Although anxiety is present in everyone's life and serves a very important purpose, it changes how your body feels and performs. Anxiety affects you so much because it is signaling "fight, freeze or flee," innate human reactions to danger. Common effects of anxiety include changing your heart rate, breathing and blood flow to the brain. But when you experience this signaling too often or for prolonged periods of time as an anxiety disorder, it can take a serious toll on your mental and physical health.
What causes anxiety disorders?
Anyone can experience an anxiety disorder in any life stage. But some portions of the population are more likely to experience unbridled anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), these include middle aged adults, particularly women. People who have suffered trauma, victimization, an extended or severe illness, substance use disorders, or other intense life stress are also prone to suffering how anxiety affects the body.
Scientists do not yet know precisely why anxiety affects some people, but not others. But they do note a connection between certain factors and development of an anxiety problem. These common factors leading to anxiety disorders include:
- Genetics and family history
- Brain chemistry, particularly faulty circuits controlling fear and emotions
- Environment and trauma, such as child abuse, neglect, a loved one's death, assault or witnessing violence
- Drug abuse or withdrawal
- Medical conditions, such as some thyroid, lung and heart problems
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Types of anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) - According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, this type of anxiety affects almost 7 million American adults each year, causing the effects of anxiety for no clear reason. GAD involves intense worry in many aspects of daily life for six months or more, ranging from mild to severe in impact on everyday life.
- Social anxiety disorder - A fear of social situations and judgment or humiliation by others. The ADAA reports this type of anxiety affects about 15 million Americans.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - Occurring after a trauma like war, assault or natural disaster, this collection of anxiety symptoms trigger unexpectedly.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) - Characterized by the compulsion to perform specific rituals repeatedly or risk invasive, undesirable and distressing thoughts called obsessions. OCD compulsions often include counting, checking and rechecking or hand-washing rituals. Obsessions of OCD often focus on a need for symmetry, as related to cleanliness or because of aggressive impulses.
- Phobias - Fears of heights, spiders, tight spaces and other objects or situations often lead to effects of anxiety.
- Panic disorder - Characterized by panic attacks, this type of anxiety causes chest tightness or pain, heart palpitations and shortness of breath. An attack can happen anywhere or anytime.
How Anxiety Affects Your Body
The most common effects of anxiety include changes in your central nervous system, cardiovascular system, excretory and digestive systems, immune system and respiratory system. The body can suffer both short-term and long-term damage because of these effects.
Ways anxiety affects your body include:
- Weight gain
- Rapid heart rate and palpitations
- Chest pain or tightness
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- Stomach Aches
- Loss of appetite
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Rapid and shallow breathing
- Viral infections
- Frequent illnesses
- Reduced effectivity of vaccines
- Asthma complications
- Muscle tension
- Sleep problems
- Social isolation
Having PTSD means even more effects of anxiety and a greater chance for long-term damage to your body. With PTSD, people often experience flashbacks, anger, insomnia and depression.
Recovery from the Effects of Anxiety
It is possible to recover from how anxiety affects your body. This recovery starts with anxiety therapy designed for your specific disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective types of therapy for these conditions. If your disorder has affected your physical health, such as in causing high blood pressure, weight gain, sleep problems, headaches or other effects, counseling can help reduce these symptoms, too. The effects of anxiety easily show the deep connection between mental health and physical health.
If you live in North Carolina, Raleigh-based Greene Psychology Group provides accessible anxiety therapy. We offer in-person visits in our office and online therapy for patients across the state. Contact us now at 919-205-5339 for scheduling and to learn more about how we can help you recover from the many ways anxiety affects your body.