How Anxiety Affects the Body

how anxiety affects the body

As psychologists, counsellors, and therapists, we focus a lot on mental health – discussing everything from depression to the science behind our clinical approaches. 

However, we also know that’s only half of the story. More and more research is showing the connection between our mental and physical health, and a deficit in one can cause issues in the other. Today, let’s look a little deeper into the physical effects of anxiety and how it can impact your overall bodily health.

If you live with this condition, much of this may feel familiar to your own experience – and if you don’t, it will help you understand the struggles of those who do.


Immediate Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

As we’ve mentioned before, there is no single set of anxiety symptoms or physical effects that appears universally in every person. It depends on the individual, as well as the specific anxiety disorder they may have: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), phobias, panic attacks, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and so on.

With that said, there are noticeable physical symptoms that tend to appear, on their own or in combination with each other. These usually include:

  • Increased heart rate or heart palpitations
  • Hyperventilation / shortness of breath
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Restlessness, fidgeting, trembling, and shaking
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Feelings of sickness or nausea
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia

These may be apparent at a low level throughout much of your daily routine, or they may flare up excessively during times of high stress or emotionally charged situations. These symptoms don’t need to consume your life before you seek treatment, though – if you think you may suffer from an anxiety disorder based on a list like this, it’s always a good idea to seek a professional diagnosis.


The Long-Term Effects of Anxiety on the Body

As mental health discussions and research have become more normalized, a wide range of studies have been done to establish the link between anxiety disorders and long-term physical health effects. The results are hardly surprising – people who experience anxiety also have a higher rate of associated cardiac, nervous, respiratory, digestive, and immune system disorders.

Anxiety and the Nervous System

Anxiety disorders will frequently flood your body with cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones. This constantly puts your systems into a “fight or flight” mode, causing mood swings, fatigue, headaches, and more. Too much cortisol exposure is also linked to weight gain.

This can impact your immune system as well. Ongoing, low-level anxiety and stress burns up body resources that would otherwise be moderated out to your immune system over time, leaving you vulnerable to more infections or illnesses.

Anxiety and the Cardiovascular System

Anyone who has anxiety knows the feeling of a pounding heartbeat, palpitations, or chest pain. This can lead to higher blood pressure, heart disease, or cardiac events, especially if a heart condition is already present.

Anxiety and Digestive Health

Butterflies in your stomach. Nausea before a stressful event. Anxiety-induced intestinal cramps. All of these are well-attested, because your brain and your digestive tract work very closely together and influence each other. As a result, people with anxiety disorders are at higher risk of developing GI disorders as well, ranging from heartburn and indigestion to more serious ones like ulcers.

Anxiety and Respiratory Health

Shallow breathing and hyperventilation are common symptoms of anxiety – and these can make existing respiratory conditions, like asthma, COPD, or seasonal allergies harder to handle and more severe. This type of breathing can interfere with the body’s oxygen intake as well, causing a cycle of chest pain and laboured breathing that feed off each other. The result is dizzy spells, light-headedness, and headaches.


Find an Anxiety Therapist in Calgary

True and holistic health means finding the right balance between your emotional, mental, and physical well-being. Since our bodies (and especially our disorders) don’t come with instruction manuals, trying to navigate this on your own can lead to further difficulties and stress. 

At Your Counselling, we use a variety of assessments and therapeutic approaches to help Calgarians with anxiety, depression, addictions, relationship distress, and a wide range of other conditions. This is a safe place to find help for people of all ages, backgrounds, and circumstances, and we would be thrilled to guide your forward as you take steps toward a better quality of life.

Reach out today for a free 15-minute consultation so we can find out what works best for you, together. Don’t let anxiety rule your life or impact your long-term health – live better with Your Counselling!