These days mental health problems are becoming significantly more common than ever before.
Although no one knows what causes this increase, by now it is undeniable that it exists.
Anxiety disorders, in particular, are a genuine concern these days, with 19.1% of the population in the U.S experiencing some kind of an anxiety disorder in the past year.
Anxiety disorders, or even just stress in general, can cause significant distress and make your life much more difficult than it has to be.
Aside from the obvious mental effects, however, anxiety can also affect the way that the human body functions.
We can handle these effects in short bursts, but prolonged periods of anxiety and stress will certainly leave their mark.
In fact, not only can anxiety alter the way that you think, it can also cause both short-term and long-term damage to your body.
It is estimated that anywhere between 60% to 80% of all Primary Care visits have a stress-related component.
This number is higher among those who suffer from an anxiety disorder, who tend to visit the doctor more frequently than average.
But why is that? Why is anxiety so bad for us?
Why is anxiety bad for us?
To put it simply, stress is a survival mechanism.
Think of it as a “state” that your body enters during situations that it considers “dangerous” or “threatening”.
Our stress response pushes us to action, making us hurry and thus get out of the dangerous situation that we have found ourselves in.
This response is absolutely vital, and without it, our species might not have survived up to this point.
Even now, stress by itself is not a bad thing.
In short bursts, in fact, it can even be good for you – It can keep you motivated and improve your immune system.
When you suffer from an anxiety disorder, however, stress becomes a much bigger issue.
Anxiety disorders are, at their most basic level, prolonged periods of stress – something that our body can’t handle at all.
So much so that some of the systems that it uses start to crash down after experiencing chronic stress over a long enough period of time.
How can anxiety cause sickness?
To put it simply, when it comes to anxiety, treating the condition might not be enough to handle all of the possible long-term complications.
Either your body is affected by the symptoms of anxiety or the disorder itself causes other medical conditions.
The symptoms are tied to the condition itself, meaning that overcoming your anxiety will likely get rid of the symptoms as well.
Alternatively, in some cases, anxiety can cause certain problems and complications that may require further treatment.
1) Anxiety can weaken the immune system
At the most fundamental level, our immune system is meant to be a powerful line of defense.
It can protect us from viruses and many types of diseases, it is absolutely crucial in our day-to-day lives, where we get exposed to many different, sometimes dangerous, elements.
Anxiety and chronic stress have a special way to mess with this system.
Long-term stress can decrease the body’s lymphocytes – The white blood cells that help fight off infections.
The lower your lymphocyte level is, the greater the risk of infection is.
A weakened immune system means that we are more susceptible to invaders and our ability to recover from sickness is much worse than it could be.
Over the years there have been conducted many studies regarding the effects of stress on the immune system, and the overall results show us that the connection between anxiety and the immune system is not coincidental.
2) Anxiety can make you gain/lose weight
Have you ever noticed yourself eating more than you should when put under difficult circumstances?
For example, after being rejected by your latest romantic interest, or maybe while doing your best at work to meet a particularly unreasonable deadline?
Or maybe you won’t eat anything at all? The stress might be enough to make you lose your appetite.
You are not alone.
Data from the “Stress in America” survey suggests that stress can influence your eating habits.
According to the survey, 38% of the participants reported overeating or eating unhealthy food at least once a month due to stress, with roughly half of those who do (49%) do so on a weekly basis.
Alternatively, 30% of adults report skipping at least one due to stress, 41% of which report doing so on a weekly basis.
Some people are more likely to engage in emotional eating due to anxiety, many others lose their appetite altogether due to anxiety, making them less likely to maintain a proper diet.
Both weight gain and weight loss are common among people with anxiety, and both can be equally bad for your health.
3) Anxiety can cause problems with digestion
By now it has been well established that chronic stress and anxiety are not good for your health.
In some cases, however, the rippling effects of an anxiety disorder might not be obvious at first sight.
One such example would be the way that anxiety affects our stomach.
You might notice the way that your stomach acts when you are under stress, these feelings can be described as “having butterflies in your stomach” or even “gut-wrenching” and “Nausea-inducing,”, this is just the way that your body reacts to stress
As it turns out, when stress hormones circulate our body, our digestive system shuts down, causing our digestive muscles to contract more or less frequently.
The stomach and the brain are closely connected to one another, and the way that you feel can affect the way that your stomach feels.
4) Anxiety can interfere with sleep
Sleep is an absolutely essential part of our lives, something that we quite literally can’t live without.
The recommended duration of sleep for the average adult is anywhere between 7 and 9 hours every night.
Sleeping any less than that over a long enough period of time can cause moodiness, irritability, and forgetfulness.
People who suffer from anxiety and chronic stress rarely get enough sleep, their condition prevents them from resting properly.
After all, anxiety is typically accompanied by excessive worry and tension, making it a possible cause for insomnia.
Not only that, but studies show that a lack of sleep can cause anxiety, creating a cycle of sleepless nights and stress.
Anxiety and stress are very strenuous on the body and are known to cause fatigue, making your inability to sleep properly that much more difficult to bear.
5) Anxiety can affect the cardiovascular system
The cardiovascular system provides nourishment and oxygen to the organs of the body.
The way that this system functions can change based on our levels of stress.
For example, momentary or short-term stress can cause an increase in heart rate and stronger contractions of the heart muscle.
It also dilates our blood vessels and elevates blood pressure.
This is our body’s reaction to danger, known as the “fight or flight response”
Chronic stress and anxiety, on the other hand, can contribute to long-term problems for the heart and the blood vessels.
It can keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels high and it also increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
It’s true that some people respond to stress better than others, but no one remains unaffected by it.
Not over a long enough period of time, anyway.
Anxiety and chronic stress can be treated
Stress, in small amounts and short bursts, can be good for you.
It can improve your immune system as well as your memory, it can also make you more productive and help you achieve your goals.
In difficult times stress can be your friend, giving you the ability to push yourself just a bit more.
Too much stress over a long period of time, however, can weaken your immune system, cause forgetfulness and lower productivity.
The good news is that anxiety and chronic stress are considered to be “highly treatable”, meaning that practically anyone can turn their condition around, be it through Self-help, medication, or therapy.
If you are truly serious about overcoming your anxiety and chronic stress then I would highly recommend checking out the “Panic Away” Program.
In it, you will find guides, videos, tips, and tricks that will help you overcome your anxiety.
If you are truly serious about wanting to get better then there is no better starting point.
Should you have any further questions feel free to email me or post your questions in the comment section below.