Sometimes, even if we know that something is wrong, it can take a bit to see the ugly side. Starting the generator right outside the door on the porch might seem like a good idea in a thunderstorm, but the headaches caused by carbon monoxide poisoning will soon enough tell us otherwise. Like anything else that Scripture warns us about, anxiety also has some very damaging effects. The New Testament word for anxiety, merimna, is also translated “care” or “worry.” Because anxiety is real and prevalent in our world, so is the impact. And while anxiety may come from imagined scenarios, real and present issues, or a sense of impending doom, a life of perpetual anxiety makes it impossible to love God and neighbor as we should. Regardless of the cause or source, anxiety disrupts life on multiple levels.
There is a reason that Jesus asked, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt. 6:27). We all know that anxiety is not the key to healthy longevity. Feeling scared, feeling down, and losing sleep are just the beginning. While conditions such as chronic pain, disability, or long-term illness can spawn anxiety, things can go the other way as well. Chronic anxiety can create pain, illness, and other physical issues due to an abnormal physical state. Adrenaline and cortisol perform many essential functions in our bodies—God gave them to us for good reason. A rise in these hormones enables us to face stressful situations through altered physiology: our pulse quickens, our breathing speeds up, and blood vessels expand, giving more oxygen to our brains and muscles, focusing our concentration. But when these hormones flow through our systems too often or too long, a host of ailments can result.
Increasingly, scientists are finding links between anxiety and negative physical effects. Studies have shown that anxiety can lead to heart disease in otherwise healthy adults and that chronic emotional stress and anxiety are linked to predispositions to a range of digestive system issues, from acid reflux to irritable bowel syndrome to cancer. And the situation is more concerning with age, as older adults are likely to have comorbidities that accelerate the physical conditions and deteriorations connected with anxiety. The body of research is growing. Worrying yourself to death may be a truer danger than we thought.
Anxiety has demonstrable, measurable effects on our bodies. But the root is often in our mental and spiritual lives. Because of this, we cannot expect our relationships to be unaffected. The relational effects of anxiety are also damagingly strong. Clinically, anxiety is linked to difficulty with short-term memory, concentration, verbal and spatial performance, reading attention span, and more. No wonder that it makes socialization difficult.