How Untreated Depression & Anxiety Affect The Brain
Without treatment, depression and anxiety disorders can cause measurable changes in key areas of your brain. Experts arent entirely sure all the ways in which these conditions can affect the brain, but heres what they know so far.
Anxiety & Depression Can Shrink Areas of the Brain That Regulate Cognitive Function
Brain imaging tests, such as MRIs, show that people living with depression and anxiety disorders have abnormalities in areas of the brain responsible for cognitive functions like problem-solving, memory, and planning and executing activities. But thats not all. Untreated anxiety and depression can actually shrink regions of the brain, including:
- Hippocampus, the region of the brain primarily responsible for long-term memory. The hippocampus also plays an important role in regulating our emotional responses. Constant, severe mood-altering symptoms cause this part of the brain to shrink. Doctors call this shrinkage atrophy, and its associated with Alzheimers disease and dementia. A 2014 study revealed that damage to the hippocampus can also hinder social behavior by preventing you from accurately interpreting and responding to information. Hippocampus atrophy can even affect your ability to use language effectively.
- Prefrontal cortex, which helps regulate your short-term memory and how well you plan and prepare for activities. A shrunken prefrontal cortex can cause short-term memory loss, difficulty planning and executing events, and increased irritability.
Anxiety Depression And The Risk Of Death
For the study, which is published in the journal BMJ, researchers pooled information on more than 68,000 adults over age 35 who took part in England’s National Health Survey from 1994 to 2004.
Each person who participated completed a 12-question mental health survey. The survey asked about things like having trouble concentrating losing sleep over worry feeling useful, capable, or under strain having trouble overcoming difficulties not enjoying activities being able to face their problems feeling unhappy, depressed or worthless or lacking self-confidence.
Researchers then divided the scores into four groups. People with a score of zero weren’t distressed at all. They were used for comparison. Those who scored one to three on the test were considered mildly distressed. These people had some symptoms of anxiety and depression, but they wouldn’t necessarily have come to a doctor’s attention for their troubles. Scores of four to six were in the range that people might be clinically depressed or anxious. Scores of seven to 12 were people who had been severely distressed.
Researchers then linked the information on the people in the study to British death records. More than 8,300 people in the study died, most from heart disease or stroke , followed by cancer and so-called “external” causes — mostly accidents and injuries .
The more depression and anxiety a person reported having, the more likely they were to die.
Less Stress Promotes Longevity
Every time a particular stressor challenges you, you are given the opportunity to choose to adapt healthfully.
If you want to live longer, you better learn to defuse your stress. Scientific evidence has surfaced that stress reduction bolsters longevity by directly impacting your DNA in a favorable way. That revelation comes from the many years of work by three American geneticists who won the 2009 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology. Their research involves the study of telomeres, the tail portion of chromosomes that controls the lifespan of cells and their division. These protective structures look something like the plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces but act like guardians and timers of cellular aging. As the aging process progresses, telomeres shorten. At some point this shrinkage contributes to cellular senescence and has been associated with many degenerative and age-related conditions.
The researchers wanted to investigate the hypothesis that stress impacts health by affecting the rate of cellular aging. Their study provided evidence that long-term exposure to stress decreases telomerase, the enzyme that provides protection for the telomeres. A shortage of the enzyme results in telomere shortening, leading to accelerated aging through premature cell death.
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Can Stress Make You Dizzy
Dizziness is a common symptom of anxiety stress and, and If one is experiencing anxiety, dizziness can result. On the other hand, dizziness can be anxiety producing. Scientists believe that the areas in the brain responsible for dizziness interact with the areas responsible for anxiety, and cause both symptoms.
Can You Worry Yourself To Death
Many studies have found a link between anxiety-prone personality and shortened lifespan. The tendency to always react to frustration, loss, or threat with negative emotions is referred to as neuroticism by researchers who have found this trait to be widespread and worrisome.
A 2009 article published in American Psychology stated that “there is growing evidence that neuroticism is a psychological trait of profound public health significance. Neuroticism is a robust correlate and predictor of many different mental and physical disorders, comorbidity among them.”
For instance, for a study published in 2008, researchers at Purdue University followed 1,600 men, ages 43 to 91, for 12 years to examine how those with neurotic personalities fared over time. At the end of the study, only 50 percent of the men with high or increasing neuroticism were alive compared to 75 percent to 85 percent of the other group.
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How We React To Stress
Stress comes and goes in all our lives. Your ability to adapt well to stressors is key for a good quality of life and health preservation. If you dont adapt, stress can surely kill. I have no doubt whatsoever.
