Dr. Gregory Jantz

The Physical Effects of Anxiety

June 30, 2014

Long-term, chronic stress leaches health out of your body. What is protective in the short term is toxic in the long term. Anxiety can have wreck havoc on your mental and emotional wellbeing, effecting your relationships and ability to function. Anxiety can also have a devastating effect on your physical body. Here are some of the most common physical symptoms of anxiety.

Your heart. A stress response to anxiety causes the heart to speed up. Often, blood pressure increases and your heart seems to be ready to burst out of your chest. This increased demand on the heart can also produce an irregular heartbeat called an arrhythmia.

You lungs. During a panic attack, one of the primary symptoms is gasping for air, resulting in hyperventilation. This rapid intake of air provides more oxygen than your body actually needs and results in a corresponding drop in carbon dioxide in your blood. This drop forces your hear to work even harder. The faster you breathe, the more light-headed you feel. This can make your hands and feet tingle or feel numb.

Your stomach. Stress really puts your gastrointestinal system through its paces. The longer your stomach stays in a state of agitation, the greater the possibility of ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. You can experience all the symptoms of a digestive system out of balance: indigestions, acid reflux, constipation, nausea, and diarrhea.

Your muscles. Many people manifest their stress in a specific region of the body, such as the back, face, or neck. The constant contraction of these muscles leads to tension and pain. The longer tension is put on these muscles, the harder it is to release the resulting knots and experience true relaxation, even in sleep—some people clench their face and jaw muscles and grind their teeth.

Your skin. Anxiety has a way of returning your skin to a state of adolescence—skin prone to breakouts of rashes, acne, and psoriasis.

Your immune system. Stress is a little like the story of the boy who cried wolf. In this story, a young boy persistently sounds the alert, warning of a wolf. Of course, each time is a hoax; there is no wolf. Eventually, the townspeople ignore him altogether. So when a wolf finally appears, the boy yells for help but no one comes, with predictably disastrous results. When you are constantly under stress, you are yelling wolf to your immune system. Eventually, it wears down and can no longer respond appropriately to a real danger.

Your reproductive system. Chronic stress can result in painful periods and fertility issues. It’s as if your body recognizes “now is not a good time” and reduces your chances for reproduction.

Your weight. Your body has a variety of stress hormones. One is cortisol, which increases blood sugar levels while suppressing the immune system. Its job during stress is to get you physically pumped up with energy and systemically less reactive. While this is a good think if you need to race across an airport to catch your plane, it’s not especially helpful in every day life. Cortisol causes people to put on excess weight, leading to hypertension and cardiovascular problems.

Your head. Stress is painful, especially when it is manifested in chronic headaches and migraines.

It is no wonder, with the range of physical symptoms associated with stress brought on by anxiety, that people search for answers. Unfortunately, these physical symptoms can further perpetuate anxiety. The more anxious a person is, the worse they feel. The worse they feel, the more anxious they become. Breaking this cycle therefore often requires help from a team of professionals. Holistic anxiety treatment will not only help alleviate the physical symptoms, but it will also take into consideration the complex emotional, mental and spiritual issues at play.

If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety, call The Center • A Place Of HOPE today at 1-888-771-5166. The expert team of professionals will be able to answer your questions about treatment options, and help you identify the best plan for recovery.

The content of this post was derived from Dr. Gregory Jantz’s book Overcoming Anxiety, Worry, and Fear.