Anxiety can impact physical and mental health. It can affect the cardiovascular, urinary, digestive, and respiratory systems, and it can increase the risk of infection.
While many people know about the effects of anxiety on mental health, fewer people are aware of the physical side effects.
This article discusses the most common physical symptoms and side effects of anxiety.
People with anxiety can experience the following:
- feeling nervous, tense, or fearful
- panic attacks
- a rapid heart rate
- fast breathing or hyperventilation
- difficulty concentrating
- sleep problems
- feeling too cold or too hot
- chest pain
Some anxiety disorders like; obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) also causes:
- obsessive thoughts.
- compulsive behaviors that aim to reduce the anxiety caused by the thoughts.
- periods of temporary relief, which follow the compulsive behaviors.
Effects of anxiety on the body
The amygdala, an area of the brain that manages emotional responses, plays a crucial role in developing feelings of fear and anxiety.
When a person feels anxious, stressed, or frightened, the brain signals other body parts. The signals communicate that the body should prepare to fight or flee.
The body responds, for example, by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, which many describe as stress hormones.
Anxiety can significantly affect the body, and long-term anxiety increases the risk of developing chronic physical conditions. Some of the ways that anxiety affects the body include:
- Breathing and respiratory changes
- Urinary tract infection
- Digestive problems
- Cardiovascular disease
During periods of anxiety, a person’s breathing may become rapid and shallow, which is called hyperventilation.
Hyperventilation allows the lungs to take in more oxygen and quickly transport it around the body. Having anxiety can lead to long-term effects, people with anxiety may experience:
- digestive issues
- chronic pain conditions
- difficulties with school, work, or socialization
- a loss of interest in sex
- substance misuse disorders
- suicidal thoughts
What is an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety describes a group of disorders that cause worry, nervousness, and fear. These feelings of anxiety interfere with everyday life and are out of proportion to the triggering object or event.
In some cases, people cannot identify a trigger and feel anxious for what seems like no reason.
While people may experience mild anxiety in some situations, such as before an important presentation or meeting, persistent anxiety can interfere with a person’s well-being.
According to the World Health Organization, anxiety disorders represent the most common mental illness in the Nigeria and affect around 25-30% of Nigerians adults.
While these disorders respond well to treatment, only 36.9% of people with an anxiety disorder receive treatment.
Causes and risk factors.
Both environmental and genetic factors may contribute to the development of anxiety disorders:
- traumatic life experiences
- genetic traits
- medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or chronic pain conditions
- substance misuse
- ongoing stress about work, finances, or home life
- having other mental health disorders
A mental health professional will diagnose one of several anxiety disorders in a person.
Types of anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder: This involves excessive anxiety for no apparent reason that lasts for 6 months or longer.
- Social anxiety: A person with social anxiety will feel fear of judgment or humiliation in social situations.
- Separation anxiety: This form of anxiety includes fear of being away from home or family.
- Phobia: This involves fear of a specific activity, object, or situation.
- Hypochondriasis: A person will receive this diagnosis if they experience persistent fear of having serious health issues.
- OCD: This involves recurring thoughts and compulsions that lead to repeated, compulsory mental or physical acts.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder: This involves severe anxiety after a traumatic event.
Diagnosis will depend on the type of anxiety disorder a person appears to have.
Anxiety is often treatable, and doctors usually recommend a combination of some of the following:
- support groups
- lifestyle changes involving physical activity and meditation.
The doctor may suggest counseling, either one-on-one or in a group. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one strategy that can help a person handle certain events and experiences differently.
Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in Nigeria, it causes physical and psychological symptoms, which can be very distressing.
Long-term anxiety increases the risk of physical illnesses and other mental health conditions, such as depression, restlessness, digestive dysfunction, changes in breathing and impairments to immune response.
However, anxiety can respond very well to treatment. Most people who receive treatment recover well and enjoy a good quality of life.