The media loves to scare you with new health stories.

Did you read this anxiety producing article out today about the risk of sudden death from an undiagnosed faulty heart gene?

According to the British Heart Foundation, 620,000 people in the UK are at risk right now of sudden death due to a faulty gene. That’s right now folks, not next week, today as you read this article.

How are we supposed to react to this news without anxiety? What are we supposed to do? Unless the entire population gets tested immediately how is a ‘sudden death warning’ going to be a warning of any practical help.

Imagine someone shouting out “Fire” in a crowded cinema and then the announcement- “Sudden death is imminent for many of you. There are no fire escapes and more research is needed to make this building safe”.

A warning is useful if you can do something about that warning. But a warning given with no prospect of taking action solely produces anxiety and worry.

Anyone suffering from health anxiety or panic attacks will very likely be adversely effected by this news. Panic attacks thrive on symptoms that mimic heart problems and the chance of ‘sudden death’ is just the news the anxiety needs to ramp up the adrenaline and get the fear muscles working over time.

Increased heart rate (one of the symptoms of the faulty gene) is also one of the main drivers of panic attacks. Awareness of heart rate can easily trigger a self-consciousness about what might be happening in the body. This awareness often increases the heart rate. A vicious cycle of fear and physical symptoms is then produced. The slightest sign of chest pain or breathlessness, can put the sufferer into a spiral of panic.

The mind likes to sort problems – we are problem solving creatures… We have the ability to plan and organise and prepare for many of the looming issues and situations that life can present. We also have the ability to put things off, we would go mad if we had to sort out all possible problems right now. To know that we can deal with something if it happens at a later date is vital to our mental health. This ability to shrug things off is important to our well-being. It gives us the feeling (even if it is an illusion) of control which is calming and allows us to get on with things in the meantime.

Either way, there is plan, sort it now or deal with it later. Immediate problems require immediate action which is why with the headline “Sudden death-more research needed” is a recipe for worry and fear.

My guess is that the article is aimed at the research industry and will indeed encourage ‘more research’. Which is a good thing. Lives will be saved etc.

In the meantime folks, for you and me, it’s…

Another example of Modern Anxiety.

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Andrew Cunningham

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