Anxiety, often dismissed as a mere mental state, is a force that extends far beyond our thoughts. The impact of anxiety can reverberate throughout our bodies, affecting various physiological processes. Even though we might notice most of the impacts of anxiety and stress in our minds, our bodies are picking up on these feelings and reacting in primarily negative ways. Although stress can be beneficial for us in some ways, prolonged exposure to stress can wreak havoc on the body. In this blog, we will explore how anxiety affects the physical body and share some tips on how to decrease this impact.
What Is Anxiety, Really?
Before delving further into the physical effects of anxiety, let’s take a moment to understand what anxiety truly is. Anxiety is a natural human response to perceived threats or stressors. It’s our body’s way of preparing us for potential danger, triggering a cascade of physiological and psychological reactions.
While occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, chronic or excessive anxiety can be debilitating. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a common anxiety disorder characterized by persistent and excessive worry about everyday situations. Other anxiety disorders include panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. Some people might also experience more specific anxieties, like those linked to health or flying in an airplane.
Anxiety can stem from various factors, including genetic predisposition, life experiences, and imbalances in brain chemistry. It can manifest as racing thoughts, feelings of restlessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and physical symptoms like muscle tension and fatigue.
The Stress Response and Its Surprising Side Effects
When anxiety strikes, your body responds by activating the stress response, often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. This biological mechanism, designed to protect us from immediate threats, can have unintended consequences when triggered frequently.
During an anxiety episode, stress hormones flood your body, leading to increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and heightened muscle tension. However, anxiety can also impact your digestive system. Upset stomachs, indigestion, and even irritable bowel syndrome can be linked to chronic anxiety. It’s a reminder that our mind and body are inextricably linked.
Skin Deep: Anxiety’s Impact on Your Complexion
While stress may not directly cause acne, it can worsen existing skin conditions or trigger flare-ups. The stress hormone cortisol, released during anxiety, can increase inflammation, leading to a host of skin issues, including acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Anxiety can also disrupt the delicate balance of your skin’s oil production, resulting in oilier or drier skin than usual.
Try to remember to pamper your skin and incorporate stress-relieving activities into your routine for that coveted healthy glow. Drinking a lot of water can also help flush out some of the toxins that contribute to dull, oily skin.
Sleep, Anxiety’s Elusive Companion
Anxiety and sleep often engage in a frustrating dance, each affecting the other. Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or restless nights, can be both a symptom and a consequence of anxiety. When anxiety keeps our minds racing, it becomes difficult to find solace in the land of dreams. Conversely, inadequate sleep can exacerbate anxiety symptoms, creating a vicious cycle.
Lack of sleep not only affects your mental state but also takes a toll on your physical health. It weakens your immune system, impairs cognitive function, and increases the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Make sure that you prioritize quality sleep, practicing relaxation techniques, and establishing a bedtime routine that promotes tranquility.
Getting anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep is recommended for most healthy adults, though this can vary. Also, avoid alcohol or stimulants that might inhibit the body from entering a full sleep cycle. Even though alcohol is often considered a way to relax, it prevents the body from getting adequate sleep and you will pay the price the following day.
Anxiety and the Digestive System
Those butterflies that you feel in your stomach when you feel anxious are science-backed. It turns out there’s a scientific reason for that sensation, linked to anxiety. Anxiety can interfere with the normal functioning of your gastrointestinal system, leading to a range of issues, such as nausea, diarrhea, or constipation.
The gut-brain connection, often called the “second brain,” plays a crucial role in our overall well-being. Anxiety disrupts this connection, affecting the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut. Consequently, conditions like irritable bowel syndrome may arise or worsen. By nurturing a healthy gut through a balanced diet, regular exercise, and stress management techniques, you can promote better digestive health and alleviate anxiety-related symptoms.
You can also take probiotics or include foods that naturally contain these healthy bacteria in your diet. Pre and probiotics are powerful tools to rebuild gut health and counteract the harmful effects of cortisol within the body.
The Irony Of It All
In most cases, we experience anxiety to protect ourselves from something that we perceive as harmful. In essence, it is our body and brain trying to keep us safe. The irony of this is that we are inflicting far more harm on our bodies over time if we do not manage this anxiety.
Taking the above tools into consideration can help us keep our bodies running smoothly and decrease the amount of cortisol being dumped into the bloodstream at any given time. Saving our anxiety and stress responses for when we truly need it can help keep our skin, gut, and body protected from unnecessary damage.
Anxiety is not just a figment of the mind but a force that can manifest physically. By understanding the relationship between anxiety and our bodies, we empower ourselves to take better care of our overall well-being. From skin issues to sleep disturbances and digestive problems, anxiety’s impact on our physical health can be far-reaching.
Managing anxiety involves a holistic approach that includes self-care, stress management techniques, and seeking professional help when needed. Through prioritizing our mental and physical health, we can break free from anxiety’s grasp and live more fulfilling lives. The next time anxiety knocks on your door, take a deep breath, remind yourself of its effects, and embrace the power to overcome it. Your body and mind will thank you for it.
We Can Help!
MHThrive provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any mental health or substance abuse issues, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
Online Treatment Programs provides Teletherapy Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Programs allowing participants to receive intensive therapy with our licensed therapists and psychiatrists without having to leave home. If you or someone you know is struggling to overcome depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, trauma, panic attacks, PTSD, alcoholism, drug abuse, or other mental health or addiction issues, we can help. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our teletherapy programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.