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Can Anxiety Disorders Make You Sick?

by Mike on August 11, 2008 · 36 comments

mikhail nesterov sick girl sm Can Anxiety Disorders Make You Sick?Anxiety Disorder sufferers have long known that they are more susceptible to physical diseases.

But now a study headed by Jitender Sareen of the University of Manitoba has detailed just what Anxiety Disorders can do to you physically. 

It was proven several years ago that those with Anxiety Disorders are more prone to heart problems. This new study shows that people with Anxiety Disorders also have an increased risk of developing physical ailments, particularly thyroid diseases, respiratory diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, arthritis, allergies, and migraine diseases.

Early treatment of Anxiety Disorders is essential to warding off physical diseases caused by it. Sareen said,

Right now there is a long delay between someone developing an anxiety problem and seeking appropriate treatment — usually 10- 15 years. The hope is to get people with anxiety problems to go get help earlier. The treatments are quite effective if you get at it early before you get secondary [health conditions].

How many people have Anxiety Disorders?

30 to 60 million Americans have Anxiety Disorders

It is estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of the American people age 18 and older suffer from some sort of Anxiety Disorder: that’s 30 to 60 million people! According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), the US economy loses over 42 billion dollars yearly due to undiagnosed, misdiagnosed and under-treated Anxiety Disorders. Less than one-third of those affected with Anxiety Disorder are treated, the ADAA found in a 1999 study.

Anxiety Disorders include Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Social Phobia (SAD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

How the study was conducted

Although depression has long been linked to physical illness, evidence for an association between anxiety disorders and physical health problems is more recent. There have been numerous studies of the links between Anxiety Disorders and physical conditions. Sareen’s research is the first to sample a large number of people over a long period of time. These people not only reported their subjective feelings, but were checked by both physicians and psychologists.

4.181 adults were studied

The research studied 4,181 adults who were part of the German Health Survey, conducted between 1997 and 1999. The survey assessed whether participants had any physical illnesses through a questionnaire, a medical interview conducted by a primary care physician, and medical tests. Psychiatric interviews were conducted by a psychologist or physician, using internally recognized diagnostic criteria. 

A quality of life survey measuring factors such as physical functioning, pain and general health was also administered. To determine disability levels, participants reported how many days of the past 30 they were unable to perform their usual daily activities.

The study was published in the October 23, 2006 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The results of the study

Anxiety Disorders were associated significantly with physical illnesses. Of the 4,181 people in the study, 8.4 percent had an Anxiety Disorder, and 60.8 had a physical condition in the past month. Below are the percentages of people with each physical illness who also had Anxiety Disorder:

  • Migraine disease – 20.3%
  • Gastrointestinal diseases – 18.8%
  • Respiratory diseases – 15.2%
  • Thyroid disease – 14.8%
  • Allergic conditions – 12%
  • Arthritis – 10.7%

The researchers further noted that, phobic Anxiety symptoms have been linked to sudden cardiac death. They state that other clinical studies have associated Anxiety Disorders such as:

  • Cardiac disease
  • Cancer
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Peptic ulcer disease
  • Asthma 

Other studies have found a significant association between the presence of Anxiety Disorder diagnoses and self-reported physical disorders. And a large proportion of primary care doctor visits are due to the symptoms of Anxiety Disorders and the physical conditions they cause.

It is important to note that, of the individuals with both Anxiety Disorders and physical conditions, the majority developed the Anxiety Disorder first. This implies that the Anxiety Disorders had some role in developing the physical disorders.

In addition, those with both Anxiety Disorders and physical conditions were more likely to have a poorer quality of life as well as be disabled — unable to perform normal daily activities — at some point. Sareen said,

These findings extend previous work in clinical and community samples that noted an association between anxiety disorders and physical illnesses but also demonstrate the unique association of this comorbidity [having two or more chronic diseases simultaneously] with poor quality of life and disability.

Why Anxiety Disorders might be associated with physical illnesses

Sareen commented, 

The mechanisms of association between anxiety disorders and physical conditions remain unknown, although several possibilities should be considered.

The researchers state that among the possibilities for why anxiety disorders and physical conditions may be so closely connected are:

  • A physical illness, particularly if life-threatening, may cause increased anxiety eventually leading to an Anxiety Disorder.
  • An Anxiety Disorder may lead to an increased chance of illness as the result of biological changes caused by the Anxiety Disorder.
  • An Anxiety Disorder may lead to another disorder, such as substance abuse, which in turn causes a physical illness.
  • A medication for a physical illness may bring on or increase Anxiety symptoms.
  • There may be common genetic, environmental, and/or personality factors that connect Anxiety Disorders and certain physical conditions.

