How Does Worry Affect my Health?

Health Professional

In Part I we learned what worry is, how it can be good and bad.
So What? I Worry. What Does it Matter?
Chronic and excessive worrying can have a variety of negative effects on your well being. It can isolate you from others, stripping you of your social support system. You may be so involved in the act of worrying that you don't find time to connect with others, or your negativity and a constantly fretful attitude may drive them away.

Chronic worry and stress can also lead to physical illness. Physical responses to stress can involve the health of your heart and blood vessels, the function of your immune system, your breathing patterns, and how your body secretes hormones. Hormones help regulate various physical functions in your body, such as brain function and nerve impulses. But when stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, are secreted in large amounts by excessive worrying and anxiety, they can cause physical reactions. Some of these are:

- lightheadedness
 - fast heartbeat
 - rapid breathing
 - shortness of breath
 - fatigue
 - headaches
 - inability to focus / short-term memory loss
 - irritability

  • muscle aches / muscle tension
     - nausea / digestive disorders
     - suppression of the immune system
     - premature coronary artery disease
     - heart attack

In severe cases when excessive worrying and high anxiety go untreated, this can lead to depression and even suicidal thoughts.

Am I more likely to have a worry problem?
If you were born with what is called anxious temperament, you are more likely to be a worrier. According to temperament related research, perhaps 20 percent of children are born with anxious temperament. Out of that 20 percent with anxious temperament, some will develop one or more anxiety spectrum disorders, notably Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), phobias, panic attacks or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Anxiety disorders are commonplace in the U.S., affecting nearly 40 million adults.

It's important to note, however, a person with COPD may have had an anxiety disorder prior to developing COPD or he or she may develop one after the onset of the lung impairment.
Do I have a worry problem?

Ask yourself:

- Have I begun to worry more than I ever did?  - Do I worry more than others do?  - Do I tend to multiply the possibilities of what can go wrong?  - Am I frequently so worried that I toss and turn at night and can't sleep?  - Have I ever been told, "Stop worrying Relax!"

Taking Action
Dr. Sharma says, "I am sure that after worrying all night long you find yourself in the morning exactly in the same situation you were in the night before, except more sleepy and tired! In spite of worrying all night, you didn't solve anything, learn anything new, or acquire any possession, except perhaps a headache. God gave us the ability to worry to help us assess the risks facing us and to plan appropriate steps to meet our needs. But if you worry only, and don't take the required action, you never get out of the swirling waters onto the shore."

So, we've talked about what worry is, how it can affect our health, and who has a tendency towards being a chronic worrier, Now let's get down to seeing what we can do about it! We'll look at three plans:

1. The One-Minute Manager (Dr. Sharma)
2. Tips to stop the worry thoughts (Dr. Sharma)
3. Be a Doer, Not a Worrier. Take action against worry thoughts.

Watch for the final article in this series: Stop it, Manage It, Be a Doer! for tips and techniques on managing worry.

Thanks to Dr. Vijai Sharma, PhD, for sharing his wisdom in this article.

Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist, teacher and the founder and director of and author of Breathe Better, Live in Wellness and Live Your Life With COPD, scheduled for release Spring, 2011.


Overcoming Anxiety and Depression and Breathing Correctly in COPD/Emphysema: A Self Care Book for People with COPD and a Psychosocial Manual for Professionals by Vijai Sharma, intended for future publication     Copyright Vijai Sharma, PhD