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What Happens When Anxiety Goes Untreated?

By Claire The Millennial Londoner


Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This blog is purely for informational purposes and compiled from personal experience and reputable sources. If you require any health advice please speak to a medical specialist. This blog also contains affiliate links that allow me to earn a commission at no extra cost to you.


What Happens When Anxiety Goes Untreated?

Having anxiety can be a nuisance especially when you have no idea what is causing it or how to treat it. When I say anxiety I'm not talking about the anxiety you get before a presentation or if you experience nerves just before a job interview. This type of anxiety is completely normal for most people (even psychopathic people experience the fight or flight response). The anxiety I'll be referring to is an anxiety disorder which can start off as regular anxiety but usually gets worse which is why it becomes an anxiety disorder.

First Things First...

What's The Difference Between Having Anxiety And An Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety is a state of fear that is usually brought on by a trigger or stress. You might feel nervous before presenting in front of your class, before a job interview or as you're queuing up to get on a rollercoaster.

This is COMPLETELY normal and it doesn't mean you have an anxiety disorder.

In fact, similar to driving a manual car there is a biting point with anxiety. When you learn to drive a manual the instructor will ask you to find the biting point, this is where you're sending enough power to the engine to drive off but if you let go too quickly the car will stall. You need to find that sweet spot in the middle when driving the same way you do with anxiety.

Enough anxiety and adrenaline can actually improve your performance. Too much anxiety though will cause you to be paralysed with fear and ultimately diminish your performance.

If you have nerves before an important interview or presentation, the adrenaline rush might actually improve your performance. On the flip side, too much anxiety can cause your performance to diminish and you'll find yourself struggling to get your words out.

An anxiety disorder on the other hand will cause you to have frequent anxious moments that may progress into a panic attack.

To be diagnosed with GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) you must meet the following criteria according to the DSM-5;

  • excessive anxiety and worry most days about many things for at least six months

  • difficulty controlling your worry

  • appearance of three of the following six symptoms: restlessness, fatigue, irritability, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, and difficulty concentrating

  • symptoms significantly interfering with your life

  • symptoms not being caused by direct psychological effects of medications or medical conditions

  • symptoms aren’t due to another mental disorder (e.g. anxiety about oncoming panic attacks with panic disorder, anxiety due to a social disorder, etc.)

Usually, the anxiety will build up gradually making it a cause for concern at which point you'd have to speak to your doctor or trusted medical professional regarding diagnosis and treatment.

There are various different forms of treatment for anxiety that I will go into depth on in a future post.

But for now, let's imagine you left your anxiety untreated...

So What Actually Happens When You Leave Anxiety Untreated?

  1. Symptoms Will Intensify

  2. Anxiety Will Be More Persistent

  3. Avoidance & Safety Behaviours Will Creep In

  4. Your Physical Health Will Be Impacted

  5. Friendships/Relationships May Suffer

  6. Mental Health In General Will Decline

1. Symptoms Will Intensify

If you leave your anxiety untreated you'll notice the symptoms will intensify over time as you experience anxiety often.

For me, I noticed the anxiety went from being an occasional occurrence to being a daily occurrence that I had to adapt to. You might find the anxiety symptoms intensify and notice more symptoms plaguing you each day e.g frequent migraines, nausea, and heart palpitations.

Unless you nip it in the bud before it progresses anxiety left untreated will get worse over time as you'll likely adopt safety behaviours to ease it rather than getting to the root of what is causing it.

I personally think mental health should be treated with the same seriousness as physical health & illnesses. Too often people aren't equipped to control their mental health and resort to self-medicating to control it which only makes it worse.

If you believe you have anxiety, please speak to your doctor and see what options are available to you.

2. Anxiety Will Be More Persistent

Like I said in the previous bullet point I went from having anxiety once in while to weekly, daily and then multiple times a day. Think of anxiety like a wildfire, it might start out of nowhere and seem unimportant at first but it can quickly escalate and engulf you to the point your daily life is impacted immensely.

Over time you might find the symptoms are getting more intense and frequent as you become more aware of them. Acknowledging, fearing and trying to prevent anxiety all fuels it so once you're aware something isn't quite right you'll notice the anxiety will become more and more persistent.

In my experience, the anxiety became more persistent and intense quite quickly which lead me to believe I had to do more to control it. In actual fact, you gotta do LESS to overcome anxiety (easier said than done I know).

3. Avoidance & Safety Behaviours Will Creep In

When you experience anxiety it's natural to want to relieve the symptoms but what you're actually doing is creating safety behaviours.

I inadvertently created a routine that I'd do every single time I was having a panic attack or felt my anxiety kicking in. Over time this routine became a ritual because I was CONVINCED this helped my anxiety. If I'm not able to fulfil the routine because I've forgotten to bring water or can't sit down, I find my anxiety spirals further.

Arguably the most common way people cope with anxiety is by avoiding their triggers. This avoidance also fuels anxiety and makes it 10 times worse for you.

What Are Safety Behaviours?

Safety Behaviours - Safety behaviours are coping behaviours used to reduce anxiety and fear when the user feels threatened. An example of a safety behaviour is leaving a situation immediately when your anxiety sets in.

