Anxiety is a group of disorders that cause various symptoms like nervousness, worry and fear. These feelings can be mild, but they can also grow to interfere with everyday life. While most of us are aware of the effects anxiety has on mental health, not everyone knows that it can also affect our physical health. So, in order to gain the upper hand on this disorder, here is how anxiety changes the function of our body.
When a person is experiencing strong anxiety, their breathing can become shallow and quick (also known as hyperventilation). This causes lungs to take more oxygen, transport it around the body and prepare it for fight or flight. However, hyperventilation might also cause people to gasp for breath and result in dizziness, lightheadedness, weakness and feeling faint.
Besides affecting the lungs, your heart will also feel your anxiety attack. People who suffer from anxiety often experience changes to heart rate and blood circulation. While the faster heart rate makes it easier to reach in dangerous situations (more blood equals more oxygen and faster muscle reaction), but if the blood vessels narrow, it can cause hot flashes, sweating and even excessive cold due to too efficient cooling off.
Digestive tract function
Cortisol released during stressful situations tends to block certain processes in the body, one of the first one being digestion. Additionally, adrenaline relaxes the stomach muscles and reduces blood flow.
As a result of these actions, people often feel nauseous and experience stomach churning, loss of appetite and even diarrhea. Anxiety, stress and depression are actually connected to many digestive diseases like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Immune system issues
In the long term, anxiety can cause the weakening of the immune system and make you more susceptible to diseases. Cortisol tends to affect the aspect of the immune system that fights infections, so people with chronic anxiety disorders often suffer from the common cold, the flu and other infections.
While just the thought of sweating profusely might make your anxiety worse, the harsh truth is that sweating is a common side effect of anxiety. When your nervous system activates, it affects the sweat glands all over your body, both eccrine (the cover most of the human body) and apocrine (which cover body parts with hair).
These sweat glands cause anxiety-induced sweating, but the fluid from apocrine glands causes that distinctive BO that people find embarrassing. Luckily, there are treatments that can help people with profuse sweating or hyperhidrosis. Specialists like Dr Eddy Dona use tiny microinjections of a solution that blocks the sweat glands from producing sweat. This nonsurgical procedure can stop sweating for up to 8 months and the process lasts only 30 minutes!
Some people also report the increase in the need to urinate while under strong stress (usually more present in people with phobias). While the link between anxiety and urination isn’t clear, it might be connected to the fact that it’s easier to flee with an empty bladder.
Constant fatigue is another common physical symptom of anxiety. First, anxiety-produced hormones keep you on high alert which is very hard for the body.
However, that’s not all. Anxiety and sleep have a strong connection (more in the next paragraph) that can keep you permanently sleepy and exhausted.
People suffering from anxiety usually have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep. They also report restless and unsatisfying sleep that leaves them unrested in the morning. Due to elevated levels of cortisol and adrenaline, people can’t get quality sleep—the tension and alertness don’t let them relax enough to fall asleep. Additionally, anxiety is often accompanied by racing thoughts which don’t make sleep easier. But, anxiety is not the only issue to blame. Oftentimes, insomnia and other sleep issues make anxiety worse, so one syndrome feeds the other.
As a result of your stress response, your muscle tense. In the long run, holding muscles so rigidly will lead to discomfort and pain. That’s why so many people with anxiety come to their doctor complaining of tightness in the neck, shoulders and back. Muscle tension can be felt all the way up in the head, causing headaches. Certain relaxation and stretching exercises might help with muscle relaxation and reduce discomfort and pain.
Trembling and shaking can also be a product of anxiety and the surge of hormones it produces. Additionally, anxiety causes people to constantly be on guard and anticipate potential threats in their environment. This constant tension might boost their “startle response” that causes some people to be overly jumpy when someone touches them on their shoulder on an especially anxious day.
However, keep in mind that anxiety can be treated and controlled. But, before you start your anxiety treatment, check your general health to rule out any physical issues, so you can go with your therapy or anxiety medication in peace.