August 13, 2022

Addicted to Anxiety - When Panic Becomes a Habit (and How to Break It)

Anxiety can become addictive when it provides enough control for your body and brain in stressful situations, as this lady demonstrates in her anxious state before a stressful event

Anxiety becomes an addiction when it subconsciously feels good to your mind, brain, and body. It sounds ridiculous to my patients, but just like anything else, anxiety can give you control, however disastrously, over your body and the situation that you’re in. And because your brain loves the feeling of control, it can make anxiety a habitual reaction to stressors in your environment.

An addiction is any behavior that feels good in the moment but has long term harm, and most importantly, cannot be stopped. It’s not just shopping, sex, gambling, social media, and drugs. The feeling of a high, such as that perturbed control feeling that anxiety gives you, is all your brain needs to habitually engage in behaviors or thought patterns.

In the operating room, the effects of anxiety are very clear because we are monitoring your body with sensitive life support monitors. I directly see the impact that anxiety has on the bodies of my patients. This includes heart rate, heart rate variability, anesthesia requirements, breathing patterns, muscle tone, and yes, the things they blurt out when under anesthesia. Even though the effects of anxiety are so detrimental to the body, especially before surgery, it absolutely gives patients a sense of control over their body, however subconsciously they feel it. They are in control of their muscles and their heart beating (among many other things), and these little bits of control can be valuable in an environment where they otherwise feel they have no control, like in the operating room before surgery. After all, you are lying on an operating room table with little to no clothes on before going under anesthesia to be cut by a knife - of course this can be a stressful situation where patients feel powerless!

However, just because the body can take control over something, like your heart and muscle physiology, it doesn’t mean that it’s healthy to do so, and, unfortunately, it has direct consequences during and after surgery. When compounded over months and years, that anxiety has significant health consequences, including physical and mental health problems like heart disease and cancer progression risks.

Fortunately, there is incredible potential to overcome addiction, and it can often be done naturally. While anxiety can be addictive, it does not appear to be nearly as addictive as other substances, especially nicotine, alcohol, and opioids. Many patients can overcome those addictions, sometimes even naturally. If those chemical dependencies can be overcome naturally, it shows just how much resilience our bodies have to overcome anxiety addiction, as well.

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