Updated: Nov 3
So you know what anxiety is and want to know how it could be affecting you or a loved ones physical body. Anxiety disorders can cause minor physical symptoms, but if they go untreated they can cause a deeper physical illness that may not be so easy to relieve. With the topic of anxiety becoming more trendy and mainstream on social media, it may come off as though anxiety is just a light subject in the mental health field. While there are diagnoses of generalized anxiety, they aren't all treated the same, as anxiety triggers range from person to person. Anxiety disorders are much more than what mainstream media may give it credit for. Headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, having the shakes, the hurtful pain you may feel in the pit of your stomach just scratches the surface of what anxiety disorders can cause to your physical health conditions. That's right, the body responds to emotional stress hormones.
The anxiety of a situation is usually the response of our body to stresses. These reactions start in the Amygdala, an area in the brain supplying distress signals to the hypothalamus. These signs communicate in response to others in the body, causing the ‘fighting or flight’ response. Physiologically a positive stress response is short-term, where adrenalin and oxygen combine to force our concentration to the problem and make our reaction productive. A negative stress response has a longer effect on our body. The stress hormones seem to stay without any hope of a solution for them to subside. This is a mental health issue because the anxiety has now become constantly revealing a deeper issue within the mind that doesn't allow the persons mind to relax. If this goes without treatment for too long it will affect both the physical and mental health negatively.
The Difference Between Generalized Anxiety Disorders And Panic Anxiety Attacks
Before getting into the ways that anxiety affects the body, it's important to know the difference between Generalized anxiety disorders or GAD and a panic disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
A generalized anxiety disorder is when someone is continuously stressing about something and doesn't seem to be able to come up with a solution for their problem. Someone dealing with this type of anxiety is constantly in their head. It’s a never ending cycle of worry, fear, and negative assumptions of "what if." Most of the time when someone is suffering from anxiety it is due to an event in the future, and the uncertainty leaves them feeling very uneasy. With a generalized anxiety disorder these feelings of uncertainty can be seen as overly dramatic or animated fears.
Chronic Panic Attack Disorder
Panic attacks happen suddenly and tend to be extremely intense. When someone is going through a panic attack it is usually a response due to immense danger and our body is getting prepared for it by analyzing the situation quickly with the fight or flight response. When sudden danger is near and your body is experiencing the fight or flight response that is normal. However, if you notice getting that same response frequently, even when there isn't any actually evidence of danger there may be a serious mental health condition going on.
What Anxiety Does To The Body
Read about the 7 ways anxiety disorders affect your body below.
1 | Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Anxiety disorders may not be a direct cause for irritable bowel syndrome but studies have shown that those who suffer with long term anxiety disorders can eventually develop issues within their immune system. When experiencing an irritable bowel syndrome your gut and central nervous system aren't communicating well together. This causes your gut to not function properly, even though physically there is nothing wrong with it. Everything is still in tact, but it's as though it just forgot how to function. IBS can be triggered by certain foods you eat, along with stress and hormones. Women may be more prone to experiences IBS around their menstrual periods due to the extra hormones and possible stress they experience during that time.
2| Viral Infections
When experiencing panic attacks your body will be dealing with the fight or flight response. During this time your body will be experiencing increased stress level hormones that will not. If the body is function normally then the stress levels will begin to decrease. However, if one is suffering from a panic attack disorder or chronic panic attacks then the body won't release those stress hormones. By your body in this constant fight or flight mode, your immune system is in a very vulnerable state. The stress hormones are interfering with the functioning of your immune system and giving bacteria, illness, and infections a clear entrance to your body sort of speak.
3| Chest Pain
Many times when our chest begins to hurt we automatically assume, or worry that it's a cardiovascular issue. Luckily though just because you feel chest pain during a panic attack or panic disorder doesn't mean that something is wrong with your heart. Although this may be a good thing for your health, it doesn't help the fact that you may be feeling like you're having a heart attack. Those with a panic disorder will experience this painful and uncomfortable feeling that can be triggered without even realizing what the cause is. This uncertainty can cause them to avoid life itself in fear that something, anything, will trigger their panic attacks. This condition is called agoraphobia. Those who suffer with agoraphobia take being homebound to a different level. They don't stay home because it's nothing better to do, or because they just don't feel like getting out of bed. they stay home because they severely afraid to walk out their front door. That is how serious the combination of pain and uncertainty is for them.
