Curb anxiety before it spirals out of control

Once anxiety spirals out of control, it can impact the body, even the heart

Recently, in a tragic turn of events, Manjunath Anand, a 36-year-old stand-up comedian, collapsed and died, reportedly of a cardiac arrest. He was on stage while performing in Dubai, and was speaking on his experiences with anxiety while this happened.

Of late, there’s been some conversation around anxiety and its relationship with mental-health conditions like depression. But the link between the problem and heart health hasn’t really been explored enough. In fact, there isn’t that much research, either in India or internationally, around it either.

On anxiety

The World Health Organization estimates that 38 million people in our country suffer from anxiety. Anxiety isn’t always a bad thing — it’s a normal part of life. It helps us stay alert in a tricky situation — especially helpful to us when we were forest dwellers.

Today, it has become a matter of concern, when it begins to affect daily life and regular functioning. “People with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations,” says the Mayo Clinic, USA, website. It links anxiety with panic attacks, speaking of the difficulty in the ability to control the attacks, and out-of-proportion worry and reactions.

Say you’re going in for an interview. It’s normal to be a little nervous, but most people settle down as the interview progresses. “A person with anxiety may not be able to sleep prior to the interview. On that day, they might experience constant fear and can have an intense feeling, sometimes even that the end is near. At the interview, there are chances that they won’t be able to speak when asked questions, and even if they get the job, they might be worried about their performance or their safety every day,” explains Shreya Mythrei, clinical psychologist, Aarohi – Centre for Mental Health, Coimbatore. Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is a medical problem, and can be diagnosed by a psychiatrist, who can help with these symptoms.

During a panic attack, there may be profuse sweating, increased heart rate, trembling, and some may even feel the need to use the bathroom often. When this happens often, you may have disturbed sleep and constant tiredness.

What we can do
  • Dr Arun Vangili, a consultant psychiatrist based in Coimbatore, suggests that moderate physical exercise is the best and most under-rated method to combat anxiety. “The endorphins released by our body during a workout help us stay positive and calm. Avoiding smoking and drinking is another very effective method. Meditation can also be of help. Life without much stress is the best for a healthy heart and mind,” he says. Dr Sanjiv adds that food also has a role here. “Avoid junk food and add a lot of fruits and vegetables to the diet. Food that is easily digestible decreases the stress on the body.”
  • Do not hesitate to seek professional help if required. “Usually people with anxiety will go through a lot of distress and their regular functionality will be disrupted. It can affect their work and relationships. When someone finds themselves unable to handle the situation, seek immediate help,” says Dr Vangili.

Cardiac arrest

Our body is built to take a certain amount of stress. “The human body reacts to stress by releasing a hormone called adrenaline,” says Dr Sanjiv Agarwal, Senior Consultant, Interventional Cardiology, Fortis Malar Hospital, Chennai. When this happens occasionally, it helps us perform, to work more efficiently. If adrenaline is pumping all the time, which often happens in periods of prolonged stress, it has an adverse effect on the body. “Constant anxiety puts undue stress on the heart, making it pump more blood. This can cause damage to the lining of the blood vessels. Stress increases the stickiness of platelets and these cells will attach themselves to the damaged inner lining of blood vessels of the heart. This can lead to blood clots, thereby increasing the pressure in the nerves, leading to a heart attack.”

Dr Mukesh Goel, Senior Consultant, Cardio Thoracic & Vascular Surgery, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi, says that anxiety is one of the reasons for the build-up of cholesterol and calcium in arteries. “It is called plaque. The other factors include smoking, a high-cholesterol diet and diabetes. Plaque can lead to a heart attack, and in extreme cases, lead to cardiac arrests.” He adds that anxiety can lead to an abnormal rhythm, called ventricular fibrillation. “Our heart will find it difficult to pump blood at that point and this can also lead to cardiac arrest.”

Deadly duo

A recent research study, ‘Association of Depression, Anxiety and Stress with Myocardial Infarction: A Case-Control Study’, found that people suffering from depression, anxiety and stress are at increased risk of heart attacks compared to others. The research was done by Manoj MT, Joseph KA and Vijayaraghavan G and it was published in the Journal of Clinical and Preventive Cardiology. The researchers studied 100 people with psychological and heart conditions against 100 others with no previous records of these. “Not only anxiety, but depression and stress are also contributing factors here. This topic has not been studied much in our country. My finding shows that people with anxiety are six times more prone to heart attacks,” says Manoj.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 8:56:30 PM |

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