How worrying affects your body
Worrying too much can lead to physical problems,and can affect appetite, lifestyle habits, relationships, sleep and job performance.
Anxiety can also lead to unhealthy choices with comfort eating or binge drinking.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. Ongoing anxiety, though, may be the result of a disorder such as generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder or social anxiety. Anxiety disorders are common and according to the NHS, approximately one in 25 people is affected by generalised anxiety disorder at some stage in their life. Anxiety manifests itself in multiple ways and does not discriminate by age, gender or race.
Stressful events such as an exam or a job interview can make anyone feel a bit anxious. Sometimes a little worry or anxiety is helpful. It can help you get ready for an upcoming situation. For instance, if you’re preparing for a job interview, a little worry or anxiety may push you to find out more about the position. Then you can present yourself more professionally to the potential employer. Worrying about an exam may help you study more and be more prepared on exam day.
But excessive worriers react quickly and intensely to these stressful situations or triggers. Even thinking about the situation can cause chronic worriers great distress and disability. Excessive worry or ongoing fear or anxiety is harmful when it becomes so irrational that you can’t focus on reality or think clearly. People with high anxiety have difficulty shaking their worries. When that happens, they may experience actual physical symptoms.
Can excessive worrying and anxiety cause a stress response?
Stress comes from the demands and pressures we experience each day. Long queues in shops, rush hour traffic, a constantly ringing phone or a chronic illness are all examples of things that can cause stress on a daily basis. When worries and anxiety become excessive, chances are you’ll trigger the stress response.
There are two elements to the stress response. The first is the perception of the challenge. The second is an automatic physiological reaction called the “fight or flight” response that brings on a surge of adrenaline and sets your body on “red alert”. There was a time when the “fight or flight” response protected our ancestors from such dangers as wild animals that could easily make a meal out of them. Although we don’t ordinarily encounter wild animals we need to run from today, dangers still exist. They’re there in the form of a demanding co-worker, a colicky baby or a dispute with a loved one.
Can excessive worrying make me physically ill?
Chronic worrying and emotional stress can trigger a host of health problems. The problem occurs when fight or flight is triggered daily by excessive worrying and anxiety. The fight or flight response causes the body’s sympathetic nervous system to release stress hormones such as cortisol. These hormones can increase blood sugar levels and triglycerides (blood fats) that can be used by the body for fuel. High levels of another stress hormone, adrenaline, have been shown to be directly toxic to cells of the brain and immune system. The hormones also cause physical reactions such as:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry mouth
- Fast heartbeat
- Inability to concentrate
- Muscle aches
- Muscle tension
- Nervous energy
- Rapid breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Trembling and twitching.