Research published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia found people who experienced high levels of anxiety—like constantly worrying or feeling tense, or frequently experiencing physical symptoms like stomach knots or butterflies—at any point during the 28-year study period were nearly 1.5 times more likely to develop dementia compared to their chilled out counterparts.
Experts don’t fully understand the connection, but they have a guess.
“When we’re anxious or stressed, we excrete higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol,” says lead study author Andrew Petkus, Ph.D., a research associate at the University of Southern California.
Cortisol can be useful in the short-term, like when you need to focus to finish a stressful project at work, because it helps you concentrate and be more productive.
But in the long-term, it could damage your hippocampus, the part of your brain involved in forming, organizing, and storing memories, Petkus says.
Scientists aren’t sure yet whether treating high anxiety now can reduce your risk of dementia later on, but it’s something Petkus and his group plans on studying in the future.
Still, if you’re plagued by constant worry now, you want to get that under control, regardless of whether it’ll lower your dementia risk down the line. That’s because feeling anxious all the time makes you feel like crap—which makes it harder to have fun and enjoy your life.
Try these Jedi Mind Tricks To Chill Out and mellow your mind. But if that doesn’t help, or if your anxiety starts to interfere with everyday life—like if you have trouble sleeping or can’t complete your work—you should loop in a professional.
Your doctor might recommend talking with a therapist or taking anti-anxiety or anti-depressant meds.
By Marygrace Taylor