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Can fear kill you? Strategies for anxiety and panic attacks



Created by the Healthline experts for Greatist. Read more

Endless worries are a reality for many of us in everyday life or in difficult times (* side eyes * COVID-19!). But can the pounding, nervous restlessness of an anxiety disorder actually kill you?

Good news: fear or a panic attack cannot kill you. But fear can affect your long-term health, so it is helpful to have personal coping tools and professional treatment.

Let us examine why you will not actually die of fear and some scientifically supported strategies to deal with chaos.

Anxiety is a mental and physical reaction to anxiety, stress or the unknown (e.g. bears or public speaking). Some concerns are protective because we have to react when we are in danger. But when fear gets faster, it can affect your life and health.

Anxiety is very common. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 31

percent of adults in the United States suffer from anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

And the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 300 million people worldwide have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders tend to affect more women than men.

While you can be sure that it won't kill you right away, chronic anxiety can have negative long-term health effects.

Anxiety can be bad for heart health.

Studies suggest that anxiety disorders are common in people with heart disease. Some experts also believe that fear can contribute to the development of heart disease. They speculate that chronic heart racing and an increase in blood pressure over time could increase the risk of heart attack and possibly weaker heart muscle.

People with generalized anxiety may also have an increased risk of heart disease and suicide.

Other mental illnesses are often associated with anxiety.

Many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at the same time, which can increase the risk of physical health problems.

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand, and a study published in 2017 suggested that doctors examine patients with emotionally induced asthma for panic disorders.

Using drugs or alcohol to manage depression or anxiety can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and liver problems – and this could also cause depression and anxiety symptoms to worsen.

Anxiety can kill your sleep

Some research has shown that generalized anxiety disorder can negatively affect sleep quality, which can be bad news for long-term health. Deprivation of sleep is associated with many health problems, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

In a word, no. A panic or anxiety attack won't kill you. But like anxiety, frequent panic attacks can also pose long-term health risks.

Researchers have investigated whether panic disorder can increase the risk of heart disease, but have not definitely linked the two. Repeated panic attacks, however, can affect your sleep and put you at risk for some of the long-term health effects of insomnia.

Panic attacks are intense experiences of fear and fear that appear out of the blue. If you suffer from repeated panic attacks, panic disorder can occur. As with anxiety, panic disorder is more common in women – in fact, women are twice as likely to experience it as men.

Anxiety attacks are also moments of high anxiety, but they are triggered by situations that cause anxiety, and they are not as severe as panic attacks (think of high anxiety, but not of a heart attack feeling).

If a panic attack occurs, try these strategies to find a sense of calm:

  • Label it.

    • Announce something like, "This is a panic attack. I can handle it and it will be over soon. “You can also write down and carry statements like" I have survived panic attacks and know that they will not kill me ".
    • Use abdominal breathing. Practice deep abdominal breathing or try boxing breathing: Breathe in through your nose and fill your belly with air as you count to four. Hold your breath as you count to four. Exhale through your mouth, even as you count to four. To repeat.
    • Practice mindfulness. Try some relaxation techniques, such as repeating calming words or phrases. It can also be helpful to imagine a scene that calms you down or focuses on tensing and relaxing every muscle in your body, from your head to your toes.
    • Focus on other things. If you can, focus your attention on something else, like brushing your teeth or petting your dog or cat.
    • Games for distraction. Download games or music to your phone that can distract you. 2017 research suggests that playing a game could help someone calm down in panic attacks.
    • Journal. Some therapists suggest keeping a diary of your panic attacks, noting when they happened, how long they took, and how you felt about them. This can help you identify patterns or triggers and feel better under control.

Even if an anxiety or panic disorder is unlikely to kill you, it is still a good idea to consult your doctor about your long-term health effects.

Here are some signs that it's time to call the doctor:

  • Anxiety or panic attacks affect your family life, job, or relationships.
  • Your physical health begins to suffer.
  • You have asthma and are prone to panic attacks.
  • You are taking a new medication and have just started to increase anxiety or panic attacks.
  • You feel depressed.

Your doctor may recommend treatment options such as:

  • therapy. Your doctor may suggest psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or therapy for desensitization and reprocessing of eye movements (EMDR).
  • Relaxation strategies. A therapist can outline strategies such as breathing techniques, journaling, yoga and movement.
  • medication. Your doctor can prescribe medications such as buspirone (Busbar or Vanspar), SSRIs (Paxil or Zoloft) or benzodiazepines (Valium or Xanax).

If someone you love is afraid, you can offer additional compassion or support as follows:

  • Do not tell them to calm down because it is "everything in their head". This can feel dismissive. Remember that your symptoms can be stressful and can have very real effects on your life.
  • Ask how you can help. Understand whether or not they can react during an attack.
  • Don't get angry if they avoid situations that can trigger an anxiety or panic attack. You might want to gently point out that your fear seems to affect your lifestyle and that you are here to help.
  • Listen. When your loved ones talk about their fear, don't assume they are looking for advice. Ask if they just want someone to be listening.

Anxiety and panic attacks won't kill you, but they can affect your long-term physical and mental health. To cope with anxiety or panic attacks, you can try techniques such as deep breathing, recording, and distraction.

If your symptoms affect your life and happiness, it is best to speak to your doctor and possibly a therapist. Healthcare professionals can help you develop a treatment plan to minimize long-term health effects. Make researching self-care strategies a priority as well.


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