Anxiety disorders come in various types and degrees of severity, but in one form or another they affect nearly 20% of adults and 32% of adolescents in the United States. Anxiety disorders are more common among females than males.
If you’re anxious, you may be chronically worried or have phobias that prevent you from fully participating in life. A state of chronic mental stress takes a toll on you physically, too.
Our expert counselors provide therapy for children, teens, and adults with anxiety in our Greenwich Village offices at The Soho Center for Mental Health and also offer telehealth consultations via secured online appointments.
If you have anxiety, your body is on high alert, which means your fight-or-flight response is chronically activated. Staying in a stressed, flight-or-flight state releases hormones and other chemicals that affect how well and efficiently your organs function. Following are some of the ways mental anxiety affects your physical body.
You don’t breathe as well
When you’re relaxed and calm, your breathing slows down. Your breaths grow deeper and fuller. Your lungs replenish the oxygen in your blood so that it can circulate throughout your body, nourishing your organs and cells.
If you’re anxious or stressed, however, your breaths become shallower and rapider. You may not even realize that you aren’t taking deep, full breaths. However, if you look at a pet who’s stressed or anxious, you notice that they “freeze up” and breathe more rapidly than usual. You do the same thing when you don’t feel safe.
Breathing well is essential to life and wellbeing. If you have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the shallow breaths associated with anxiety can make your underlying condition worse.
Your heart is stressed
Anxiety disorders sometimes trigger panic attacks, which is when you feel like you can’t breathe, your heart beats extremely rapidly, and your palms may sweat, too. Even if you don’t have panic attacks, chronic anxiety puts undue stress on your heart and cardiovascular system. You may have symptoms such as:
- Chest pain
- Rapid pulse
Anxiety may increase your risk for heart disease and high blood pressure or worsen those conditions if you already have them.
You may have digestive troubles
Anxiety can cause symptoms in your digestive tract, including stomachaches, nausea, or diarrhea. Your appetite may dwindle. Or, conversely, anxiety may make you eat more than normal.
When your body is also flooded with stress hormones, such as cortisol, you might gain an unhealthy amount of weight. If you’re having trouble with digestion or have diarrhea or constipation, anxiety may be the underlying cause.
You can’t fight disease as well
When your body is flooded with stress hormones from being in a constant state of fight-or-flight, your body never gets a chance to relax, return to normal, and replenish itself. That means, when there’s an actual physical threat — such as a virus or bacterial infection — you can’t respond as well or quickly.
If you’re anxious, you may become vulnerable to a constant stream of infections and illnesses. Your body might not respond as well to vaccines either.
Your head hurts
Stress hormones that get released during panic attacks or chronic worrying affect the way your brain and central nervous system work. You may get headaches, feel lightheaded, or even become dizzy. You may also have trouble concentrating or remembering.
Chronic anxiety can also trigger another mental health disorder, known as depression. Depression is feeling chronically sad, unmotivated, or tired. Anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand.
Don’t dismiss anxiety as being “all in your head,” and therefore unimportant. What’s in your head affects your entire body.
Learn how to de-stress and manage anxiety through therapy with our expert counselors today. Contact us for anxiety treatment with our online form, or call our knowledgeable staff during office hours.