Can Anxiety Kill You?

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated February 28, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders worldwide. While, symptoms of anxiety, such as shortness of breath, increased heart rate, and chest pain, may feel life-threatening, anxiety itself will not kill you.

It is no real secret that the way you feel mentally has an impact on your physical health. One example of this is the placebo effect, which is an accepted phenomenon in medical research. This term refers to the phenomenon that occurs when people report that they feel better when they are told they are receiving treatment of some kind, even when that treatment is, in fact, not real. Over time, a buildup of stress can cause real physical harm to the body, such as high blood pressure or stress ulcers.

Can you die from a panic attack or anxiety?

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Anxiety can weigh heavy on our minds and bodies

Some people who experience anxiety may be diagnosed with panic disorder, a condition in which someone experiences frequent panic attacks. The symptoms of a panic attack include intense fear, dread, and impending doom—which also may feel life-threatening. For some, the symptoms of a panic attack may even mimic a heart attack. However, you can't die from a panic attack, by itself.

Around 11% of people living in the U.S. have at least one panic attack in any given year, so the fact that a large proportion of the population is not dropping like flies can be reassuring in a sense to those who live with repeated panic attacks.

Interestingly, the statistic drops to only 3% of people who experience a panic attack a year in European countries. We do not have clear answers as to why reported levels of anxiety are much higher in Americans compared to Europeans, but it would seem there are things about American society that put us at greater risk for panic attacks. 

Just because you can't die from a panic attack does not mean they are to be taken lightly. Fear of having a heart attack, chest pain, dizziness, sweating, hyperventilation, and trouble breathing are all common physical symptoms of anxiety attacks, which can persist for over an hour. Individuals experiencing panic attacks can report extreme levels of psychological distress, and some people even go to the hospital in response. While medication and other symptomatic treatments are effective in the short term, talk therapy can address the root causes of chronic anxiety and panic attacks and can make them more preventable for you.

How can symptoms of anxiety hurt me?

A build-up of severe anxiety over time can lead to many physical health complications. Research shows that anxiety disorders are associated with a higher risk of and the progression of heart disease.

Getty/Vadym Pastuk

Stress produces a fight-or-flight response in people, and can lead to increased blood pressure and sugar levels, as well as the release of chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline. This can lead to more rapid heartbeat, muscular tension and cramps, headaches, and other symptoms.

The secondary effects from this can include interrupted sleeping patterns, loss of appetite, and harmful self-medication in the form of alcohol or prescription drug use — none of which does your overall health any good nor works to relieve you from anxious feelings. It is, therefore, not only a question of the direct pressure anxiety exerts on your body, but also the changes in lifestyle it causes.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, panic attacks can lead to an increased risk for major depressive disorder. Both anxiety and depression can be serious and should be addressed by your primary care doctor as soon as possible. 

Whether directly or indirectly, anxiety is linked to a wide range of health conditions, such as an impaired immune system, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, and digestive problems. Over the long term, any of these health conditions can reduce a person's lifespan or contribute to other problems such as cardiovascular events or coronary artery disease. Luckily, cardiovascular death tends to have multiple causes, so anxiety is not the only risk associated with it. 

How can I cope with anxiety?

Everybody feels stressed from every day life at times. It's simply the nature of the world we live in. Anxiety becomes a problem when fear overwhelms the way a person lives their life — avoidance of situations that strain the nerves, developing bad habits such as overeating, or experiencing crippling panic disorder. When anxiety is severe, and fear overwhelms you to the point that you’re unable to perform daily tasks, consider reaching out to a healthcare provider for help.

As it happens, the mind and body connection seems to run both ways. Although living in a constant state of anxiety damages your health, improving your body's state in other ways also reduces anxiety. Removing habits such as smoking and drinking alcohol from your lifestyle can cut down your level of stress and risk factors significantly, as can regular exercise. Some people find benefits in limiting caffeine use as well. Energy drinks are not the friends of people with high anxiety. 

If the source of the anxiety can be described as a response to trauma in nature, such as when a person can't stop replaying a difficult memory or having nightmares, professional counseling is often part of a lasting solution. If you think therapy might be helpful to you and your anxiety, it may be a good idea to learn more.

There are many strategies to control or modify symptoms of clinical anxiety. Learning relaxation skills (such as progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, and deep breathing) and meditation (learning to be present at the moment, slowing down, and focusing attention) to keep your mind on the present moment are helpful methods that you can use to decrease the responses of the sympathetic nervous system. 

Talk therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, are proven to help relieve symptoms of anxiety and panic. In cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, a person with anxiety works with a therapist to identify thought patterns that may make them feel anxious, as well as work on adjusting their emotional response to anxiety and panic.

Others find that medications can improve symptoms of anxiety over time. Exposure therapy can be helpful in allowing you to face your fears, calm your body, and gain confidence. Training in biofeedback can help you to identify stress responses in your body and learn how to slow them down.

In short, the key point of this article is the importance of getting help for anxiety so that any lasting and long-term physical effects of this illness are things that you do not need to experience. It is important to address and to talk out loud about anxiety. A counselor will listen without judgment or stigmatization. 

Managing anxiety

Anxiety can weigh heavy on our minds and bodies

Recent peer reviewed studies have proven that online therapy platforms can help individuals understand and manage symptoms of anxiety disorders. In a study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, researchers examined the effects of online therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) specifically, on those experiencing generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). They found that online CBT helped produce significant improvements in participants, decreasing feelings of anxiety, worry, and depression. Researchers also note that this method was as effective as face-to-face therapy modalities in reducing symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy benefits individuals with anxiety symptoms by helping them recognize and reframe unhelpful thought patterns that may give rise to unwanted emotions or actions.

As outlined above, if you are worried that anxiety is adversely affecting you —physically and mentally — online therapy can help you better control your emotions and live a healthier life. Unlike traditional, face-to-face counseling, with online therapy through BetterHelp you can participate from the comfort of your home, without having to drive to an office, skip your lunch break, or deal with school traffic. The mental health professionals at BetterHelp have provided thousands of people with the tools to properly address issues with anxiety. Read below for counselor reviews from people like you who have experienced similar issues.

Counselor reviews

“Kristin Scott-Groves is helping me to reconnect with myself in a way I would have never felt possible after many years in a toxic relationship. Her thoughtful comments and questions have really challenged me, and her suggestions for dealing with my anxiety have been simple and easy to incorporate into my daily life. I'm starting to feel more joyful and in charge of my own feelings again!”

“Dr. Meyers has been such an amazing help to me. I just signed up this year, and it’s been full of unimaginable events that he has really helped me break down and helped me get through. He consistently gives me techniques on how to handle my anxiety and my panic attacks, and he’s played a big part in the reduction of them too!”


If you are currently experiencing severe anxiety that limits you from daily activities or results in panic attacks, being able to connect to a counselor online who can help you could be a life changer. Talking with a professional can be an effective way to begin to manage symptoms of anxiety so that you can start interacting with the world without feeling like you are a hostage to anxious behaviors.
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