Although it is possible that your chest pain isn't due to a cardiovascular disease, if you don't feel relief within a few minutes, go to your nearest clinic for assistance or call 911. It's best to be 100% sure than to guess, especially when it comes to pain in your chest area.
4| Heart Palpitations
When experiencing heart palpitations you may experience a feeling like butterflies in your chest and then a thumping like feeling. Other ways to recognize heart palpitations is simply acknowledging that you are experiencing a feeling that has brought attention to your heart, that you feel as though your heart beat is feeling somewhat abnormal. This differs from a heart attack because heart attacks are sudden, intense, and may also cause pain in your jaw and stomach areas. Heart Palpitations start off more gradually and may not even cause you to feel ill in anyway, you just notice a difference in your pumping of your heart. This can also be caused by alcohol, pregnancy, and of course anxiety.
5| Weight Gain
Stress responses vary person to person. Some people can eat at all when they're feeling anxious, while others may eat a little too much. The increased adrenaline, hormones, and cortisol is also known as a brain flood. Brain floods can be the cause of the sudden urge to want to binge on your favorite comfort foods, such as ice cream, baked goods, chocolate and other foods as well as drinks that are high in sugar. This binge eating due to the frequent feelings of anxiety can lead to sudden weight gain and obesity.
6| Muscle Tension
Muscle tension is a common physical symptom for those that are unfortunately experiencing panic disorders. Depending on how frequent the panic attacks are, it is very possible for physical activities to be limited due to stiffness or tightness felt in the muscles. If the symptoms are severe it's very possible that medication will be prescribed in order for you or you loved one to be able to function and complete daily tasks without the worrying of a possible muscle spasm.
Anxiety like other mental health disorders can be passed down generation after generation if not treated. This doesn't mean if your parent has a panic disorder you are guaranteed to have it as well, but it does increase your chances slightly when compared to someone who doesn't have parents or grandparents that suffered with a panic disorder. However there are other factors that can contribute to anxiety disorders. Anxiety can be learned or conditioned. They can also be a result of your environment. So even if your family doesn't have a history of anxiety or panic disorders, the way you were raised, or constantly being in a toxic and unstable environment can cause it as well.
If you are suffering from a generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, although it may seem like it is just a mental issue, it can also develop into a physical one. However, even if you aren't experiencing physical symptoms yet, your mind is important, don't wait until your physical symptoms are noticeable or severe before seeking assistance. The earlier you seek help the less chances you have of needing any medication. You'll also be on the right track to improving your mental health so there's a better chance that you may avoid some of these physical symptoms altogether, which would only put more of a strain on your mind and overall mental health.
More on anxiety disorders
A little more information on anxiety types, triggers, and ways to release stress hormones.
A Few Anxiety Triggers
Just like anxiety affects people differently, everyone has their own triggers as well. Here's 3 Anxiety triggers for you to be on the look out for.
Some people may have a social anxiety disorder and only feel anxious when around company, parties, or crowds of a specific size or any size. This could be rooted from a childhood memory or even lack of self esteem.
These triggers can play on someone's mind and cause them to start obsessing over a specific thing to the point that their mind is so focused on the negative that they aren't able to properly think about ways to improve their situation. Every time they think about it they may experience chest pains, or shortness of breath or any other symptom mentioned earlier.
Being self conscious can be a good thing, but if someone is consistently seeing or feeling negatively towards their mind or body this can create a self conscious obsession. Whether it's the due to their body weight, or they feel like there is a constant invasion of negative thoughts in their mind this can cause them to be anxious feeling as though everyone see's their physical flaws or somehow can read or guess the negative intrusive thoughts that's going on in their mind. This can be the beginnings of an Obsessive compulsive disorder.
The Importance of Mental health.
Hopefully after reading this you understand a little more on why mental health is important. Mental health has gone overlooked for years because it isn't a physical issue, but now studies are showing that our mental state does affect our physical bodies. And even if you aren't experiencing these physical symptoms right now but you do feel as though you or a loved one is suffering from a mental health disorder, please take it seriously and seek help. Your mind is just as important as your body, even more so considering that our mind controls our body.