world, we feel more unstable as a civilization. New York, Madrid, London, Columbine, Virginia Tech, the Amish Country, Norway, Sunnyvale, Seal Beach, Sandy Hook Elementary, etc… These human caused atrocities and seeming randomness of it all is enough to put anyone on edge. Then there are crazy weather patterns, earthquakes, tsunamis, and the like, not to mention the upcoming whatever… We live in a pretty scary time, relative to some others, post cold-war.
Anxiety and Panic alone most likely won’t kill you directly, but the cumulative affects of stress can certainly harm you. There have been many studies done that measure the effects of prolonged higher cortisol levels on the human body. The results can be pretty scary…
What Is Stress and Anxiety?
Anxiety is a condition that thrives in the future,(and sometimes activated by things from the past). It’s triggered by a perceived threat. While it serves us in that it can make us more cautious and inhibit recklessness, it becomes a problem when it paralyses us in a cage of fear and worry. What is worse, is when you suffer from something like generalized anxiety disorder, there might be no triggering stimuli, and you often don’t even know why you are anxious, or worse, panicking.
Anxiety is locked in a symbiotic current with the fight or flight response. During this, the following physiological affects might be present:
- Acceleration of heart and lung action
- Going pale or flush, or alternating between both
- Inhibition of stomach and upper-intestinal action to the point where digestion slows down or stops
- General effect on the sphincters of the body
- Constriction of blood vessels in many parts of the body
- Liberation of nutrients (particularly fat and glucose) for muscular action
- Dilation of blood vessels for muscles
- Inhibition of the lacrimal gland (responsible for tear production) and salivation
- Dilation of pupil (mydriasis)
- Relaxation of bladder
- Inhibition of erection
- Auditory exclusion (loss of hearing)
- Tunnel vision (loss of peripheral vision)
Anxiety Has No Socio-Economic Preference
Recently, Aubrey Huff, the first-baseman for the Giants, has been put on a fifteen day disability for an anxiety disorder. Some argue that those who are under public scrutiny are under more stress than most, while others like to say that those with money have no real problems. Irrespective of opinion, anxiety can be a problem for those with money as much as those who are poor. It is a condition endemic to the human condition.
A Mindful Way Through Stress and Anxiety
When you use mindfulness, you begin to see your thoughts as a show, like you’re watching TV. You find the “witness”, and observe from a different perspective. From this perspective, you can trace the path of the fear, and watch it as it takes hold. This is an incredible vantage point and give you much power over your anxiety. However, it takes time to get to this level, and is not immediate.
How to Relieve Stress
Luckily, recent studies have pointed to the strong possibility that the brain has plasticity, meaning that it can rewire itself. Mindful practice and meditation have been found to alter the brain in a way that allows for plasticity. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to get started with mindfulness exercises and calming techniques.
There are also comprehensive systems like the Linden Method, which many people seem to find helpful. It’s a good read with lots of good advice. Whether or not they’ll work for you is anyone’s guess, but I mention them nonetheless. There are also videos on YouTube that teach you how to stop panic attacks and how to overcome anxiety.
Anxiety sucks, and living with it can make life hell. Whether you find help in mindfulness, meditation, drugs like SSRIs, the Linden Method, Panic Away, Psychotherapy, or anything else, beating back anxiety will let one lead a better life. If you’ve found anything that helps with anxiety, feel free to share it in the comments section.
What are your thoughts?