An individual with a pounding heart, hyperventilating and sweating while his face looks pale is quite a description of someone dealing with a panic attack or suffering from a great deal of anxiety.
Anxiety is the most common mental health illness and there’s no denying that it has a profound effect on an individual’s mental health and makes one feel alone and depressed.
However, what is known to quite a few is that anxiety can have drastic effects on an individual’s physical health too.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety comprises a group of disorder that causes worry, nervousness, and fear that is often out of proportion to the triggering object or event.
It is normal to be anxious for a job interview, or your first stage performance but when individuals fret over every minor inconvenience such that they feel anxious most time of the day then this can take a toll on their health both physically and mentally.
Anxiety is the body's response to stress and the medical community suspects that this response originates from a part of the brain called the ‘amygdala', which is responsible for managing emotional responses.
Whenever the body senses an emergency situation it alerts the system for a fight or flight response and the body prepares for the situation by releasing stress hormones namely ‘adrenaline' and ‘cortisol'.
Together these hormones bring about the changes that are needed by the body to combat the triggering event or object.
According to Anxiety and Depression Association America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States and are the most common of all mental health disorders.
Moreover, it has been observed that even though anxiety is treatable only 36.9 percent of people receive treatment for this mental illness.
Anxiety disorders can happen at any age but they mostly affect individuals in their middle age.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Trusted Source, women are more prone to have anxiety disorders as compared to men.
Anxiety disorder is an umbrella term that comprises of different anxiety disorders such as:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a condition marked by excessive anxiety without any explanatory reason.
GAD is diagnosed when the symptoms of anxiety persist for 6 months or longer. It affects 6.8 million Americans each year.
This condition can either be mild GAD which does not interfere with day-to-day life and individuals can function well.
Whereas, in severe GAD, functioning is impaired due to extreme anxiety symptoms. Generalized Anxiety Disorder often co-occurs with major depression.
Social Anxiety Disorder
It is an anxiety disorder that is associated with the fear of being judged and being humiliated thus resulting in avoidance of social situations.
Individuals with social anxiety disorder often feel embarrassed and so they tend to isolate themselves.
Social anxiety disorder affects 15 million American adults. The peak age of onset of this disorder is 13 years. Most individuals with this disorder delay treatment and avoid asking for help.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
It is a type of anxiety disorder that involves a history of trauma. Either the individual with PTSD has been inflicted with trauma or he or she has been an eye witness to the trauma.
Symptoms may develop soon after the incident or several years after the traumatic event.
War, natural disaster, physical abuse are some common events that can result in PTSD.
Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is characterized by repetitive obsessive thoughts and a compulsive behavior following it.
These individuals are often seen frequently washing their hands, repeatedly checking the locks of the house before leaving, and other such rituals due to the intrusive thoughts that disturb them.
There are different types of fear such as certain people have fear of heights known as ‘acrophobia' while others have fear of closed spaces known as ‘claustrophobia'.
It is a disorder with frequent panic attacks with a feeling of anxiety, impending doom, and terror. Physically it manifests as palpitation, chest pain, and hyperventilation due to shortness of breath.
What would happen if you didn't sleep for two weeks straight? Would you become crazy or die?
Sleep deprivation has been linked to serious health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, and even cancer.
If you don't get enough sleep, your brain won't function properly and you'll start to suffer from cognitive issues.
You might want to try sleeping pills, but they aren't always effective. There are other ways to improve your sleep quality. Here are some tips to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
How does anxiety affect the human body?
All the anxiety disorders mentioned above take a toll on an individual's health and the negative consequences are not limited to mental health as per popular belief rather it profoundly affects the body physically too.
Anxiety affects the system of the human body in the following ways:
Changes in respiration and breathing
During bouts of anxiety, the breathing becomes shallow and rapid and individuals are often seen hyperventilating.
This way people take in more oxygen and this is the body's mechanism to deal with stress by transporting more oxygen around the body.
When an individual is hyperventilating they may think that they do not have enough oxygen and they gasp for breath which worsens the hyperventilation and results in:
- feeling dizzy
- feeling lightheadedness
- feeling tingling sensation
Response of Cardiovascular System
There's no denying the fact that the heart beats a little too fast when we feel anxious. One can hear his or her pounding in the chest.
The stress hormone causes the heart to beat faster in an attempt to increase blood circulation throughout the body.
This way the body prepares itself for a fight or flight response.
Along with the heart the vessels also work along and they constrict in response to adrenaline thereby increasing the body temperature.
As a result, the body sweats to cool itself down, and sometimes this strategy works so effectively that individuals often feel cold.
Long-term anxiety can drastically affect the health of the cardiovascular system and studies have suggested that anxiety increases the risk of heart disease in individuals with no other predisposing factor.
Anxiety can slow the digestive system through the action of cortisol. This results in diarrhea, stomach pains, excessive bloating, and abdominal cramping. Stress and depression also result in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Anxiety impairs the immune system. Cortisol, released in response to stress weaken the defense mechanism of the human body and as a result, individuals are more likely to get cold, flu, and other types of infections
Muscle Tension and Chronic Pain
Anxiety causes muscles to become stiff due to constant contraction while preparing the body for a fight or flight response. Constant stimulation of muscle results in muscle tension. Moreover, chronic pain is often seen in prolonged anxiety and it presents as fibromyalgia, joint pain, arthritis, etc.
Due to the overflow of stress hormones by the brain such as adrenaline and cortisol, the body craves highly processed sugary stuff such as chocolates, creamy pastries, or cakes. The drop in blood sugar level further aggravates the craving for sweet stuff and an individual who is stressed is often seen consuming high calories carbs that lead to weight gain.
When individuals worry excessively about minor inconveniences they simply hamper their short-term memory. It is often noticed that anxious individuals often forget important appointments and they are unable to cope with a hectic schedule.
Treatment for Anxiety
The positive outlook on anxiety disorders is that they are treatable.
With the right intervention, these individuals can learn to cope with stress in a healthy manner thereby mitigating their anxiety.
Following are some ways through which they can improve their mental illness:
- Support groups
- Lifestyle changes such as physical activity and meditation