Stress and anxiety have been linked to the same neurocircuitry in the brain as depression and dementia.
The new study suggests people need to find ways to reduce chronic stress or they could be putting themselves at increased risk of mental health problems.
Neuroscientists have found there is an extensive overlap between neurocircuitry for anxiety, depression and dementia.
Dr. Linda Mah, who led the study, said:
“Pathological anxiety and chronic stress are associated with structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which may account for the increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and dementia.”
Experiencing anxiety is a normal part of everyday life.
But, when anxiety starts to interfere with everyday life, it can become a more serious problem.
Chronic anxiety has also been linked to problems with memory and other health difficulties such as metabolic and immune disorders.
A previous study by Dr Mah and colleagues found that anxiety doubled the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease:
“Canadian researchers examined 376 people between the ages of 55 and 91 with ‘mild cognitive impairment’, and their chances of going on to develop Alzheimer’s disease[…]
The results showed that for people with mild anxiety symptoms, the chances of developing Alzheimer’s increased by 33%, for those with moderate anxiety it was 78% and for those with severe anxiety, the risk increased by 135%.
While depression has already been identified as a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s, this is the first study to implicate anxiety separately.”
Dr. Mah said:
“Looking to the future, we need to do more work to determine whether interventions, such as exercise, mindfulness training and cognitive behavioural therapy, can not only reduce stress but decrease the risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders.”
The study was published in the journal Current Opinion in Psychiatry (Mah et al., 2016).
→ Get Dr Jeremy Dean’s new anxiety ebook.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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