What Happens To Your Early Death Risk When You Have Anxiety

For people with anxiety, ongoing feelings of worry or dread can seemingly seep into every part of their lives, including work, sleep, social interactions, and more. Not only that, but science shows that anxiety may also affect the lifespan itself. 

In a 2012 meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), researchers found that the greater the amount of psychological distress experienced (which was calculated based on participant symptoms of anxiety, depression, social dysfunction, and more), the greater the risk of premature death from a variety of causes, including cardiovascular disease, all-cause death, and external causes, defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as cases of intentional or accidental injury or poisoning. Similar findings were found in a 2018 study published in the British Journal of Psychology, where the risk of early death proved to be greater in Danish adults diagnosed with anxiety than in the general population. 

How different types of anxiety may affect mortality risk

Other studies examining the relationship between anxiety and mortality have taken a closer look at potential influencing factors, such as gender differences. While researchers from an alternate 2018 study published in the British Journal of Psychology did observe a connection between anxiety disorders and early death, this association was only seen in men. Out of more than 3,100 study participants in the Netherlands, older men diagnosed with anxiety were 87% more susceptible to death over a seven-year follow-up period.

More recent research has examined how different types of anxiety may also impact mortality rates. In a 2023 study published in BMC Psychiatry, researchers analyzed health data from thousands of patients in the UK, including those who had been diagnosed with anxiety and those who had not. The study team categorized patients' anxiety as either phobias, stress-related, or other types of anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorders fell into the "other" category, while post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was considered a stress-related anxiety sub-type. Although anxiety, as a whole, was associated with a slightly higher mortality risk, this was not the case for all sub-types. While "other" anxiety types were positively correlated with mortality, no such relationship was found with phobias, and "stress-related" anxiety sub-types actually showed a decrease in the risk of all-cause death.

How mental health disorders may affect the life expectancy of men and women

Thinking about death is scary enough, but what are scientists referring to when they say "early" death? Results of a 2019 study published in The Lancet involving health data from more than 7 million adults in Denmark showed mental health disorders were associated with a lifespan reduction of as many as 10 years compared to the general population. For adults diagnosed with mental health disorders, women were shown to live an average of seven years less, and men's average life expectancy dropped by a decade.

Some experts point to certain physiological responses in the body associated with mental health disorders that may influence mortality risk. This includes changes in heart rate, platelet function, increased blood pressure, lowered insulin resistance, and more (via The British Journal of Psychiatry). One's ability to cope with anxiety may also play a role in these findings. Many patients find psychotherapy and medication to be effective means of treatment, along with regular exercise, prioritizing sleep, reducing alcohol consumption, minimizing caffeine intake, maintaining a healthy diet, and engaging in stress-relief activities.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.