All is not lost! Discovering and treating Anxiety Disorders early can lead to a more healthful life

Anxiety causes physical changes

This study points up the necessity of treating Anxiety Disorders early. Anxiety Disorders, particularly PTSD and Panic Disorder, cause actual physical changes in the body and brain over the long term. These changes make the Disorders worse and more difficult to treat. However, if Anxiety Disorders are discovered and treated early, these changes can be minimized or avoided entirely.

Whatever the reasons are for these connections, the researchers make clear that physicians need to assess for Anxiety Disorders as well as depression when treating patients for physical conditions. The researchers wrote,

Although there have been increased efforts to recognize and treat depression in the medically ill, our findings underscore the need to create similar programs to recognize and treat anxiety disorders in the medically ill. … [T]he current study suggests that anxiety disorders should be considered an important public health problem in the community.

What do you think?

Over and over, we read that treating Anxiety Disorders early can lead to a better quality of life, not only mentally, but physically as well. It is tragic that two-thirds of all Americans with Anxiety Disorders go untreated. If you or someone you know has symptoms of Anxiety Disorder, please, please set up an appointment for an evaluation today!

  • If you have an Anxiety Disorder, have you experienced increased physical illnesses?
  • Do you think that the findings of this study are overstated or understated?

What can you do now?

Your comments are always welcome, and are important to this blog’s community! Leave a comment now.

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©2008 Anxiety, Panic & Health. All rights reserved.

Resources used in this post:
Canadian University Press Releases/Newswire. (2006, October 23). Anxiety Disorders Linked to Physical Conditions. Retrieved August 11, 2008 from Canadian University Press Releases/Newswire Web site: http://www.canadian-universities.net/News/Press-Releases/

Fenton, Cathleen Henning. (2006, October 23). Anxiety Disorders Closely Linked to Physical Conditions. Retrieved August 11, 2008 from About.com Web site: http://panicdisorder.about.com/od/comorbiddisorders/a/anxietyillness.htm

Leong, Christine. (2006, November 1). Anxiety association with physical health problems. Retrieved August 11, 2008 from Manitoban Online Web site: http://www.themanitoban.com/2006-2007/1101/107.Anxiety.association.with.physical.health.problems.php#_jmp0_

Mood and Anxiety Disorders Research Group. (2007). Jitender Sareen Biography. Retrieved August 11, 2008 from Mood and Anxiety Disorders Research Group Web site: http://www.mts.net/~wolven/madrg/jitend.htm

Sareen, Jitender; Jacobi, Frank; Cox, Brian J.; Belik, Shay-Lee; Clara, Ian; Stein, Murray B. (2006, October 23). Disability and Poor Quality of Life Associated with Comorbid Anxiety Disorders and Physical Conditions. Retrieved August 11, 2008 from Archives of Internal Medicine Web site: http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/166/19/2109

Science Daily. (2006, October 24). Anxiety Disorders Linked To Physical Conditions. Retrieved June 26, 2008 from Science Daily Web site: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061024010331.htm

October_23_2006_ANXIETY_DISORDERS_LINKED_TO_PHYSICAL_CONDITIONS.html

Further reading:

Anxiety Disorders Associated with Migraine Disease — About.com 

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Kay Dennison August 12, 2008 at 10:33 pm

I am printing this and taking it to my doctor’s appointments with both my internist and endocrinologist. I developed panic disorder after having a massive stroke 30 years ago and hyperthyroidism developed about two years ago. I know what works for me and these stupid people argue and keep trying to change what I take. It’s been working for almost 30 years. I am mostly panic attack free and I know the things that can trigger them. It ain’t broke but these morons want to fix it.

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Jason Kincade August 25, 2008 at 11:14 am

Mike-
I like your site layout; it’s crisp, populated with tasteful, attractive graphics that complement well-written, meaningful, heartfelt and informative content. Way to go!

JQK

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Mike August 25, 2008 at 8:04 pm

Jason, thank you for the compliments.

I tried out several themes before settling on the Thesis theme by Chris Pearson. It is simple and focuses the reader’s attention on the content.

And thank you for the encouragement. I work very hard to make this blog as helpful as possible. Sometimes I get a bit discouraged, and it is comments like yours that give me new determination!

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Kay Dennison August 25, 2008 at 9:21 pm

Well, it’s helping me to know that I’m not alone and your research is excellent. One thing I’ve learned in this is that no one really understands how difficult this unless they’ve experienced it — especially the doctors I’ve had to contend with.

Mike? Do you find that some things or people trigger attacks?

