A new study suggests that people who are suffering from chronic anxiety and stress are at increased risk of developing depression and even dementia.
The study findings show an “extensive overlap” of the brain’s neural activity in anxiety, stress and fear that may explain the connection between chronic stress and the occurrence of neuro-psychiatric disorders – mental ailments, including depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
Chronic state is a pathological condition which is produced by prolonged activation of the normal acute physiological stress response that can ravage immune, metabolic and cardiovascular systems, and result in degeneration of the brain’s hippocampus (critical for long-term memory and spatial navigation).
“Pathological anxiety and chronic stress are associated with structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus which may account for the increased risk of developing neuro-psychiatric disorders, including depression and dementia.”
Linda Mah, an assistant professor, University of Toronto
It is perfectly normal to experience feelings of fear, anxiety and stress sometimes in our lives. For example – the fear we feel when our supervisor is angry, the anxiety in our minds before a first date, and the way our heart pounds if we believe we’re in danger. Anxiety triggers us to take action. It gears us up to face and handle challenging situation. However, when these emotional responses become more frequent or chronic, they can badly interfere with day-to-day activities.
The study findings also suggest that stress-induced damage to the hippocampus is “not completely irreversible.”
The review paper investigated contemporary evidence from studies of stress and fear conditioning in animal models, and neuroimaging studies of stress and anxiety in healthy individuals and in clinical populations.
So if you believe you consistently experience feelings of anxiety and stress take action now. Make changes in your routine and lifestyle to reduce anxiety and stress from your life. If you are unable to cope yourself don’t hesitate to take help of a professional mental health therapist.
*Based on a paper published online in the journal Current Opinion in Psychiatry.