Upon encountering stressors you have two choices. You can adapt and go with the flow by doing something to create change or otherwise ameliorate the situation. Or, you can mal-adapt by withdrawing or pushing beyond normal expectations in an effort to make the stress disappear. Sometimes easier said than done, adapting may require repeated conscious effort.
Opting for unhealthy coping strategies, such as abusing drugs or alcohol, overeating, or overworking, can pile on yet more stress. Even the medication that doctors prescribe for stress can add to the pile. Most physicians, in fact, have little training in recognizing stress or treating it, other than to prescribe a tranquilizer, anti-depressant, sleeping pill or perhaps all three. Such band-aid approaches can cause additional stress because of dependency and side effects that are then treated with even more drugs that create still more side effects. Taken habitually, they all add a layer of toxic pharmaceutical stress that a strained body has to deal with.
Ways To Manage Panic Attack Symptoms
Panic attacks can be challenging to manage, especially because the instinctive responses are usually ones that worsen anxiety and make future attacks more likely. For example, canceling or changing plans, calling out of work, or going to the ER might provide temporary relief, while making the anxiety more likely to return. Even common advice like focus on your breathing or take a deep breath can draw more attention to physical symptoms, worsening them and making people more likely to believe something is medically wrong with them.
Some of the more effective methods of responding to panic attacks include:
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Biological And Environmental Risk Factors
Certain people may be more at risk for panic attacks. People with a family history of anxiety disorders may be genetically predisposed, as are those who experienced stress or trauma in childhood. Panic attacks are much more common than panic disorder, but research suggests that women are twice as likely as men to develop this condition. Young people also are more susceptible, with an average age of onset being 24 years old, and the risk of developing panic disorder steeply declining after the age of 60.8
How To Handle Panic Attacks
A panic attack can overwhelm a persons coping mechanisms, making them feel as if they are in imminent danger.
Simply knowing that the symptoms are due to a panic attack and not something else can drain some of the intensity from the attack. Some potential symptoms to be aware of include:
- racing heart
- inability to think about anything else
During a panic attack, a person can try the following:
- Ride out the attack: Rather than trying to escape the situation, continue what you are doing and do not look for distractions. Remain present in the moment until the feelings of panic subside.
- Try not to fight feelings of fear: Trying to avoid anxiety can create anxiety, which only tends to worsen a panic attack. Instead, people should aim to observe and accept their feelings of anxiety without judgment.
- Try to remain mindful of the present moment: Being mindful can offer a simple distraction from anxiety and panic. One approach is to try to notice five sights, four smells, or three sounds. Another way is for a person to count how many objects they see around them.
- Breathe slowly and deeply: People sometimes hyperventilate during a panic attack, which in the blood, so the heart then races faster. This sequence can result in dizziness or fainting. Breathing slowly and deeply can counteract these effects.
PD is treatable the right treatment may reduce the frequency and severity of panic attacks and prevent future episodes.
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I Felt Like I Was Dying: The Sheer Terror Of A Panic Attack
Heart palpitations. Dizziness. Nausea. Numbness. Trouble breathing. Chest pains. An all-encompassing feeling of dread.
Heart attack? No, for many people these are the unpleasant symptoms of something much more mundane, a panic attack. They often seem to appear out of the blue. And the first time in particular, before you know whats happening, they can be terrifying.
I felt like I was dying, said a friend who told me hed experienced what he now believes were panic attacks during a period of stress several years ago. Another told me that hers manifested as heaviness in her chest combined with a sense of doom. In my case, I was one of those people terrified I was having a heart attack when I woke up in the middle of the night feeling numbness in my fingers, with my heart racing.
Panic attacks or anxiety attacks affect about 2 to 3 percent of Americans in any given year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that about 5 percent of U.S. adults experience panic attacks at some point in their lives.
Panic attacks arent life threatening even if they can feel that way. And because they are unpredictable often happening without warning for many people worrying about future episodes can be particularly debilitating and have a significant effect on quality of life.
The suddenness of the attacks is what is so unsettling the first time.
What Kinds Of Emotional And Physical Stress Can Cause Broken Heart Syndrome
Examples of sudden emotional stressors that can bring on broken heart syndrome include:
- Grief from the death of a loved one and other large or meaningful loss .
- Good news .
- Bad news.
Examples of sudden physical stressors that can bring on broken heart syndrome include:
- Severe pain.
- An exhausting physical event.
- Health issues, including asthma attack, difficulty breathing , seizure, stroke, high fever, low blood sugar , large blood loss, surgery.
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Symptoms Of Panic Attacks: What Clinicians Look For
Panic attacks are diagnosed using standardized criteria from the DSM-5, the reference guide health and mental health professionals use to diagnose all mental illnesses. Panic attacks are defined as episodes of intense anxiety that come on suddenly, intensify within several minutes.
