Anxiety: How a Mental Illness Becomes Physical and How it Affects Everyone

Anxiety: How a Mental Illness Becomes Physical and How it Affects Everyone

Anxiety is a general feeling of unease, such as worry.  Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. For example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting for an exam. During these times, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal. However, there are people who find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives. Anxiety can be presented in a lot of ways. It’s not just panicking or hyperventilating. There are many symptoms of anxiety that are not as commonly known that can actually affect your physical body.

What Causes Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorders affect 40 million people in America alone. It is one of the most common illnesses in the United States. It is more common in women than men, and it starts to affect during childhood, adolescence or young adulthood.

The exact cause of anxiety disorders is unknown but scientists researching mental health disorders say they are caused by a combination of factors, including biology and environmental stresses. Like certain illnesses, such as diabetes, anxiety might be caused by chemical imbalances in the body.

How Mental Illness Becomes Physical

There is such a close relationship between our minds and bodies. Studies have shown that severe or long lasting stress can change the balance of chemicals in the brain that control mood. Anxiety seems to interfere with the function of the stomach. For example, when we begin to eat, the stomach relaxes so it can take in the food, but with people who suffer from anxiety, this doesn’t happen. It can cause stomach upset.

Bodily Symptoms of Anxiety:

While I was in my final year of school, I struggled with the work and this was a huge trigger for my anxiety. I was unable to breathe, my chest was tight, I would sweat profusely and I could not concentrate on being there. Sometimes I wasn’t even able to attend classes due to my anxiety. I could not cope with being a student so, with my therapist’s and doctor’s help, I left school and did all my work at home, only attending my final exams on campus.

Long term anxiety and panic attacks can cause your brain to release stress hormones on a regular basis. This can increase headaches, lightheadedness or dizziness and cause depression.  Other symptoms include:

  • Sweating
  • Tiredness
  • Dry mouth
  • Choking sensation
  • Nausea
  • Flushing/chills
  • Chest pains
  • Palpitations
  • Loss of appetite or craving food

But that’s not all. Long term exposure to stress hormones and chemicals called adrenaline and cortisol can be very harmful to your physical health in the long run. The production of cortisol can contribute to weight gain, along with:

  • Stomach pains
  • Bladder weakness
  • Trembling
  • Shakiness
  • Pins and needles
  • Jelly Legs

These are the most commonly recognized for anxiety. With occasional stress our bodies return to normal functioning once the stress passes. Although, for people with anxiety, stress lasts for a long time, and your body doesn’t receive the signals to return to normal functioning. This can weaken your immune system, which may leave your body weak and vulnerable to infections and illnesses.

It took me a long time to begin to cope with my anxiety on top of already being on medication. Medication helps many, but for some it might not work. It can take time to find what helps you control your anxiety.

Other Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Although forty million people suffer from anxiety in America, not everyone’s symptoms are the same. We are all different and the chemicals produced are not the exact same in each and every person, which makes many unique symptoms of anxiety come out in certain people.

Another reason for these unique symptoms is that we all have underlying reasons for anxiety.  My anxiety stems from living in an abusive home and thus I get anxious when things become out of my control. Organization, planning and control are three big ways that I can manage my anxiety, along with the help of my medication.

Anxiety can be a very stressful and tiring mental illness. As I have mentioned above, many signs of anxiety are physical symptoms, not just mental symptoms. Your anxiety may stem from a different reason and you might have other ways of coping with your anxiety. Some other symptoms include:

  • Phantosmia

This is when you smell a scent that’s not there. When someone experiences something very stressful, the smells that are associated with that experience become indented into the person’s memory and when they become stressed that smell can come back to them.

  • Frequent Gas/Burping

When you become anxious your stomach acid increases, which causes stomach upset and more bodily gas. This can also happen from swallowing too much air, which can cause burping.

  • Difficulty Sleeping

It can be very difficult to sleep due to anxiety. When you get caught up in thoughts about past events or worrying about the future, you can become very overwhelmed which causes sleep deprivation.

  • Frequent Yawning

There are unknown answers to this strange physical effect but it can be presumed that this is due to sleep loss.  

  • Cold Hands and Feet

When a person becomes anxious, adrenaline gets released preparing the body for the fight or flight reaction. Blood is moved away from hands, feet and the abdomen to our larger muscle groups, such as our thighs and hips, to help us run if we decide to flee from the situation.

How Anxiety Affects Everyone

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, whether it’s anxiety in regards to an exam coming up or a job interview. Of course this anxiety won’t be as long lasting as a sufferer of constant anxiety, but everyone does, in fact, struggle with anxiety at one point or another. The thumping heart, sweaty palms, shallow breathing and stomach knots are symptoms people will experience throughout their lifetime. When anxiety starts affecting daily life, that’s when we might need help to deal with it.

I hope that this deep insight into the physical signs of anxiety can help you recognize potential mental illness in you or your loved ones so that everyone can get the help they need. Just because you may have very unique symptoms of anxiety does not change anything about you. Your anxiety is a part of you and with help you will be able to get through this.

With Love,

Anne xxx

About The Author…

Anne is from Ireland where she is taking time off after school to focus on her mental health. She is also an assistant at Quiet Nonsense and runs her own blog www.foreverthewanderer.ie with topics including travel, mental health and so much more. Anne dreams of/ is working towards becoming a professional blogger.

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Photo and graphic credit: Anne
Photo Credit: Briggy

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