Everyone has felt anxiety before, whether at the start of a test or during a stressful situation like being pulled over by police. Anxiety is a normal part of life; the keyword being “part.” When anxiety seems to overflow throughout all parts of our life, it can be a sign of an anxiety disorder, a condition characterized by the experiencing of anxiety in situations where it doesn’t logically apply, like feeling anxious every time you drive. This extreme anxiety is felt by 6.8 million Americans diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Yet, diagnosis or not, regular bouts of severe anxiety ultimately have long-term effects on health.
When you feel anxiety at the moment, it often feels like a sense of impending doom and heart palpitations. How anxiety can create changes in how you feel over the long-run has different effects on the body than how it feels in the present. Chronic anxiety can profoundly affect your mood.
Symptoms of depression often result from long-term anxiety, such as social withdrawal, feelings of guilt, and hopelessness, and losing interest in the activities you usually enjoy. Not only can chronic anxiety lead to depression, but it also can create irritability. The constant stream of fear and worrying that comprises anxiety can lead a person to feel irritable and have a shorter temper than they usually would. It’s safe to say that long-term feelings of anxiety result not only in more anxiety, but in other delicate mood and mental health issues.
Leaving anxiety untreated in the long term is a significant health risk in many physical ways. Budding research has pointed to health problems like a weakened immune system, memory issues, and recurring migraines as all resulting from long-term anxiety. Think about it—during heightened anxiety, your body responds as if under stress, releasing the infamous stress hormone cortisol even in times when this isn’t an appropriate response, like walking down a grocery store aisle. Leaving anxiety unchecked over the long-term means an elevated and frequent release of cortisol, which has been correlated with many adverse health outcomes.
It might seem like anxiety only affects your immediate experience, but chronic anxiety can have far-reaching effects harmful in more ways than we know. It’s in your best interest to manage your anxiety now before long-term harm can build up.