Consequences of Anxiety Disorder on the Body

Consequences of Anxiety Disorder on the Body

Mental health disorders are a widespread problem in today’s world and have affected millions of people through anxiety in the body.. According to the WHO, anxiety disorders led to a global total of 24.6 million in 2015. In addition, there was a massive 25% increase in mental health disorders after the pandemic. These mental health disorders have affected people from every walk of life. However, discussing your mental health is frowned upon. As a result, many individuals avoid discussing it in public.

Mental diseases not only impair a person’s mental health, but they also cause tremendous levels of stress on the body, resulting in a variety of physical side effects.. They cause various problems ranging from simple dermatitis to life-threatening conditions like cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, it becomes significant to understand and address these problems.

Anxiety Disorder: An Introduction

Anxiety in the body is an unpleasant state that one experiences in response to anticipated events. Unlike fear, there is no immediate danger in case of anxiety. However, our mind creates false circumstances and perceives them as threats. For example, we might feel anxious before an examination. Our minds make us believe that we are not ready for the exam or that it might have all the questions we are not confident in answering.

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It’s natural to feel anxious occasionally, but persistent and incapacitating anxiety could suggest that you have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are common and disabling conditions that mostly begin during childhood or adolescence. They impair the individual’s daily functioning and, if not treated, become chronic. Chronic anxiety disorders cause various physical and personality disorders. In other words, anxiety becomes a condition the instant it begins to interfere with your daily tasks.

Neurohormonal Cause

According to research, stress is the primary cause of anxiety on the body. Furthermore, continuous and chronic stress leads to a few severe mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. Before we understand anxiety, we need to know about the neurohormonal basis of stress. 

Fight or Flight

Based on a study, certain hormones help in the fight or flight response, which is a fundamental mechanism behind stress reactions. When any animal faces a threat in the form of a predator, there are two ways to tackle it, either run away or fight. Thus, both of these options require our body to function at its maximum. Physical stress stimulates the HPA axis and sympathetic nervous system, linking your brain and pituitary gland. The pituitary gland stimulates certain hormones like adrenaline, epinephrine and cortisol, which signal your body to increase the heart rate. Increased heart rate sends more blood to the muscles, allowing them to work more efficiently. At this point, your body is in full-on offensive gear, which makes you experience a kind of adrenaline during particularly stressful situations, called an adrenaline rush. 

There are certain downsides associated with an adrenaline rush. All the mechanisms that help fight or flight response do not calculate the amount of stress put on the body. Hence, when you are in this stage the body does not feel the pain or tiredness. Once this mode wears off, all the exhaustion starts coming in together. 

If our bodies are constantly under stress, the HPA axis, which is the main regulatory centre, becomes suppressed. The suppression causes the hormones to go haywire, and when excitation hormones dominate, humans suffer from anxiety disorders. Conversely, if the excitation hormones get suppressed, we suffer from depression.

Diagnosis

In most circumstances, you can self-diagnose the problem. However, it is preferable to seek professional assistance. Also, one can use DASS-21 which is the most used self-assessment questionnaire for anxiety disorders. The Anxiety disorder scale measures physical and situational anxieties, when therapists use a combination of questionnaires and interviews to diagnose you. In addition, you can opt for biomedical tests. However, because they are expensive and infrequently reliable, they are not routinely utilised for diagnosis.

Anxiety disorders occur concurrently with substance abuse disorders, major depressive disorders and personality disorders. They are associated with the withdrawal of certain medications like benzodiazepines(sleeping medicine)and alcohol. It is also present in the cases of chronic pain and irritable bowel syndrome. As per studies, anxiety has been linked to hyperthyroidism and pheochromocytoma

Classification of Anxiety Disorders 

Anxiety manifests itself in many forms. However, phobic disorder and panic disorder are the two most important classifiers.

Phobias

Phobia is an anxiety disorder where the individual has an intense, irrational fear of something that poses little to no danger. You can further divide it into Agoraphobia, Social phobias and specific phobias.

Agoraphobia

It is the fear of places or situations where getting away would be difficult. This fear can involve confined spaces, crowded areas, and aeroplanes, and it is linked to panic disorder, although it can also arise independently of generalised anxiety disorder. This Phobia comes under a different diagnosis under DSM-5.

Social Phobia

The condition where the person constantly thinks he will make a fool out of himself in social settings is social phobia. The person with this phobia suffers immensely and has constant doubt and suspicion. Their condition prevents them from taking compliments from others seriously and from having a social life. The individuals who suffer from this condition constantly think that others are scrutinising them and It affects their ability to get a job or to make friends. They might as well sweat excessively, stammer  and tremble. Resulting in low self-esteem.

Specific Phobias

Fear of specific objects and situations. Some widespread phobias include.

