Pessimism Can Take a Toll on Our Health
According to some recent research,2,3,4 people with health anxiety have a significantly higher risk of developing heart disease compared to those who do not worry about it in the absence of any serious symptoms.
In all, 7,050 people filled out questionnaires to assess their overall health, including thoughts and concerns about their health.
The Top 10% of worriers were considered to have health anxiety, 20 years later, their mental outlook was compared to actual health outcomes.
Those who had health anxiety had 2X the rate of heart disease compared to those without health anxiety, 6% compared to 3%.
Forbes Magazine reported: “Even after taking out variables that are known to be linked to heart risk, the connection still stood, with people with health anxiety having a 70% greater risk of developing heart disease …
There was a ‘dose-dependent’ relationship, where the worse the health anxiety, the greater the likelihood of developing heart disease down the road.”
Clearly, the idea that health anxiety in and of itself may cause heart disease is the last thing chronic worriers want or need to hear. And yet it’s important to understand such mind-body dynamics so that you can address the real problem, Your High Anxiety.
As noted by the authors of the study: ‘These findings illustrate the dilemma for clinicians between reassuring the patient that current physical symptoms of anxiety do not represent heart disease, contrasted against the emerging knowledge on how anxiety, over time, may be causally associated with increased risk …
At best, this finding might encourage patients to seek treatment for health anxiety and to trust their heart.”
Do you have HHHA (High High Health Anxiety)?
At the far extreme is hypochondria, which is when a person is convinced they have a serious, undiagnosed disease.
As an example: for a hypochondriac, a sore throat related to a cold may be interpreted as throat cancer. But health anxiety can span a wide range of severity.
The Big Q: How do you know if you have health anxiety?
The Big A: Answering yes to any of the questions below suggest you might qualify, and would likely benefit from seeking behavioral-based help, as follows:
- Have certain symptoms caused you a great deal of worry?
- Do you worry about your health in general?
- Do you feel your problem is more serious than your doctors have found?
Notably, getting reassurance from a medical professional will not do you any good if you have HHHA. Instead, the experts recommend seeking help from a cognitive behavioral therapist to help you “reinterpret” your obsessive thoughts.
Mindfulness training is another option that has been shown to have long-lasting effects. Keeping a journal will also help you link your physical symptoms and mental worries to your day-to-day activities.
The Guardian reported: “The symptoms themselves are often due to anxiety, such as chest pain. We get people to make the connection themselves. For example, if they get chest pain at work but not when digging the garden then it’s unlikely to be physical, cardiac pain.”
Another study shows just how much pessimism in general raises one’s risk of ill health.
This study followed 2,200 people in Finland for 11 years. The participants’ levels of optimism and pessimism were assessed at the outset and later correlated with actual health outcomes.
Those who were the most pessimistic had a 220% higher risk of dying over the course of the study compared to the most optimistic ones.
They also had a 73% higher risk of lethal heart disease. A dose-dependent link was seen in this study too.
Overall, the more pessimistic the person was, the worse their health fared, which is to be expected when you consider that:
- Anxiety has been linked to thickening of the arteries, a 52% increase in cardiovascular disease, migraines and tumor metastases,
- Stress hormones have been linked to heart disease,
- Pessimism has been linked to chronic inflammation.
Experts in this field say that if you recognize yourself in any of the above descriptions then take the necessary steps to address your anxiety, fear, pessimism or other neurotic tendencies.
Over time, negative thoughts and emotions can do a great deal of harm, not to mention sap one’s happiness and life satisfaction.
As cases of heart disease and Alzheimer’s continue to rise, the finding that thoughts and emotions can play such an important role is really good news, as you can actually do something about it and eliminate that unnecessary risk.
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Breathe, Live lively