Long-term or repeated periods of stress can cause a variety of health problems in an individual. Since anxiety is a chronic form of stress, it’s no wonder the effects of anxiety on the body can be so damaging. The side effects of clinical anxiety are explored in this article, and if you’re experiencing these or other complications from stress or worry, it’s time to consult a professional.
Here are the long and short-term effects of anxiety.
1. Constant release of stress hormones
It’s natural to feel some anxiety, and at some point, every person will experience some worry or stress. While there are times small doses of anxiety can be useful (such as the fear you feel before a test that inspires you to study or the anticipation before running a race that releases adrenaline), too much of it can cause a constant release of stress hormones.
Adrenaline and cortisol are two of the neurotransmitters that are released, and when anxiety is prolonged, the brain starts to live in a state of constant “fight or flight.” Anxiety that can be diagnosed as a mental health disorder is anxiety that prevents the brain from knowing when this mode is helpful and when it interferes with normal life. Excess stress causes the body to be flooded with an unmonitored supply of these chemicals, weakening the immune system and exhausting the individual.
2. Cardiovascular problems
Anxiety has problematic effects on the heart, too. You may be familiar with symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder like rapid breathing, increased heart rate, heart palpitations, tightness and pain in the chest and high blood pressure- all of which can contribute to the risk of heart disease.
Anxiety has negative results on the heart because this organ cannot sustain heightened states of stress and alertness for prolonged periods of time. The overabundance of stress hormones within the body affects the entire endocrine system, which in turn affects every organ, including the heart.
3. Gastrointestinal issues
The short-term effects of anxiety can be as uncomfortable as the worry itself. Anxiety can produce gastrointestinal issues and indigestion. Constant stress can affect the gut, manifesting in conditions such as bloating, stomach pains, cramping, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and irritable bowel syndrome.
4. Lowered immune functioning
Chronic stress takes its toll on the immune system, too, likely contributing to more stress and worry, especially when the disease is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. The stress hormones released into the body produce a state of alertness, triggering the body to direct energy to immediate concerns.
The body is adapted to use anxiety as a self-defense mechanism in the short term, but the long-term effects of anxiety mean that the immune system suffers as it takes a back seat. A weakened immune system leaves a person vulnerable to infections and illness.
5. Chronic pain
When the brain responds to life with constant signals of distress, the body responds by contracting and tensing muscles. If you have ever been close to having a car accident, you may have experienced the extreme of this sensation.
When the body is constantly tense and reacting to perceived danger, the muscles respond the same way. One of the long-term effects of anxiety that is often overlooked is muscle rigidity. This can lead to soreness, tension, injury and even headaches and migraines.
6. Weight fluctuations
Anxiety has different effects on the bodies of different individuals. Some cope with anxiety through stress eating or binge eating as a method of self-soothing. Unfortunately, this may lead to unwanted weight gain. On the other hand, others may feel sick as a result of the stomach and digestive issues, leading to a decrease in appetite and reluctance to eat consistently.
7. Memory loss
Constant worry and preoccupation with anxious thoughts may have negative effects on one’s working memory. You might find yourself forgetting things, becoming overwhelmed by busy schedules and making mistakes more often than usual as a result of this long-term effect of anxiety. This can lead to a decrease in work or school performance, cause you to miss important appointments or dates, and can, in turn, lead to even greater feelings of anxiety and stress.
Anxiety can lead to additional mental health problems, the most common of which is depression. Depression occurs when anxiety reaches such a point that an individual feels there is little hope of a way out and becomes overwhelmed with a sense of isolation, hopelessness and despair.
When to seek help for anxiety side effects
Whether an individual battles generalized anxiety, social anxiety, PTSD, OCD, panic disorder or phobias, numerous difficulties arise in the wake of the diagnosis. Anxiety isn’t an isolated condition because it affects the body in numerous different ways. However, recovery is possible.
If you suspect that some of the physical conditions you are experiencing might be related to anxiety, or that your battle with anxiety is leading to unpleasant health conditions, it might be time to reach out to a medical professional for help.
Unfortunately, treating just one or the other won’t lead to a complete and total recovery. When addressing anxiety, both the anxiety and the resulting side effects should be treated together.
To speak with someone about treating anxiety and finding relief from its side effects, contact The Light Program today. The help you’re looking for is just a call away.