It is estimated that over 3 million Canadians over the age of 18 suffer from anxiety disorder, and more than 27 per cent of sufferers reported that the disorder affected their lives, making simple activities and work challenging. But anxiety can cause a slew of health issues, including heart disease. If you suffer from anxiety disorder, it’s important to take steps to manage the disorder in order to prevent other physical illnesses from occurring.
What is anxiety?
Most people have feelings of worry and fear from time-to-time. This is considered “normal.” But for many, frequent feelings of intense worry and excessive fear about everyday situations is usually indicative of an anxiety disorder. Those who suffer from anxiety often panic and avoid places or situations to prevent feeling anxious – this interferes with daily activities and the ability to be socially involve. Symptoms may start during childhood or the teen years and continue into adulthood.
What Causes Anxiety?
Based on a Harvard Medical School article, anxiety is a reaction to stress that has both psychological and physical features. The feeling is thought to arise in the amygdala, a brain region that governs many intense emotional responses. As neurotransmitters carry the impulse to the sympathetic nervous system, heart and breathing rates increase, muscles tense, and blood flow is diverted from the abdominal organs to the brain. In the short term, anxiety prepares us to confront a crisis by putting the body on alert. But its physical effects can be counterproductive, causing light-headedness, nausea, diarrhea, and frequent urination. And when it persists, anxiety can take a toll on our mental and physical health.
How is Anxiety Connected to Heart Disease?
Although the connection between anxiety and heart disease has not been concretely confirmed, evidence supports that there is, in fact, a strong link. When a person has symptoms related to anxiety, their body’s response can put extra undue strain on the heart. John Hopkins Medicine has outlined certain heart diseases which may be associated with anxiety:
- Rapid heart rate (tachycardia) – In serious cases, can interfere with normal heart function and increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
- Increased blood pressure – If chronic, can lead to coronary disease, weakening of the heart muscle, and heart failure.
- Decreased heart rate variability – May result in higher incidence of death after an acute heart attack.
Types of anxiety
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are nearly a dozen types of anxiety disorders, and it is possible to have more than one disorder. Below are some of the most common types of anxiety disorder:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)
- Separation anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Panic Disorder
What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?
Different people will exhibit different symptoms, but these are some of the most common symptoms:
- Always sensing danger
- Increased heart rate
- Weakness and fatigue
- GI issues
- Difficulty concentrating
To learn more about how to improve mental health and, in turn, heart health, read our blog: How Mental Health is Important for your Hearth Health Too!
How to Manage Your Anxiety
Managing the symptoms of anxiety is a good first-step in adopting coping mechanisms. There are many lifestyle changes that also can help to alleviate anxiety. Going for long walks and incorporating regular daily physical activity can increase serotonin in the brain, which in turn can regulate anxiety and boost happiness and overall mood. Research supports that low levels of serotonin contributes to depression and anxiety. Leading a more active lifestyle can help elevate serotonin levels, thus decreasing anxiety.
Adopting a healthy diet also can contribute to lowering anxiety levels. Specific foods have been shown to reduce anxiety. Foods low in magnesium have been found to increase anxiety, for example. So introducing more leafy greens into your diet can be helpful. Foods rich in zinc also have shown to decrease anxiety.
If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, managing it will be key in preventing other health-related issues. Seek help from your medical doctor or a psychologist and learn coping mechanisms to manage your anxiety – your heart will thank you!