If you live with anxiety, you're probably familiar with the vicious circle of being anxious about being anxious. A helpful way to break the cycle may be to remind yourself of the benefits of being anxious. New research highlights such a benefit, as anxiety raises the chances of survival after heart attack.
Anyone living with anxiety knows how terrible it is to worry about worrying, and how this can send you spiraling into a full-blown anxiety attack.
During such times, some people — including myself — may find it useful to focus on the benefits of anxiety.
Trust me, there are benefits to being anxiety-prone; at least from an evolutionary standpoint, anxiety may have evolved as a useful response to that predator hiding in the bushes.
New research adds to this list, as those who are extremely anxious about their health are found to seek medical help more promptly after a heart attack, thus drastically improving their outlook. The findings were published in the journal Clinical Research in Cardiology.
None of this, however, is to say that living with anxiety is a walk in the park, or that the condition isn't serious.
Often debilitating, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a psychiatric condition that affects almost 7 million people across the United States, many of whom are reluctant to seek help because they feel that their condition isn't "real" if it doesn't have any physical symptoms.
However, if you're prone to anxiety and tend to berate yourself for it, the next time you're in a dark moment, you may benefit from remembering that your anxiety can sometimes be your friend.
Anxiety may protect you after a heart attack
The new research — led by Prof. Karl-Heinz Ladwig, from the Technical University of Munich in Germany — used data from the Munich Examination of Delay in Patients Experiencing Acute Myocardial Infarction (MEDEA) study.
The team examined the information on the 619 heart attack patients, all of whom were interviewed as part of MEDEA, considering things such as the time they arrived at the hospital and how their condition unfolded.
Of the 619 patients included in the study, 12 percent also had GAD. These individuals, the study has revealed, reacted more promptly to their heart attacks and got to the hospital much sooner.
In fact, women with anxiety disorder got to the hospital 112 minutes, on average, following heart attack onset, whereas it took women without the condition 2 hours longer to seek medical help.
For men, the beneficial effect of anxiety was also noticeable, although not as marked as it was for women. Men with anxiety disorder received treatment 48 minutes sooner, on average.
As Prof. Ladwig explains, every half an hour is vital for survival after a heart attack. That being said, ironically, having anxiety may also increase a person's risk of having cardiovascular disease in the first place.
"Individuals with anxiety disorder are at greater risk of having a heart attack but are more likely to survive it," says Prof. Ladwig. "Our data revealed an important factor. Individuals with anxiety disorder often react more sensitively to their health needs."
"Doctors should always take their concerns very seriously. Such patients are also more decisive when it comes to accepting help. In this way, one illness can help protect against another serious illness."
Prof. Karl-Heinz Ladwig