Study Finds Fear of Terrorism May Endanger Health

A young man approaches a crowded metro stationThough it’s tempting to separate emotions from health, the two are inextricably linked. People with severe mental health issues die, on average, 25 years earlier than people without mental health challenges. Emotions such as chronic anxiety have been linked to heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, and respiratory difficulties. A new study by researchers at Hebrew University of Jerusalem confirms the negative health effects of anxiety, linking fears of terrorism to a shortened lifespan.

How Do Terrorism Fears Affect Health?

For more than 60 years, the state of Israel and its borders have been a source of dispute between Israelis and neighboring Palestinians, particularly in the occupied territories of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Terrorism is relatively common in the area, with more than 1,000 Israelis and nearly 7,000 Palestinians dying in the conflict since 2000.

To evaluate how ongoing fears of terrorism might affect health, researchers recruited 17,300 Israelis to complete questionnaires about their emotional, physical, and occupational well-being. Participants also answered questions about their fear of terrorism. The research team then evaluated the participants’ medical data and took blood samples to assess neurotransmitter levels.

Resting heart rate, a common measure of health, can be affected by a number of factors, including activity levels and age. Researchers found, though, that fear of terrorism also affected heart rate. Four percent of participants experienced elevations in resting heart rate due to fears of terrorism. Some participants had resting heart rates above 80 beats per minute—a significant increase above a healthy rate of about 60 beats per minute. 

The team also found that significant fears of terrorism inhibit the behavior of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine reduces stress-related inflammatory processes. Consequently, those with depressed levels of acetylcholine are more vulnerable to inflammation. This, coupled with a higher resting heart rate, increases vulnerability to heart attack.

While the study did not evaluate why some people react more strongly to terrorist threats than others, the researchers do believe their results could help improve health outcomes. They suggest that doctors might be able to identify people who were at risk, enabling them to offer early interventions such as anti-inflammatory drugs.

References:

  1. Anxiety and physical illness. (2008, July). Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Womens_Health_Watch/2008/July/Anxiety_and_physical_illness
  2. Deaths in the conflict, 1987-2014. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://israelipalestinian.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000639
  3. Terrorism fears may shorten your life, study finds. (2014, December 23). Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2014/12/23/terrorism-fears-may-shorten-your-life-study-finds
  4. Torgovnick, K. (2008, December 03). Why do the mentally ill die younger? Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1863220,00.html

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  • Benny

    Benny

    January 6th, 2015 at 3:45 PM

    Thank goodness that I don’t live somewhere like Israel where there is a much greater threat of terrorism. But I guess that there are always those chances that something bad is going to happen… I can’t spend the life that I have been given worrying about that though. What could I do to change things if they are going to happen? Those are things that are beyond my control. I will always try to be safe and keep the family safe but there are times when there is only so much that you can do and you just have to take life on a day to day basis.

  • kai

    kai

    January 7th, 2015 at 3:48 AM

    I then assume that any sort of irrational fear could do the same?

  • Terry

    Terry

    January 7th, 2015 at 2:44 PM

    Gosh that story from France today- horrific

  • Brianne

    Brianne

    January 8th, 2015 at 3:47 PM

    There has to be that perfect balance of being afraid and being determined to live your life without that fear. Does that make any sense? I don’t think that you can go from one extreme or the next, hunkering down or being completely careless. I think that you have to be aware of the people and the things that surround you, but at the same time you can’t let a little bit of fear totally ruin your life either. I don’t want to live in fear all of the time but I am also smart enough to know that there are certain things that I will not do or places that I won’t go because they don’t bode well for keeping me secure. I know that we don’t always have control over a lot of those things but just being smart about how you live can go a very long way.

  • Clarence

    Clarence

    January 14th, 2015 at 3:38 PM

    Since all we seem to hear any more day in and day out is the doom and gloom of this world it is difficult to not be frightened of the things that could happen in an instant. Think about those poor artists at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. Who could have ever thought that as they went to work that day that this would be their last? I am telling you, the world today frightens me, makes me scared of the inevitability of it all. I don’t want to give in to that fear, but I think that the actions of these fundamentalists who think that their way of thinking is the only possible way…well, they have done it, they have scared me.

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