Chronic Illness and Anxiety are known to go hand in hand with eachother. I can understand that anxiety follows chronic illness as a reaction to dealing with the sudden change of lifestyle, as I personally deal with this. However, what about when anxiety is a precursor to falling chronically ill? Then you raise the old “chicken and egg” debate, but the truth is that no one really knows why this happens. It is especially intruiging to me since I fall into the latter category of having anxiety for years before I became sick.
Doctors agree that treating a physical illness becomes more difficult when mental health is involved. As stated in a Harvard Medical Publication, “anxiety has been implicated in several chronic physical illnesses, including heart disease, chronic respiratory disorders, and gastrointestinal conditions. When people with these disorders have untreated anxiety, the disease itself is more difficult to treat and their physical symptoms often become worse” (Harvard Health Publishing). Anxiety clearly has a pronouced affect on our physical health.
Anxiety is known to amp up the body’s defense systems, making it available to fight or run away. When this mode is constantly turned “on”, the body has to deal with a continual flood of stress hormones. In my case, I was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder before ever being diagnosed with any chronic illnesses. I was always feeling anxious, stressed, and was more susceptible to catching things like colds and the flu.
The problem is that I have several genetic diseases that have a general onset of the time of puberty. For example, I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Type 3. Looking back, I can see how abnormally flexible I was even as a young child. So, clearly this chronic illness would not be triggered by my anxiety, because it was genetically pre-determined to already happen. My family has a history of anxiety, but not of any physical diseases, so I was pre-disposed to anxiety as well.
My thoughts on the matter is that anxiety clearly affects physical health. A life of anxiety may lead to other health conditions, but I think there must be other factors in play such as diet, genetics, lifestyle, and individuality. In the matter of having chronic conditions first, I agree that anxiety almost always develops because of the complete change in lifestyle and having to deal with the illness itself. In conclusion, I believe that anxiety is one link to the whole “chicken and egg” situation, but I think there are important ones that have yet to be disovered.
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Bailey, Eileen. “The Link Between Anxiety Disorders and Physical Illness – Helping a Friend or Family Member – Anxiety.” HealthCentral, Healthcentral, 30 Apr. 2012, http://www.healthcentral.com/article/the-link-between-anxiety-disorders-and-physical-illness.