Panic attacks include four or more of the following symptoms:1
- Racing heart
- Feeling disconnected from reality or from oneself
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
How To Stop An Anxiety Attack
People have this powerful idea to make the anxiety attack stop, Carbonell says, but you cant make it stop through force of will. However, if you look back at your history, you’ll see that every anxiety attack does indeed stop, even if it feels awful for a while.
Your best first step stopping an anxiety attack is to simply notice your symptoms and accept that you’re having an attack. This can be challenging if it’s one of your first anxiety attacks, but after that you’ll know more about what to expect.
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Hyperventilation And Feeling Light Headed
In people with anxiety, lightheadedness is often attributable to hyperventilation.
When your body experiences anxiety, it triggers the fight or flight system, which is the reflex designed to prepare your body for rapid action in order to evade threats. One of the symptoms is breathing rapidly. It’s not 100% clear why breathing fast is advantageous from a biological perspective, but the most likely reasons include:
- Breathing quickly helps your heart move blood around the important muscles and organs.
- Breathing quickly reduces carbon dioxide in the bloodstream so that when you start to run you can handle the creation of more Co2.
That latter point is important. Studies have shown that by hyperventilating and depleting yourself of carbon dioxide, you can do things like hold your breath for longer, and potentially run away from predators or other threats. .
People often mistake hyperventilation for breathing too little oxygen. However, the opposite is true. In reality, hyperventilation is the act of breathing out too much carbon dioxide. Every time you exhale you breathe out Co2, and when you exhale too quickly, you breathe out more than you create. Eventually, your body is left with too little carbon dioxide in the bloodstream as a result of hyperventilation.
Panic Attacks And Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is characterized by repeated, unexpected panic attacks, as well as fear of experiencing another episode. Agoraphobia, the fear of being somewhere where escape or help would be difficult in the event of a panic attack, may also accompany a panic disorder. If you have agoraphobia, you are likely to avoid public places such as shopping malls, or confined spaces such as an airplane.
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Perceived Stress Scale *
How stressful do you perceive events in your life to be? This scale helps to answer this. For example, people with higher scores on the PSS might be more vulnerable to symptoms of depression from stressful life events.
* You may take the test as many times as you like. The data is used to score your results and CAMH will not be able to link the results back to you in any way. CAMH stores results from all tests and may use the anonymous aggregate data from results to look at general trends in use of the test, general trends in overall results over time, average scores, and other similar patterns.
What Are The Symptoms Of Stress
Stress can affect you emotionally, mentally and physically, according to the NHS.
Emotionally, many feel overwhelmed, wound up and anxious.
Feeling frazzled may also put a downer on their mood, leave them unable to enjoy themselves and cause a looming sense of dread, according to the charity Mind.
Others may become anxious and afraid or feel neglected and lonely.
Struggling to cope with stressful situations can also take its toll on our mental wellbeing.
Many battle racing thoughts, constant worrying, and difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
Perhaps surprisingly, stress can also affect us physically.
In more severe cases, sufferers may hyperventilate, have panic attacks, grind their teeth, endure chest pain or see their blood pressure rise.
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Symptoms Of Bereavement Grief And Loss
Bereavement, grief and loss can cause many different symptoms and they affect people in different ways. There’s no right or wrong way to feel.
As well as bereavement, there are other types of loss such as the end of a relationship or losing a job or home.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- shock and numbness this is usually the first reaction to loss, and people often talk about “being in a daze”
- overwhelming sadness, with lots of crying
- tiredness or exhaustion
- anger towards the person you’ve lost or the reason for your loss
- guilt for example, guilt about feeling angry, about something you said or did not say, or not being able to stop your loved one dying
These feelings may not be there all the time and powerful feelings may appear unexpectedly.
It’s not always easy to recognise when bereavement, grief or loss are the reason you’re acting or feeling differently.
Experts generally accept that we go through 4 stages of bereavement or grief:
Most people go through all these stages, but you will not necessarily move smoothly from one to the next.
Your grief might feel chaotic and out of control, but these feelings will eventually become less intense over time.
What Is An Anxiety Attack
Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, are episodes of intense panic or fear. They usually occur suddenly and without warning. Sometimes theres an obvious triggergetting stuck in an elevator, for example, or thinking about the big speech you have to givebut in other cases, the attacks come out of the blue.
Anxiety attacks usually peak within 10 minutes, and they rarely last more than 30 minutes. But during that short time, you may experience terror so severe that you feel as if youre about to die or totally lose control. The physical symptoms are themselves so frightening that many people think theyre having a heart attack. After an anxiety attack is over, you may worry about having another one, particularly in a public place where help isnt available or you cant easily escape.
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