As many people know, anxiety has a great impact on mental health. What they may not know is that there is an equal number of physical side-effects associated with the condition. Anxiety drives the body into fight-or-flight in anticipation of danger. It propels your heart, lungs, and muscles into activation so that you are ready to either confront the threat or flee.
Some of the anxiety-associated physical symptoms include your heart beginning to beat faster, you breaking out in a sweat, and your muscles tensing up. Anxiety can not only cause digestive issues and an increased risk of infection, but it can also affect changes in the function of respiratory, urinary, and cardiovascular systems. These symptoms are intense and persistent in anxiety disorders and considering these physical reactions is crucial in diagnosing Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Some of the symptoms associated with GAD are-
- Digestive problems and stomach aches – A little-known fact is that our gut also holds and experiences anxiety. It can be experienced as non-specific unsettling of the stomach, constipation, outright nausea or diarrhea. These digestive complaints can have a negative impact on your daily activities. While disturbing and disrupting on their own, they can also perpetuate anxiety about your medical health.
- Experiencing a headache or feeling dizzy – GAD is characterized by psychological distress that includes chronic worrying that persists through most of an individual’s waking hours. There is no stopping the chain of thoughts from bouncing from one topic to another and spiraling through anticipation and fear about one scenario or another. All of this over-thinking can result in an aching head. Dizziness can also occur if this flurry of thoughts is accompanied by changes in body temperature and an increased heart rate.
- Feeling edgy – GAD is also associated with an edginess that can take the form of irritability, trembling, and even shaking. Observers can tell this fidgeting and restlessness better than the anxious individual can themselves.
- Tensing up of the muscles – You may experience muscle tension in the form of a short-lived tensing of the back and neck during normal anxiety which passes when the threat goes away. However, in those suffering from GAD, this tension includes unrelenting aches and pains in the hyperactive shoulder, back, neck, and jaw muscles. The tension may also manifest in grinding of the teeth or restless fidgeting of tense legs. These occurrences of muscle tension do not go away on its own with the disappearance of threat. They continue to persist and require the application of specific relaxation techniques, mindfulness skills, and medicines that promote relaxation.
- Exhaustion and difficulty sleeping – Chronic worry can make a person feel extremely tired. It is no wonder that people with GAD commonly complain of fatigue. The physical symptoms associated with anxiety as well as this perpetual worry can make it difficult for a person to either fall or stay asleep. It can detrimentally affect the person’s physical and psychological well-being. Anxiety treatment can affect changes in the bedtime routine for people who experience even minor sleep disruptions.
- Changes in the breathing pattern – Rapid or shallow breathing, that is, hyperventilation can occur when a person experiences anxiety. Breathing this way allows the body to breathe in more oxygen and distribute it around the body quickly. The extra oxygen prepares the body to switch on their fight/flight mode. However, hyperventilation can make a person feel as if they aren’t being supplied with adequate oxygen, so, they may gasp for breath. Doing so can worsen the hyperventilation and result in feeling faint, dizzy, weak, and lightheaded.
- Cardiovascular responses – Anxiety speeds up our heart rate. In addition, vasoconstriction occurs, that is, the narrowing of blood vessels which can affect body temperature and make you experience hot flashes. The body starts sweating to cool itself down; this can then work to make the person feel cold. Long-term anxiety can lead to increased risk of heart conditions in otherwise healthy people.
- Feeling short of breath – Shortness of breath can occur as a function of increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, swelling and/or dizziness. The range of symptoms thought to be reflective of a panic attack is more than likely to occur with GAD and panic disorder, that is, a subsect of anxiety disorder as well. People with “uncomplicated” GAD do not commonly experience this. It goes to say that other emotional and behavioral problems like depression, other anxiety disorders, and substance abuse disorders don’t overlap with this condition.
- Impaired immunity – While anxiety can boost a body’s immune responses in the short term, prolonged anxiety can bring about the opposite. The body’s natural immune response is impaired when the Cortisol prevents releasing substances that cause inflammation and fight infections. People who experience chronic anxiety are also predisposed to developing the common cold, flu, and other infections more frequently.
Other physical as well as psychological symptoms that people with anxiety experience are-
- Nervousness, tension or fear
- Feeling restless
- An occurrence of panic attacks in severe cases
- Rapidness in heart rate
- Hyperventilation or rushed breathing
- Feeling of fatigue
- Feeling weak
- Feeling dizzy
- Problem sleeping
- Issues with digestion
- Being unable to concentrate
- Experiencing nausea
- Pain in the chest
- Feeling abnormally cold/hot
Anxiety can lead to long-term physical conditions.
Physical symptoms of anxiety are manifestations of the felt anxiety if not otherwise explained by the presence of any other existing medical complaint. Only a medical professional and a mental health provider can carefully evaluate if your symptoms are, in fact, a result of anxiety. Make no mistake; these physical complaints are equally uncomfortable as suffering from any other medical condition. Therapy should be prescribed to help arm you with tools that can help you cope with these symptoms if they don’t improve by themselves over time. Anxiety can be a harrowing experience to undergo, but it responds very well to treatments and can recede and enable a full recovery.