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Mike August 25, 2008 at 9:53 pm

Kay, thank you for your comment!

Yes, there are definitely situations and people that send me into a spiral. I have learned to protect myself from them by avoiding them. However, that is one of the big problems with Anxiety Disorders: avoidance. But you do what you have to do to survive.

For example, I have a real problem with some of my more distant family members. I like to call them “crazy-makers.” They can instantly, it seems, trigger bipolar depression and Anxiety by their behavior towards me. I have had to protect myself by not seeing them (fortunately, they live 250 miles away). They don’t really understand, and they think I’m being selfish and stuck up. But I’ve worked too hard and come too far to throw it all away.

And there are other things, such as crowded rooms, that can bring on panic attacks. I’m working on those situations, and am gradually having successes there. But, again, I don’t feel guilty for avoiding things that I’m not ready for.

I know that I will eventually have to face all the things I avoid. I will do so in a controlled way, one step at a time. Some people will disagree with me, even calling me selfish and self-absorbed.

But I have come from complete non-functionality five years ago to where I am today through taking it step by step and protecting myself from those things and people that trigger attacks. I can’t really be concerned what other people think, both for my own and my family’s good.

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Heather April 11, 2009 at 3:14 pm

I have been bedridden for 6 months and was bed ridden for 3 years, 5 years ago. I cannot physically stand up or sit upright. Why do all the doctors want to treat me for anxiety, depression, bi-polar or schizophrenia?

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Mike April 11, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Hello, Heather. Thank you for your comment!

I don’t know much about your situation, but it seems that your doctors are treating you for psychosomatic illnesses. I have some experience with those dating back to my college days. They feel like the real thing — they are the real thing — except they are caused by mental processes.

I would advise you to follow your doctors’ advice and instructions, if for no other reason than to see if you get better.

Wish I could be of more help, but I have little to go on.

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K. October 18, 2009 at 10:39 pm

Thank you again for yet another valuable article on the consequences of Anxiety disorders. I have absolutely experienced the kinds of symptoms you have listed and thankfully with my most r ecent therapy over the past 7-8 years, I am finally having less of these physical symptoms…However when my anxiety flares high, the physical problems return. Again, I thank you for your ever-so-perceptive and accurate research articles! K.

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Mike June 27, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Hi there, I’ve been basically diagnosed with paranoia, schizophrenia and depression but my doctor doesn’t want to put a label on me I’ve tried a whole host of tablets and none of them seem to work effectively I’m currently on Seroquel and Mirtazapine, which work to a degree, but it’s difficult for me to give the doctor feedback since 99% of the time I feel blank, I don’t know weather or not I’m happy or sad, the doctor thinks I’ve always had this but 9 years ago I split from my fiancee when she cheated on me and I’ve never felt the same, however at the moment I may have a potential girlfriend, but I have problems getting out and about, I’m just scared, also I want this relationship to go somewhere, I’m now 26 years old and nothing to show for it I don’t have a job or even a house of my own, I’m scared that I might not be able to provide if the relationship takes off, I want to though, so I’m scared that if I open my heart and if I get knocked back it’s going to hurt, I’ve also been having problems with chest pains which both ECGs have been fine, blood tests were taken for cholestoral, liver, kiddney and thyroid but all were fine, so I’ve to get an out patients appointment for a treadmill test and an ultrasound of my heart, the doctor said it might be the tablets over 9 years of taking them they could’ve compounded my heart, so I might be left with a difficult decision, I would rather dump the tablets rather than suffering heart failure. Has anyone else had this type of problem, I just don’t know what to do.

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Chantel August 13, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Hi Mike my name is Chantel I am starting to loose my mind and I don’t know what to do anymore,I was at several dokters and they tell me I am getting Anxiety attacs
And have depression that is what they say and I don’t know what is wrong with me please help me I am always afriad that I am going to DIE every day. I permanently feel sick my arms go lumb my lips go lumb and it is like needles and pins the hole time I am always nervise I get chest pains all over randomly,I am scared of everything to go anywere and the hole time it feels if I am going to get anxiety attac
PLEASE HELP ME!!!
Thank you

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K. August 13, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Hi Chantal, I have experienced what you are going through, in my past. What helped me was a combination of anxiety medication (non-addictive) and some anxiety management strategies. Some of the resources I used included a good psychiatrist who is very knowledgeable about anxiety disorders and effective treatment of them, a book called Beyond Anxiety and Phobias by Edmund Bourne and an organization called the Anxiety Disorders Association of Ontario in Canada, (ADAO). They had a handout that described several steps to take the power out of an anxiety/panic attack. I used these steps over and over again and eventually they started to work for me. If you want me to write them out…let me know, and I will send them in to this website as a post. Don’t give up…there is hope. K.

