Is Your Anxiety Causing Damage to your Body?
Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. However, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks).
These feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger and can last a long time. You may avoid places or situations to prevent these feelings.
Anxiety affects the body and mind, and you may experience some of these symptoms:
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
- Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Having difficulty controlling worry
This next part may be shocking to learn how anxiety affects certain parts of the body.
Central nervous system
Long-term anxiety and panic attacks can cause your brain to release stress hormones on a regular basis. This can increase the frequency of symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, and depression. When you feel anxious and stressed, your brain floods your nervous system with hormones and chemicals designed to help you respond to a threat.
Anxiety disorders can cause rapid heart rate, palpitations, and chest pain. You may also be at an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. If you already have heart disease, anxiety disorders may increase your current symptoms.
Excretory and digestive systems
Anxiety also affects your excretory and digestive systems. You may have stomachaches, nausea, diarrhea, and other digestive issues. Loss of appetite can also occur. There may be a connection between anxiety disorders and the development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) after a bowel infection. IBS can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.
Anxiety can trigger your flight-or-fight stress response and release a flood of chemicals and hormones, like adrenaline, into your system. In the short term, this increases your pulse and breathing rate, so your brain can get more oxygen. This prepares you to respond appropriately to an intense situation. Your immune system may even get a brief boost. With occasional stress, your body returns to regular functioning when the stress passes. But if you experience chronic stress, your body never gets the signal to return to regular functioning. This can weaken your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to viral infections and frequent illnesses.
Anxiety causes rapid, shallow breathing. If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may be at an increased risk of hospitalization from anxiety-related complications. Anxiety can also make asthma symptoms worse.
If you are a constant worrier or suffer from a generalized anxiety disorder, it may also impact your short-term or working memory. Therefore, you may find yourself making frequent mistakes, forgetting important appointments, and unable to cope with hectic schedules. When this happens regularly, it is difficult to take important decisions at work or at home; performance at school or office environments may be severely compromised. This leads you to be more anxious and enter a state of depression.
If you feel that anxiety is taking over your mind and body, it is best to receive help navigating these feelings. Click ‘schedule an appointment’ today to schedule a free 15-minute consultation.
Monica Bartley QMHS, SWT, MA