Safety behaviours can include:

  • Escaping Places And Situations When Anxiety Kicks In

  • Sitting Down When You Feel Lightheaded

  • Fidgeting/Biting When Feeling Anxious

  • Needing To Drink Water Or Going To Get Air

What Are Avoidance Behaviours?

Avoidance Behaviours - Avoidance behaviours are any actions a person takes to escape from difficult thoughts and feelings. These behaviours can occur in many different ways and may include actions that a person does or does not do.

Avoidance Behaviours Can Include:

  • Avoiding Certain Places/Food/Smells/Situations That Make You Feel Anxious

  • Call In Sick On Day Of Presentation

  • Travelling A Different Route

  • Avoiding Eye Contact/ Public Speaking/ Confrontation

Basically, these behaviours are all things you SHOULDN'T do if you want to overcome anxiety.

In doing safety and avoidance behaviours you're actually giving your anxiety more power because you're learning to fear those situations that make you uncomfortable. Over time your brain will look at those fears e.g public speaking the same as if a lion were hurtling toward you.

As far as your brain is concerned it's protecting you from those dangers by alerting and preparing you via your fight or flight response. Most of the time it's firing off false alarms which is why feeding into it only makes it worse.

The temporary Relief Is Not Worth The Long Term Effects - Claire

Having short term relief from these symptoms might help during the moment, but over time you find yourself in more of a pickle (trust me I know).

4. Your Physical Health Will Be Impacted

The next lovely side effect of having long term untreated anxiety is it takes a toll on your physical health.

The symptoms of anxiety will leave you feeling drained and achy the next day often known as "hangxiety". The short term symptoms can leave you feeling exhausted so you can only imagine what the long term effects of anxiety will have on your body.

Some of the physical impacts anxiety can have on your body include:

  • Over time your body will release cortisol (the stress hormone) frequently

  • You'll have frequent stomach issues and can develop digestion disorders e.g IBS

  • You'll be at a higher risk of developing heart disease.

  • You'll be more susceptible to high blood pressure and weight gain

  • Over time your immune system will become weaker

  • You'll likely experience insomnia and disturbed sleep frequently

  • Having a lower quality of life leads to other mental health issues

5. Friendships/Relationships May Suffer

After a while of having untreated anxiety, your relationships with others may start to suffer. It isn't uncommon for people with untreated anxiety to feel paranoid about their friendships/relationships, often bail on plans last minute and isolate themselves from the world.

I'm super grateful to have such an incredibly supportive and understanding network around me so I haven't had to worry too much about friendships. I do however find myself bailing on plans A LOT usually at the last minute. When your anxiety makes you feel nauseous and lightheaded it's difficult to want to do anything because your natural instinct is to run to the bathroom.

If you feel like you're being a burden, want to isolate yourself from the world or feel burned out you might find it takes a toll on your relationships with your loved ones. Anxiety can leave your social battery on low which can make you irritable, unwell and fatigued so surrounding yourself with understanding and accomodating people is SO important.

Anxiety can take over your life to the point you lose track of keeping in touch with people. By the time you find yourself getting back to that friend you put off having coffee with has blocked your number. Or maybe your boss called you into work on short notice which made you fear the worst so bailed on them entirely. The point I'm trying to make is your anxiety can cause irrational thinking which can make your loved ones feel like you're being selfish, rude or unreliable.

People that truly understand what you're going through won't turn their back on you no matter how many times you bail on them. Anxiety is a multifaceted disorder so try not to be so hard on yourself and ALWAYS be transparent with your loved ones so they can understand you're not being rude it's how you cope with anxiety.

6. Mental Health In General Will Decline

Over time your general mental health might decline due to your quality of life, physical health and relationships all being impacted by anxiety.

Long term anxiety can lead to depression which can put you at risk for suicidal thoughts and tendencies.

If you or anyone you know is struggling please reach out to a helpline there are plenty of mental health resources out there.

You can find all the helplines you need below

In extreme cases of anxiety, you might find yourself shrinking your world to the point you stay home most of the time. This is a symptom of a more severe type of anxiety known as Agoraphobia which is a complication of panic disorder. You might find it's easier to stay home than to go places where you'll experience anxiety and this can lead to you feeling lonely and depressed.

You can see why untreated anxiety can cause chaos in your life if you let it escalate to the point where you're isolating yourself from the world, having strained relationships and other health issues related to it. If there is one thing you take away from this post I hope it's that anxiety should be taken seriously and treated while it's much easier to manage than to let it spiral out of control.

What Can You Take From This Post?

  • Having anxiety is different to having an anxiety disorder

  • Feeling nervous is normal, feeling fearful often is a sign of an anxiety disorder

  • You can perform better with some adrenaline

  • Too much adrenaline and cortisol can diminish your performance

  • Symptoms Will Intensify

  • Anxiety Will Be More Persistent

  • Avoidance & Safety Behaviours Will Creep In

  • Your Physical Health Will Be Impacted

  • Friendships/Relationships May Suffer

  • Mental Health In General Will Decline

  • There is always help out there for anyone struggling

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