If you’ve experienced anxiety, you know how uncomfortable it can be both physically and mentally. Anxiety symptoms stem directly from the deep connection between the brain and the body.
The cascade of physical reactions in our bodies when we feel anxious is related to the physiological “fight-or-flight” response. The body is preparing itself to fight or to flee what is perceived as the danger. In this case, the “danger” is whatever is making us feel anxious.
When anxiety occurs, the body directs vital resources such as blood and oxygen away from the extremities and to the brain and heart. Neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) and other hormones play a large role in how our brain sets off the physical reactions of anxiety. These include serotonin, epinephrine, adrenaline, and more.
When anxiety becomes frequent, the body doesn’t have a chance to adequately recover from the surge of physiological reactions. Without recovery time, the physical symptoms of anxiety can intensify and/or become chronic. With that said, here are seven ways that anxiety can hurt your body.
1. Muscle Tension
Since your body believes it will need to protect itself physically, your muscles will tighten and be at the ready to react when it experiences anxiety. Facial muscles will tense, leading to headaches and jaw aches and increasing the stress response.
2. Neck, Shoulder, and Back Aches
The muscle tension stemming from anxiety can also cause you to tense your neck, shoulders, and back, as though readying for an attack. With repeated incidences of anxiety, the muscle tension can turn into long-lasting aches.
3. Gastrointestinal Issues
The brain’s nervous systems are deeply connected to the gut. During the fight-or-flight reaction, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite can be common due to the neurotransmitters flooding the brain.
4. Chest Pains
Anxiety can cause a variety of chest pains. These are often related to increased heart rate and shallower breathing. It’s important to note that the type of chest pains caused by anxiety often differ from those of an actual heart attack. However, it’s always best to seek medical treatment if in doubt.
5. Flushed Face and Sweating
As with many of the other symptoms that cause physical discomfort, the redirection of blood, oxygen, and hormones in the body can also cause intense red flushing of the face and profuse sweating.
6. Lightheadedness and Dizziness
During anxiety, the heart rate increases and breathing becomes quicker to increase the amount of blood and oxygen available to the brain. Feeling lightheaded can make a person feel more anxious and heighten the brain-body cycle of anxiety.
7. Disturbed Sleep
The racing thoughts of anxiety and the accompanying chemical changes in the body often cause sleep issues. When you don’t sleep well, your body and brain don’t receive the rest necessary to adequately handle stressors. Mood is affected and body aches may also arise.
These many reactions are meant to help us defend ourselves in the face of fear. But in the modern world, we typically do not need to protect our home from an attack or beat back the wolves chasing our herds, for example.
The physical symptoms of anxiety are out of proportion to what is needed, but our bodies don’t know it.
The good news is that it’s possible to learn how to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety and learn to listen to your body. By paying attention to the physical signs, you can teach your mind how to better handle your anxiety triggers.
At the same time, you can learn how to manage your physical symptoms of anxiety and help step outside of the negative feedback loop.
You can read more on our previous blog, “Teen Anxiety and Social Media: How to Make Sense of the Link“.
If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, I urge you to contact our office today. Our therapists specialize in anxiety and can provide more information on overcoming the effects of anxiety in your life.