You know the signs. A pounding heart, sweaty palms and a nervous, jittery tummy like a whole bunch of butterflies have moved in there. Next-level stress sucks for sure, but it’s often hard to swerve anxiety when life is at capacity and tbh, you’re only just holding it all together. Sound familiar?
We’re in no doubt that stress can have disastrous effects on the body such as suppressing the digestive system, disrupting your periods and changing how your immune system responds – in short, it makes you all kinds of sick. And according to a new study, moderate-to-severe anxiety that’s left unchecked could lead to long term problems in the brain too.
Researchers at the University of Southampton investigated the link between anxiety symptoms, such as restlessness or difficulty concentrating, and a decline in memory and thinking skills, which can increase the risk of the neurological disorder dementia in later life.
Managing your millennial anxiety now, with relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and meditation, could be the key reducing ‘internal stress’ and possibly preventing dementia as you age, the study suggested.
Researchers at the university explained: “Talking therapies and mindfulness-based interventions and meditation practices are known to reduce anxiety in midlife [and] could have a risk-reducing effect [on dementia], although this is yet to be thoroughly researched.”
So do we all need to rush out to our nearest yoga class or buy a book on mindfulness?
Discussing the findings of the study with the Daily Mail, Dr Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said that the research does not necessarily mean that anxiety causes dementia.
“Dementia is caused by a complex mix of risk factors including age and genetics, and although this study looked at dementia in people more than 10 years after being diagnosed with anxiety, we know the diseases leading to dementia can begin in the brain up to 20 years before any symptoms show.
She added that much more research is needed to see if in fact meditation, mindfulness and other anxiety techniques, could reduce the risk of dementia.
Anxiety UK, the charity supporting those living with anxiety and anxiety-based depression, says that a normal response to stress is often called the ‘flight or fight’ response and is a process involving adrenalin being quickly pumped through the body enabling it to cope.
“The problems arise when this response is out of proportion to the actual danger of the situation, or indeed is generated when there is no danger present,” they say.
Currently, around three million people in the UK are thought to suffer from anxiety. Dementia affects around 850,000, with Alzheimer's disease making up between 60 and 80 per cent of cases.