Can Anxiety Kill You? Discover How To Control Your Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson
Updated February 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

While anxiety can cause some uncomfortable physical symptoms, such as headaches and heart palpitations, there is generally no evidence to suggest that it could end someone's life. It can be possible to manage anxiety symptoms through breathing techniques, mindfulness exercises, cognitive restructuring strategies, progressive muscle relaxation, regular exercise, and professional help. One way to get the help you deserve may be to match with a licensed therapist through an online therapy platform.

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You can overcome anxiety symptoms

Anxiety usually does not cause physical damage

The answer to the question of whether anxiety can kill you is generally no. Anxiety is a mental health condition that usually does not cause physical damage or disease. People may sense that it can, but anxiety does not typically have the power to physically harm or kill someone.

Though anxiety cannot usually cause physical damage, it can make underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, worsen. Anxiety can cause rapid heart rate and chest pain, potentially making symptoms of underlying conditions more pronounced. It can be essential to speak with a doctor to properly diagnose any underlying health issues and get the right kind of treatment.

Why anxiety sometimes feels like it can kill

Fear can be an instinctual response to danger or perceived danger. It typically triggers the body's fight-or-flight response, which can help us safeguard ourselves in dangerous situations by preparing us to either fight or flee from a potential threat. Fear is usually short-lived and tends to pass once the perceived danger has been eliminated. 

Panic can be an intense fear response that is usually unexpected and overwhelming. In a panic situation, we may feel out of control and unable to think straight or make rational decisions. Panic attacks often occur suddenly and without warning, often leaving us scared and disoriented until they pass. 

Unlike fear or panic, anxiety is not always linked with a specific threat or event. Instead, it can be a more general feeling of unease or worry that may persist even when no immediate danger is present. While occasional feelings of anxiety can be normal and healthy, chronic anxiety can have lingering effects on our lives if left untreated. 

The physical symptoms of anxiety can be so extreme they may often seem like they could kill you - but this isn't usually true! It can be important to remember that while severe anxiety may seem like it could do damage, it likely won't cause any lasting physical harm in reality.

No matter how intense the sensations are at the time, your body is most likely to eventually return to its normal state once the episode passes. 

Common symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety is a mental health disorder that can affect anyone at any age and takes many forms. While its exact causes may be unknown, experiences of extreme or frequent worry, restlessness, fearfulness, or intense anticipation of the unknown can indicate underlying anxiety symptoms.

If any of these experiences become long-term and interfere with a person's daily life, then an accurate diagnosis from a professional may be required to help one better understand their condition and develop coping strategies for managing it effectively.

Physical symptoms

Anxiety can have many physical side effects, some of which can be easy to spot and others that may be more nuanced. For example, those who live with anxiety may experience an increased heart rate, trembling, and sometimes even sweating. They may also feel lightheaded or experience the sensation of butterflies in their stomach.

Difficulty concentrating

Anxiety can lead to difficulty concentrating. This often happens when a person's racing thoughts or feelings of overwhelm cause them to become easily distracted and unable to stay focused on the task at hand. Not only can this make it hard to accomplish daily tasks, but it can also affect work, studies, and relationships.

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Cognitive distortions

Common cognitive distortions related to anxiety can include:

  • Catastrophizing, or assuming the worst will happen
  • Black-and-white thinking, in which things can be judged as either good or bad with no middle ground
  • Drawing conclusions with limited evidence

Behavioral changes

Anxiety can cause a person to become more withdrawn than usual and make it difficult to engage in tasks they could previously. Behavioral changes may include avoidance of specific people or situations that could cause anxiety and difficulty in making decisions due to a lack of confidence in one's ability to handle stressful events.

Strategies for managing anxiety

Anxiety can be managed with various coping strategies, such as mindfulness, deep breathing, physical activity, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Identifying what triggers your anxiety can help you better understand how to manage it and prepare yourself for difficult situations. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your anxiety, seeking help from a mental health professional who can guide you to develop a management plan can be vital.

Modern science has generally come a long way in providing the understanding and effective treatments for individuals living with anxiety-related concerns.

Breathing techniques

Deep breathing can be a foundational tool for managing anxiety in the body and mind. Research has shown that focusing on and controlling your breath can activate the parasympathetic nervous system to promote feelings of calmness. For example, slowing your breathing rate and lengthening exhalations can assist in calming or quieting racing thoughts.

Specific techniques, such as Box Breathing, 4-7-8 Breathing, and Diaphragmatic Breathing, may enable people to tune into their physiological state more effectively and respond more adaptively to difficult situations.

Science shows that by engaging in these intentional practices, one may become better equipped to manage symptoms of anxiety in both the short term and with recurrent episodes.

Mindfulness exercises

Deep breathing or yoga can reduce physical symptoms of anxiety by providing a moment of calm throughout the day where you can focus on your breath rather than your anxious thoughts.

Cognitive restructuring techniques

Cognitive restructuring techniques can also be effective in combating anxiety by teaching individuals how to challenge negative thoughts that can lead to anxious feelings and replace them with more helpful ones instead. It can be beneficial to get a therapist’s help when using cognitive restructuring techniques.

Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation techniques can be another excellent way to combat anxiety. These techniques usually involve tensing and relaxing different muscle groups while focusing on your breath, which can reduce physical tension associated with anxious feelings and promote a sense of relaxation throughout the body.

Exercise

Regular aerobic exercise can also be helpful in managing anxiety since it often releases endorphins that can act as natural mood boosters. Exercise can improve psychological well-being over time with consistent practice for at least 20 minutes a day, three times per week.

Seeking help

Reaching out for help from friends or mental health professionals can be a great way to combat feelings of anxiety. Having someone else listen, provide emotional support, and offer an objective outlook on your worries may give you a better perspective on the situation.

Online therapy for anxiety disorders

While in-person therapy may always be an option, online therapy can offer additional flexibility when it comes to scheduling. Fitting an online session into your schedule may be much easier than attending a traditional in-person session.

The convenience of connecting with a therapist from anywhere in the world can make it easier for individuals who lack quality mental health services locally or have difficulty finding time away from work or family obligations.

Online therapy has likely revolutionized the treatment of anxiety disorders, with significant scientific evidence supporting its efficacy. Many studies report that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy, and some studies suggest that online therapy may be particularly helpful in treating anxiety and the effects of stress.

Getty/Sarah Waiswa
You can overcome anxiety symptoms

Takeaway

Anxiety can come with many symptoms, including uncomfortable physical sensations, trouble concentrating, cognitive distortions, and more. However, there are often plenty of strategies that can help you cope with and manage anxiety symptoms. For example, you might exercise regularly, practice mindfulness, try breathing exercises, engage in progressive muscle relaxation, or work with cognitive restructuring techniques. Another way to effectively treat anxiety may be therapy, which can be completed in person or online.

Regulate anxiety in a compassionate environment

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