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Robin connelly January 10, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Hi, I just came across this site, I read all the comments, and have exsperienced all that goes along with panic anxiety and depression disorders. As I know the answers and how I should think I still have a hard time really dealing with everything. Find myself getting more and more depressed and fearing so much. I too fear illness and dealth! Among other things. I feel sick and I hurt often I feel like there is really no help for me, I’ve been on so many anti depressants, am currently on anxiety med a very low dose as I am sensitive to pills and end up with all the side effects. I gave up on anti dep because they just weren’t helping me. I just want to be happy and feel better and have a reason so to speak. I don’t know what to do.tired of bein tired, tired of not feeling what happiness feels like. Tired of the tears! I don’t have insurance so I can’t talk to a psychitrist.or counselor anyone who could maybe help me. Lost. T

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tracey woody February 5, 2012 at 3:02 pm

I am a 40 year old and had anxiety all my life even as a child.I have become very sick (disability) I suffer with chronic nausea,pain,weakness,it is so bad that I can’t do daily simple task. I feel like my body is under a attack. now I cant work go to store or any where for tha matter!! My doc told me that I have enternalized the stress,anger,the hurt,anxieity,depression,ect I was a happy 38 yera old women.I was strong even though I had aniety. but my life fell apart and like many others out there . this has taken away my life.I could be feeling really good.then my body turns around and I cant move from pain in my body and my stomch starts to grit painfully.Vomiting, It feels like I have a very bad flu! and then a week or so.my body go’s back to normal.What do I do about this.there will always be stress but if i don’t changh this I fear that life as i new it will never be the same. I need help but my insurance will not cover phycs.and the L.A county woun’t help me ether. they told me that I wasn’t crazy or that bad off REALLY they would not even speak to me about what was going.I am really need some help and I am desperit,lost,sad, because I can’t get help! if you hav any sugestion or may be you can help me finde somone to help me.I am running out of time to turn this around!!! PLEAS HELP ME!! Tracey WOODY S.O.S

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Jennifer March 8, 2012 at 3:45 pm

For the past week I have had this cronic headache, pressure all around my head, right now it’s in front of my head, I have a stiff neck and a sore spine. I know for a fact I am suffering from anxiety, it mostly effects me in the night time. I think because I’m alone and I have no one or nothing to keep my mind of my fear of being alone, fear of dying, fear of the world ending in 2012, I fear almost everything. Its hard for me to do anything now. It has always been bad but in the past week it’s been horrible!!!! I feel hopeless…. I need help and even the thought of taking meds makes me nervous because I am scared I will only get worse, so I would rather not take meds….. I need to know what I should do! And if my anxiety is what’s causing my pain in my head, neck, and spine……

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Alexa March 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm

I have disorder

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Taralyn March 26, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Alexa you have disorder? I love Lab Hospital so I want to check this website out!

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Sue-Lonie March 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Wow you guys are stupid I love bikinis!

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Kishia March 27, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Alexa has a disorder! Duh,I knew from Heaven!

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Brianna March 27, 2012 at 4:48 pm

I have a 5 year old sister so I can’t watch Lab Hospital and younger siblings!

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Tabitha April 2, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Hey I just had surgery on my colon.

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Emily April 6, 2012 at 7:38 am

I know my whole class made a card Get well soon “Tabitha”.

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Sue-Lonie April 6, 2012 at 7:57 am

Ha Ha I’m better at sports than you and smarter than you.

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Taralyn April 6, 2012 at 8:05 am

Taralyn: I Love you guys.

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Taralyn April 6, 2012 at 8:07 am

Why do you think of my page?

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Robin Edwards April 23, 2012 at 9:00 pm

I have an autoimmune disease and in the years before it was diagnosed, I suffered with an anxiety disorder that was not treated. I agree with this study 100%.

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Tabitha June 10, 2012 at 5:53 pm

MY BUTT IS ITCHING SO BAD.

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Brittany Drew/Rio June 10, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Good to Know (sarcastcly ). I like you though Tabitha.

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Juliet August 19, 2012 at 1:13 am

I think that PTSD does cause physical illness. I was raped less than a year ago at school and have severe anxiety because of it. I hate it so much!! Lately, I have noticed that it is hard for me to even eat. I get pain in my chest and feel like I am going to throw up sometimes. Sometimes I will be STARVING and as soon as I get my food, I take a few bites and get sick. From my favorite foods even! Even smells turn me off! Today I was at the airport and hadnt eaten anything so i got chicken tenders (something i have always liked) and the smell of my parents food made me almost vomit right there. I dont know if it is all related to PTSD but i know for sure it has a part. I am way to stressed all the time. I wish I could just go back to normal. I hate this. and i want to eat again and not be in pain!

