How Does Anxiety Affect Physical Health?
Anxiety is an extremely common mental health condition. It affects men and women, people of all ages, and all walks of life. Everyone is at risk of developing chronic anxiety at some point in his or her life. Despite this, there are many misconceptions about anxiety and the impact it can have.
The human body and brain can handle anxiety on a one-off basis without problems. The body floods with adrenaline and cortisol in a fight-or-flight response. Blood flow becomes diverted to parts of the body that get us ready to take action. In such moments, it’s normal to experience certain symptoms.
Increased muscle tension, sweating, and a faster heart rate are all common signs of anxiety. This is all normal, and, in fact, it’s the right response to keep us safe. However, while anxiety has a role to play in keeping us safe, chronic anxiety is more of a problem.
Most stressors today are psychological, not physical. Relationships, money, and work are just some of the things we worry about. However, the response of our bodies to those triggers remains primarily physical. The result is that chronic anxiety can occur. Research has shown that 40 million people in the United States live with anxiety disorders. For many, life can be very difficult. Their heightened response to anxiety never calms down. The result can be serious physical problems and medical issues.
Here are nine ways in which anxiety can have an impact on physical health.
Developing Heart Problems
One element of the body’s response to anxiety is that the heart pumps blood more quickly. This is so it can reach the body parts that would respond to any threats. While this usually is reversible after the trouble has passed, this response doesn’t go away in those with chronic anxiety. In people who suffer from chronic anxiety, their heart continues to operate at this elevated level. The result can be an increased risk of strokes, heart attacks, and heart disease. Research has shown that people with anxiety disorders have twice as much likelihood of having heart attacks.
Like heart problems caused by chronic anxiety, blood pressure also increases when the heart pumps extra blood around the body. While anxiety doesn’t actually cause hypertension, when the flight-or-fight response is repeatedly triggered, hypertension can be the result. In the end, the body can develop kidney, brain, and heart damage. There is also a higher chance of having a stroke.
Breathing Problems And Asthma
Another characteristic of anxiety is rapid breathing, as well as tightened airways. There have been a number of studies that have linked asthma with anxiety. People who have panic disorders have a six times greater risk of developing asthma.
Gastrointestinal And Stomach Problems
Nausea is one further common anxiety symptom. In the long run, chronic anxiety leads to gastrointestinal and stomach problems. Burping, nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea are very common anxiety symptoms. People with anxiety have a greater risk of developing irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers are also more common.
Insomnia And Sleep Problems
Anybody who has ever suffered from anxiety about having to take a test will probably have had insomnia. Struggling to get to sleep and stay asleep is a common side effect of anxiety. However, in the case of chronic anxiety, sleep problems are even more likely. Ongoing insomnia results in many other health problems. These include strokes, heart disease, impaired judgment, and a weakened immune system.
Spikes In Blood Sugar
Part of the flight-or-fight response involves the release of epinephrine and cortisol. These stress hormones cause the liver to produce extra blood sugar or glucose. This is to boost energy levels in the body. Once the emergency has passed, the body usually absorbs the extra sugar. When someone has chronic anxiety, however, there are frequent blood sugar spikes. This increases the sufferer’s chance of developing Type II diabetes.
Compromised Immune System Function
When the body channels its resources to protect itself, the result is usually a suppressed immune system. If anxiety causes the immune system to be repeatedly suppressed, the chances of catching viruses increase. We also struggle to combat any existing infection effectively. People with chronic anxiety are more likely to develop minor illnesses and colds. In those who already have a compromised immune system because of other medical problems, this can be serious.
Stress Eating And Weight Gain
Anxiety often triggers stress eating. Sufferers tend to crave carbohydrates and chocolate. The body needs more calories to fuel its anxiety responses. Comfort food releases serotonin, the feel-good chemical. However, over time, calories mount up, and we run the risk of becoming overweight. Even worse, another stress hormone, cortisol, is also linked to fat storage inside the body. Extra stress will trigger the release of more cortisol. Extra cortisol means a greater appetite for carbohydrates, and the result is extra fat.
Muscles will tense up as soon as a threat emerges since we gather strength to make a rapid response. If we have chronic anxiety, the muscles cannot relax fully. This means we’re on guard 24/7. While muscle pain isn’t normally associated with anxiety, it’s a common condition. People with anxiety frequently tense their muscles without realizing it. This leads to knots and aching in the muscles. The tension in the muscles can cause chronic migraines and headaches. Also, clenched teeth can lead to tooth and jaw pain. It can also lead to dental problems that are worse.
Not Just A Mental Health Problem
It’s clear that anxiety isn’t just a mental health disorder, it’s also a physical one. Many people are unaware that anxiety has so many physical effects. However, getting treatment for anxiety can resolve a host of other medical issues, too. Often, anxiety sufferers are unaware there is a link between their physical symptoms and their mental health. However, when they resolve their anxiety, they find their physical symptoms also disappear. The problem is many people find that their physical problems only make their anxiety worse. Some physical anxiety symptoms can be very frightening. Shortness of breath, a fast heart rate, and tense muscles can mimic other, more serious health problems. This can lead to increased anxiety in the long run.
Seeking Help For Anxiety
Although anxiety is the body’s normal reaction to threats, it isn’t normal for it not to go away. When anxiety doesn’t go away, it can affect your whole body. Chronic anxiety is a serious problem that requires professional treatment. Many people feel that anxiety should resolve itself. However, when it doesn’t, medical help is the way forward. There is no shame in seeking help for anxiety conditions, and, usually, it is the only way to get better.