Can Depression and Anxiety Make You Sick? Part 2: Long Term Health Effects

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC
1/3/2024

Read part one of this series: Can Depression and Anxiety Make You Sick: Short Term Health Effects

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health conditions. Most people will experience either (or both) of these conditions at some point in their life. Whether chronic or short-term, both of these disorders usually show physical side effects. However, when these conditions persist for a long time, the physical symptoms worsen.

Both anxiety and depression come with health effects like fatigue, appetite and sleep changes, and inflammation. But they can also cause long-term health problems.

The Connection Between the Mind and Body

Recently, we are are starting to understand more and more about the connection between mental health and physical health. Our sympathetic nervous system plays a big role in mental health and when it is chronically firing, our physical bodies begin to feel the effects.

It is now understood that mental health conditions like depression and anxiety have accompanying physical symptoms such as:

These symptoms could be short-term, coming and going throughout the day. However, untreated symptoms worsen and lead to more severe health problems over time.

Does Depression Cause Long-Term Health Effects?

Those who experience depression typically feel a loss of interest and persistent feelings of sadness. This mental health disorder is not just feeling down all the time; It’s persistent and unyielding loneliness and despair. 

People with depression often experience disrupted sleeping patterns similar to insomnia. It’s also been shown that those who experience long-term depressive symptoms are less likely to seek help and follow through with treatments.

When left alone, the long-term effects of depression can be dangerous. 

Brain Function

One physiological effect of long-term depression is long-term memory problems.

The hippocampus plays the role of memory maker in the brain. It’s also the area that produces cortisol, a hormone that plays an important role in the stress response.

When cortisol is produced excessively for a long time, the production of new neurons begins to slow down. When this happens, the brain has a harder time creating new memories. This will lead to poor episodic memory and worse cognitive function.

Heart Function

There is a correlation between depression and heart problems. It’s been shown that people who are experiencing long-term depression are at a higher risk of heart attack and are less likely to recover from a heart attack or heart-related issues.

This is due to cardiovascular deterioration that takes place in individuals with major depression over time.

Does Anxiety Cause Long-Term Health Effects?

Anxiety usually presents itself in constant, illogical worry. Physically, it looks like muscle tension, headaches, and nausea. Letting anxiety go untreated for a long period is dangerous and could lead to worsened physical conditions.

The long-term effects that anxiety has on the body can include brain function, heart function, and a weakened immune system.

Brain Function

Similarly to depression, long-term anxiety can create memory problems. When we feel anxious or have a panic attack, our brain produces excessive amounts of cortisol and adrenaline. A persistent amount of these two hormones flooding the brain can decrease its ability to perform.

Heart Function

A well-known side effect of anxiety is increased heart rate and high blood pressure. When these conditions continue for a long time, the heart will begin to perform in a less-than-ideal way. 

This degradation of the heart leaves it vulnerable to cardiovascular issues.  Long-term anxiety can lead to a high risk of heart attack and stroke. These symptoms can be lessened through anxiety treatment.

Immune System

When your body is overworking, your immune system gets suppressed. Chronic and short-term anxiety makes the body work overtime. This leaves the body vulnerable to other illnesses. 

This is exacerbated by the mind-body connection. It can become a cycle of sickness that spirals down and creates worse mental conditions and physical conditions.

Treat Depression and Anxiety Early On

When depression and anxiety continue for a long time, physical symptoms will become worse and worse. This degradation can be stopped by seeking help early on.

It doesn’t help that mental symptoms are exacerbated by physical symptoms. It’s a cyclical pattern that only brings individuals that worsens the state of our minds and bodies. However, it is never too late to seek help.

Several treatments have been proven effective for treating anxiety and depression:

Psychotherapies are considered the best treatment for anxiety and depression, but medication will often be used alongside traditional talk therapy. By reaching out to a mental health professional, you can begin treatment and start feeling better.

Talk to Inner Balance Counseling Today

If you’re suffering from the long-term effects of anxiety or depression, don’t let it continue. Our compassionate staff is waiting and wants to help you get better. Contact us to request a consultation and begin your path toward recovery.

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC
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