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Gloria January 2, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Hello, I know your Anxiety attacks because the father of my children and my youngest both suffer from anxiety. Both deal with the problems very differently but since she was a baby and terrorized by too many people in the room, I knew then that she and he have the same reactions to similar triggers.
I just wanted to share with you that the organs in your brain that store all memories, so those resulting from trauma are also stored, can be chemically altered, as the trauma altered them, through natural means, and I refer to Whole Foods which are apothecary grade. I know of a process called Aromatherapy, which I have had the benefit of and which actually gave me an event after which I had the repercussions resulting from my trauma erased from my body /mind.
To be honest with you, the event is less than a day and I want to say less than an hour but it is hard to say how long it was. But the change that it creates takes many years to complete. This process involves your “new” you (let’s call it “you”) to learn about and take over your “old” you (let’s call it “not you”).
This, you can imagine, takes several years. In the course of this time, “you” start to see and understand the things that in the past were invisible or mysterious. “Not you” gets smaller and less powerful, meaning reactions start to come from “you” while “not you” just watches in amazement. As “you” get bigger and stronger and reveals and understands more about your life, past and present, “you” get more confident, more assertive, and more comfortable with yourself because everything makes sense and these is no weird places left in your past.
I have to say, I feel like a new person because I am a new person and it only took a few days smelling an oil called Forgiveness Oil. The product can only be bought online so I have supplied the website and yes, when I found I can eliminate gingivitis, flu, and other health issues with their product I immediately became a distributor but being a teacher I never really “Sold” or distributed the product, and only taught others about it. You have no obligation to purchase from me but the URL will show you where to buy the product and if you go to the Essential Oils tab and scroll down to the blends heading there will be oils which are blends and called after what they can be used to combat.
I hope this helps you and I hope you also know that Menopause and Adnropause (male menopause) cause depression, anxiety and extreme “horniness” and on the site I share you can find natural vegetable hormoney treatment for both men and women and this will eliminate symptoms derived by the lack of balance in our hormones which is what menopause is all about. Find me in Open Salon larravide in a google search and find the blog about hormones for listed symptoms and what product can help which symptom.
Keep me posted if you would like to get your hands on the Essential Oil Desk Reference. I hope I did not offend anyone by posting this and by all means if this is offensive please delete and accept my humblest apologies.

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Shayla March 30, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I have had anxiety and panic attacks since I was 9, after my mom was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder. Now I am terrified of death and losing my parents. I’ve never been on my own and I’ve never had a job because I’m scared, mostly to be away from my parents. Most of the time I get scared for no reason. A smell, a taste or a conversation can trigger an attack and I don’t know why. When I get scared I feel the fear rise from my stomach to my chest and its so huge I feel like I’m going to lose my mind. It makes me so sick to my stomach, I immediately get diahrea (sorry) and I feel like throwing up. This usually happens at night but it has been known to happen during the day. Now I have this opportunity to work at a vets office as a kennel assistant and I’m terrified at night but excited during the day. This job is fast paced but I love animals. I just don’t know what to do when the anxiety hits me and I have to immediately find a bathroom because just the smallest hint of fear triggers my stomach. I don’t know what to do. I can’t always hope there will be a bathroom nearby when I try to face my fears. Help please! :/

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Shayla March 30, 2013 at 1:19 pm

I should also add that I was hospitalized for a few hours when I finally told my parents I was having suicidal thoughts and they were just thoughts, no attempts. But when that fear rises into my chest and feels like it fills my head its just so huge I feel like I’m going to lose my mind. It feels like the only way to stop it is to end my life but I’m so scared of death and of course I woud never do that to my parents but I’ve been suffering since I was 9. Is it ever going to end? I don’t know what I’m going to say if I get a call this weekend saying I got this job. Ill be excited for a little while and tell myself this is such a huge opportunity for me and get all this confidence and tell myself that I won’t give into the fear that I know is gonna hit me as soon as its dark but once its night time and that attack hits me, it nearly immobalizes me.

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Timothy Johnson May 24, 2013 at 1:50 pm

This article has really hit home and has given me hope. I have had an anxiety disorder(undiagnosed) for many years. I get panic attacks and have been dizzy for almost 20 years. In the last three years ive been diagnosed with crohns disease and lots of allergies. My quality of life is very low. This article has given me some things to consider. Thank you
If you know of any more studies in this feild, please let me know.

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