  • Arachnophobia: Arachnophobia is possibly the most well-known of all phobias. It is the fear of spiders or arachnids.
  • Ophidiophobia: Ophidiophobia is the fear of snakes. 
  • Acrophobia: Acrophobia, or fear of heights. This phobia is associated with frequent panic attacks. 
  • Aerophobia: Aerophobia is the fear of flying.

Other Anxiety Disorders

Panic Disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder are two other anxiety disorders.

Panic Disorders

This occurs when you have multiple panic attacks in a short period of time. It is an acute form of anxiety in the body that includes physical effects such as increased heart rate, palpitations, chills, trembling, pins, and needle sensation. It is a life-threatening condition if not managed immediately.

Generalised Anxiety Disorders

It is a condition characterised by excessive worries and feelings of fear, dread, and uneasiness that last six months or longer. Other symptoms of GAD include being restless, tired or irritable, tensed muscles, inability to concentrate, insomnia, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, sweating, and dizziness.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

We often use OCD to describe a  need to keep things orderly or neat. However, the “real” OCD is not that simple. People suffering from these disorders are plagued by repetitive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.They have ritualistic behaviour and may perform simple tasks such as hand-washing, checking and cleaning multiple times. OCD also causes horrifying disorders like Trichotillomania, an obsessive need to pull the hair from its roots which leads them in balding of scalp 

Reaction to Severe Stress and Adjustment Disorders

These disorders are a reaction to acute stress and separation issues. Therefore, you can further classify them as Acute Stress Reactions, PTSD and Adjustment Disorders.

Acute Stress Reactions and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

Axtell Stress Reactions is a stress disorder that is characterised by trance-like states and lasts for more than a month after experiencing overwhelming trauma. Furthermore, If it persists for more than a month, it is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This disorder is characterised by dissociative symptoms, vivid recollections of the traumatic event, hyperarousal and dreams related to the traumatic events. It is primarily common among Sexual abuse victims and army soldiers.

Adjustment Disorders

A condition in which a person reacts to a stressful event such as illness, job loss, or divorce with extreme emotions and behaviours that cause problems at work and at home.The symptoms for Adjustment disorder will generally last for less than six months. Resulting the person to suffer from significant anxiety and may have panic attacks.

Anxiety: Short Term Effects on Your Health

Heart Palpitations

Palpitations is a condition where we can hear our heartbeat.  The heart beats quickly by increasing blood flow to the muscle.s. However, as the muscles are not in the usage stage, there is a pooling of blood to the legs. Due to this pooling, the blood does not reach the brain leading to syncope or fainting.If you find yourself in a situation where your heartbeat is racing, try taking deep breaths. If the person has already fainted, place them on their back and raise their legs to restore blood flow to the brain.

Hyperventilation

According to a study, the individual takes many short gasps like breaths during an anxiety attack. It increases the oxygen supply to the lungs and decreases the carbon-di-oxide level significantly, which is a problem  because the balance must be maintained. That leads to narrowing  blood vessels that supply blood to the brain, leading to lightheadedness and dizziness.

Decreased Appetite

We lose appetite when anxiety in the body suppresses the body’s natural parasympathetic processes, which are digestion, excretion and secretion of bodily fluids,. As a result, it gives  an unhealthy weight loss. In addition, when the body’s secretions suppress, it results in dry eyes and dry mouth.

Other common short term effects on the body during anxiety are tremors, excessive sweating, loss of concentration and fatigue. 

Anxiety: Long Term Effects on the Body

Cardiovascular Diseases

According to WHO, depression and anxiety are leading causes of disability and diseases. As per meta-analytic study, individuals with anxiety disorder tend to be at a higher risk for cardiovascular mortality, coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure. Meanwhile, Phobic anxiety is more significantly associated with coronary heart disease (heart attack), and post-traumatic Stress Disorder is associated with stroke. Also, in a yet another meta-analytic study says individuals with anxiety disorders had a 52% increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Substance Abuse

A study shows that anxiety on the body is associated with substance abuse. Individuals generally use alcohol to appease their anxiety, leading to hard drugs like cocaine, LSD, and morphine. It is a complex cycle to get rid of. Furthermore, it affects a person’s social, personal and professional life. In addition, substance abuse deteriorates the body along with anxiety.

Disorders of Head and Neck

Temporomandibular disorders are problems associated with jaws. Research indicates that they are also related to stress and anxiety. For example, myofascial dysfunction syndrome can lead to severe and constant pain in the facial area. According to another study, anxiety is the primary reason for this condition. In addition, oral ulcers called aphthous ulcers are also seen mainly due to anxiety.

