7 ways anxiety can affect your health
- Anxiety feels different for everyone
- Physical symptoms of anxiety occur when the body releases adrenaline in response to emotional stress.
- When your body goes into fight or flight mode, everything speeds up, including your heart rate and oxygen circulation.
- Tension headaches, migraines, and sore muscles are common physical symptoms of anxiety.
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Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, told INSIDER that anxiety in and of itself is a display of "outward physical manifestations" when the stress hormone, Adrenalin, is physiologically released into the body as a response to emotional stress.
"It makes your eyes dilate, your breathing passages widen, your heart beat stronger faster and your blood pressure to sharply increase. From an evolutionary standpoint, it could be lifesaving," Glatter said, explaining that this your body's way of coping through what it interprets as "fight or flight" situations.
While anxiety looks and feels different for everyone, there are a few core physical symptoms you might experience when the stress becomes too overwhelming. Here are some of the most common to be aware of. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, it's worth talking to your doctor about.
Migraines are a response to, as well as a cause of, anxiety
According to statistics from the Migraine Research Foundation, 39 million people in the United States alone will suffer from migraines each year. While the foundation notes that anxiety is "common for those with chronic migraines," Danica Barron, MD, associate medical director at Paradocs Worldwide Inc. told INSIDER it's not clear what came first: the anxiety, or the migraine.
"It is not clear that anxiety causes migraines or that migraines cause anxiety, only that they are closely associated - people with migraines are more likely to have anxiety disorder," Barron said. "However, being anxious can affect the triggers for migraines (sleep, eating, etc) which may make you more predisposed to migraines."
Your GI system can take a major hit
The physical symptoms of anxiety can spiral into a kind of domino effect. Your emotions rev up, your body switches into fight or flight mode, and when your mind is racing and you can't sleep, when your breathing and heart rate speed up. Your gastrointestinal system can be affected by all of this.
It's not uncommon to experience nausea, vomiting, heartburn, and more when you're faced with anxiety. But on the flip side, as Harvard Health pointed out, a recent review of 13 studies found that patients working on their mental health had a higher success rate in dealing with GI issues than those who simply received medical treatment.
You've become more susceptible to illness
Low-level stress can be good for the body; too much stress can be detrimental to it, Barron told INSIDER. When too much cortisol (aka your main stress hormone) is released for long periods of time, it weakens the immune system, she explained.
"Cortisol normally acts to help reduce inflammation by affecting antibodies associated with inflammation and ratios of certain white blood cells," Barron said. "In this regard, you are not getting a cold/fever/chills from anxiety itself, you are getting the cold/fever/chills because you cannot fight off infection as well."
Pre-existing skin ailments are flaring up
Anxiety generally won't cause you to start itching on its own, but if you have a pre-existing skin condition, such as psoriasis, eczema, or rosacea, inflammation caused by stress and anxiety can aggravate them, Barron explained.
"[Anxiety] can also cause rashes too - including hives and even outbreaks of cold virus blisters," as well as a burning or itching sensation without a visible rash, she added.
Your heart rate has sped up
When your body switches gears into fight or flight mode, everything speeds up as a defense, including your heart rate, to make fighting or fleeing easier. Oftentimes when a patient complains about their heart, Dr. Sanam Hafeez, an NYC-based neuropsychologist, told INSIDER it's frequently a symptom of psychological stress, not a physical health issue.
"An anxious person may turn [their] attention to physical symptoms instead of learning to cope with the situation causing the symptoms," she explained. "There are thousands of people who seek treatment in the emergency room each year, fearing they are having a heart attack when it is simply anxiety making their heart beat fast."
You're either too hot, too cold, and/or excessively sweating
If you tend to feel warm and/or sweaty when coping through times of stress, you can blame your rapid heart rate for that, Dr. Lindsay Henderson, PsyD, a psychologist who treats patients virtually via telehealth app, LiveHealth Online told INSIDER. This fight or flight response can contribute to drastic changes in body temperature, sending your internal thermometer up a few degrees. Hot flashes, sweating, and chills as the body attempts to keep itself regulated are all physical responses to this, Henderson explained.
You're overwhelmed with dizziness and fatigue
As it prepares for fight or flight your body speeds up its oxygen intake. When air is circulating faster throughout the bloodstream, your body is going to respond to the overwhelm with shallow breaths, leaving you feeling "dizzy, weak," and with tingling sensations on your skin, Henderson said.
This post has been updated.
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