Though people often associate anxiety with mental patterns of worry and racing thoughts, it is important to acknowledge the various ways in which anxiety shows up in the body.
Anxiety disorders are truly just as much about physical discomfort as mental. An individual with an anxiety disorder may not feel particularly anxious, yet still experience distressing physical symptoms.
This reality counters the idea that a person living with an anxiety disorder should simply ‘not worry so much’ or ‘think happy thoughts’.
Even if there is not a distinct, identifiable source of worry, one’s body may still display physical symptoms that can be attributed to their condition. These sensations in the body sometimes occur spontaneously, without acknowledgment of worried thoughts.
For more information about types of anxiety disorders, and to take an anxiety or depression test, visit Mind Diagnostics.
Chest pain is a common symptom of a panic attack and may even be so alarming that it resembles a heart attack. But it is also possible for people with anxiety disorders to experience ongoing chest discomfort that lasts for days or weeks.
What may feel like persistent chest tightness or pressure may be due to chronic hyperventilation or chest wall pain caused by muscle contractions.
However, if this is going on, it is crucial to consult with your doctor to first rule out any cardiac causes of chest pain before concluding that it is anxiety-related.
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There is a strong link between anxiety disorders and respiratory problems. Individuals with anxiety disorders commonly experience shortness of breath. During times of anxiety or panic, people begin breathing more quickly (or hyperventilating). Hyperventilation throws off the balance of oxygen-carbon dioxide in the body, which spurs feelings of breathlessness or suffocation, and other symptoms such as dizziness, dry mouth, and heart palpitations. There is also the potential for anxiety to exacerbate symptoms of asthma for those with this respiratory condition.
Due to the amount of stress hormones constantly flooding, living with an anxiety disorder can be incredibly draining and even exhausting. If you feel tired all of the time, be sure to rule out other physical health conditions. But don’t discount the ability of anxiety and being on constant high-alert to cause persistent mental and physical fatigue.
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There is a significant link between anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. Many individuals living with anxiety experience challenges with falling or staying asleep due to elevated stress hormones and the presence of distressing thoughts at night.
Not getting adequate sleep becomes a vicious cycle, as poor sleep quality contributes to worsening symptoms of anxiety.
Due to the muscle tension that occurs with the stress response, an individual with anxiety may experience muscle aches and pains in any area of their body.
If you are experiencing pain or stiffness in your neck, shoulders, back or legs that is not attributed to any other cause, anxiety may be the culprit. It is also possible for frequent headaches to occur as a result of chronic anxiety and tension.
As the gut and brain are powerfully connected, chronic anxiety can take a toll on one’s digestive system. Various gastrointestinal symptoms may occur such as stomach cramps, nausea, constipation and diarrhea. Many individuals living with anxiety disorders also have a condition called Irritable Bowel Syndrome which is characterized by gastrointestinal distress.
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The key to alleviating ongoing physical symptoms is to address the underlying anxiety. Treatment for anxiety disorders typically looks like psychotherapy, medication or both.
Working with a mental health professional to establish a treatment plan will help to reduce the impact of anxiety symptoms on your daily functioning.
Another helpful strategy is to stay engaged in meaningful activities to combat preoccupation with physical discomfort (which will only increase anxiety and therefore, more physical discomfort). Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation can also be helpful, as well as engaging in physical activity to relieve tension.
Establishing a strong support system and developing healthy coping skills are also central to managing anxiety. It may take time to figure out what works best for you, but it is possible to live meaningfully in the midst of the physical and mental challenges associated with an anxiety disorder.
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