Self Harm

Data indicates that Anxiety generally leads to self-harm. This behaviour can be present in Trichotillomania which involves pulling out your hair. They also tend to cut and burn themselves. 

Eating Disorders

According to a study, eating disorders are also prevalent in these individuals which leads them to certain conditions.Bulimia nervosa is a condition in which individuals consume food and intentionally throw up to maintain their weight. Anorexia is a condition where the individual is highly concerned with weight and has body image issues leading to non-consumption of food and wasting muscles.

Natural Ways to Manage Anxiety

Mindful Meditation

Mindful meditation entails concentrating on your feelings in the present moment and paying close attention to your senses without judgement. It can be done by the methods of breathing and visualisation. It allows the body  to get out of your auto-pilot mode and concentrate on the feelings which helps the body to  manage stress. According to a study, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or Mindful Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and showed a significant effect on managing anxiety disorders.

Yoga

Yoga has become a popular method of managing anxiety. A study has also proven that yoga is an excellent way to manage stress and anxiety on the body. It improves the mood significantly and helps to be mindful of the feelings. Therefore, you can use it as a complementary management method. In addition, it also helps in reducing treatment costs and usage of drugs.

Stop Smoking

According to research, smoking significantly increases anxiety symptoms. Although it is not yet confirmed, considering the underlying mechanisms, it is very plausible. Hence, smoking might be the first step toward improving the quality of your life.

The Bottom Line

Anxiety is a condition that has a negative impact on our bodies and is extremely disabling. It can be maintained by making a few  changes in lifestyle and diet. According to studies, yoga and meditation are highly effective. However, it is advised to take professional help from a therapist. As per last reports, Pharmacotherapy is a essential method used to treat anxiety and prioritise your Mental health. Thus, Seek a professional help, and do not ignore the warning signs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What are the physical symptoms of anxiety?

A. Physical symptoms of anxiety include increased heart rate, palpitations; shortness of breath, rapid breathing; chest pain or pressure; choking sensation; dizzy, light-headed; sweaty, hot flashes, chills; nausea, upset stomach, diarrhoea; trembling, shaking; tingling or numbness in arms and legs; weakness, unsteadiness, faintness; tense muscles, rigidity; and dry mouth.

Q. Can anxiety cause weird sensations?

A. Yes, anxiety can cause weird sensations, making the body feel tingly or numb. These are called phantom sensations, which occur due to the fight or flight response. It might also lead the body to feel dizzy and light-headed as enough oxygen is not reaching the brain.

Q. How do I get rid of anxiety in my body?

A. You can make a few lifestyle changes like physical activity, yoga, meditation, and picking up therapeutic hobbies. You can also take professional help from psychologists.

Q. What happens in the body during anxiety?

A. During anxiety, your body switches off all the normal mechanisms and focuses on increasing the blood flow to muscles. As a result, your heart starts beating rapidly while your digestive processes stop.

Q. How do you tell if it’s anxiety or something else?

A. If you have feelings of unrest and uneasiness constantly without any upcoming event, you probably have anxiety. You can differentiate it from fear or worry as they have a reason not made up by your mind. Anxiety has fixed symptoms like palpitations, dry mouth, hyperventilation, sweaty palms etc. However, it is normal to feel anxious sometimes. You should visit a doctor only if you are constantly feeling anxious to the point where it is affecting your daily life activities. 

Q. Why is my anxiety suddenly worse?

A. Your anxiety might sometimes get worse due to certain triggers. For example, they might be stressful situations at home, office/school or due to medications. In addition, if you are taking caffeine or alcohol, it might worsen your anxiety. 

Q. What happens if anxiety is left untreated?

A. There are many adverse long-term and short-term effects of anxiety on the body. The anxiety in the body will take over your life and will not allow you to function properly. Generally, you will be more susceptible to cardiovascular and immunological disorders. In addition, you will have difficulty eating and sleeping, significantly affecting your work or study life. Hence, it would help if you got treated for anxiety.

Q. How do I get tested for anxiety?

A. You can take a self-assessment test or go to a professional psychologist. The most common self-assessment questionnaire is DASS-21. It is a form that contains 21 questions. Seven questions help measure your anxiety, and the other seven measure your stress and the remaining seven measure your depression scale. Psychologists also use questionnaires and interviews to determine if you have anxiety.

Q. Can anxiety go away without medication?

A. There is a possibility of anxiety going away without medication. However, it depends from person to person. Many people can be cured through therapy and lifestyle changes.. However, it is not a simple task and might take years for effects to show up. In some individuals, medications become a compulsion.

Q. Can anxiety be cured naturally?

A.Yes, anxiety can be treated naturally through lifestyle changes such as yoga and exercise. You can also include meditation and limit your caffeine and alcohol consumption to cure your anxiety.

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