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The Physical Effects of Anxiety

Female suffering anxiety symptoms.
The Physical Effects of Anxiety

Those who suffer from anxiety know that anxiety can have a profound effect physically, as well as mentally and emotionally.  Anxiety is something we all feel from time to time when worry overcomes us. It is a natural reaction to stress and can be beneficial at times. 

For those with anxiety disorder, it takes on an entirely different meaning. Anxiety disorders manifest as excessive fear or anxiety that can threaten to overwhelm your life. It is among the most common mental disorders. Thankfully, there are many effective treatment options. Most people who suffer from an anxiety disorder, with treatment, will be able to live a healthy and productive life.

Anxiety affects more than just your mental well-being. Unchecked anxiety can have profound physical consequences. In the short-term, anxiety can lead to:

  • Feelings of weakness or fatigue
  • A sensation of pounding in your chest and an increased heart rate
  • Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Rapid breathing, hyperventilation, and shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Shaking and trembling

The longer-term effects of anxiety are still being studied and documented. We do know that untreated anxiety can have serious consequences on your overall health and well-being.  Anxiety causes your brain to release stress hormones. When anxiety is uncontrolled, exposure to these stress hormones has an accumulative effect on the body. Stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, are useful to help us deal with fight or flight situations. Prolonged exposure can lead to heart palpitations, stress on the adrenals and excess cortisol can cause weight gain.

If you have cardiovascular disease, prolonged anxiety can lead to an increased risk of a cardiovascular event. Anxiety also contributes to high blood pressure, which, in turn, leads to an increased risk of strokes. 

Uncontrolled, prolonged anxiety also taxes your immune system. A compromised immune system leaves you more vulnerable to contagious diseases. If you suffer from non-controlled or under controlled anxiety, you may find that you get sick more frequently. 

Dealing with anxiety can also make you more susceptible to depression. Depression has a significant impact on overall health. In addition to your mental health, depression can cause weight loss or weight gain. It also robs you of the ability to properly care for your body with healthy eating habits and regular exercise. 

Anxiety can also worsen pre-existing physical issues such as asthma, COPD, migraines, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Eczema flare-ups are more common during periods of stress. Anxiety also exacerbates acid reflux and other digestive issues. 

To limit the impact anxiety disorder has on your health, make sure your anxiety is correctly diagnosed and treated.  The types of anxiety disorders are:

  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)—chronic anxiety with exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is nothing to provoke anxiety.
  2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)—repeated and unwanted thoughts and compulsive actions
  3. Panic Disorder—episodes of intense and uncontrollable fear that is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as sweating, nausea, heart palpitations and chest pain
  4. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—this anxiety disorder is brought on by a traumatic event. The person relives the event, often as though it is actually happening again. 
  5. Social Phobia or Social Anxiety Disorder—This type of anxiety disorder manifests as overwhelming self-consciousness in social situations. It can be limited to one kind of social setting, such as public speaking, or it can affect sufferers in a multitude of social settings. 

Anxiety can have a profound impact on mental and physical well-being if left untreated. Treatment options vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder you have. The most common treatments use a combination of counseling and therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is used to help treat many types of anxiety. 

Medications are sometimes part of the treatment plan. These can range from an array of anti-depressant medications to Benzodiazepines. Medication is most effective when used in conjunction with therapy.  Work with your health care provider to devise the best treatment plan for your anxiety disorder. It can often take more than one type of treatment. There is not a quick fix, but anxiety is treatable.  Our minds and bodies are intricately linked, and treating your anxiety will help your mental and physical well-being. 

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