The Link Between Anxiety Symptoms And Depression
Many people with anxiety disorders also suffer from depression at some point. Anxiety and depression are believed to stem from the same biological vulnerability, which may explain why they so often go hand-in-hand. Since depression makes anxiety worse , its important to seek treatment for both conditions.
What Anxiety Does To Your Body: 7 Common Physical Symptoms
While conversations on anxiety tend to revolve around how a person feels mentally and emotionally, its important to consider the physical symptoms, too. For a lot of women struggling with anxiety, its not always clear how to make the connection between how they are feeling physically and their emotional state.
To begin to understand the physical symptoms of anxiety, its important to remember how anxiety triggers the physical fight or flight response. While a helpful tool when facing a real physical threat, your brain doesnt distinguish between that and anxiety, which is often caused by fear and worry. Because your brain is wired to respond to any perceived threat by kicking on your sympathetic nervous system, when you feel anxious a lot of involuntary responses start to happen, like increased breathing and a more rapid release of hormones into your bloodstream.
How your body physically responds to anxiety is unique, but there are seven common physical symptoms that you should be aware of. When you understand what your body does when its stressed, you can start to connect the dots between your anxiety and your physical body.
What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder
With GAD, you may feel extreme and unrealistic worry and tension even if theres nothing to trigger these feelings. Most days, you may worry a lot about various topics, including health, work, school and relationships. You may feel that the worry continues from one thing to the next.
Physical symptoms of GAD can include restlessness, difficulty concentrating and sleeping problems.
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Your Reproductive System Is Affected
During the fight-or-flight response, testosterone and cortisol production is affected. Chronic stress might disturb the male reproductive system in many ways. It may lead to a decreased sexual desire and can cause erectile dysfunction. It may also affect sperm production and maturation, causing fertility problems.
Also, when anxiety affects the immune system, the male reproductive system might become more prone to infections.
Chronic stress may affect menstruation. Absent or irregular menstrual cycles, painful periods, and changes in the length of cycles might happen. Premenstrual symptoms might become worse as well. They include cramps, bloating, and mood swings.
When stress is high, it may also reduce womens sexual desire and impact a womans ability to conceive. Maternal stress may also negatively impact fetal and childhood development. In fact, after delivery, excess stress makes it more likely to develop depression.
Chronic stress also affects menopause. During menopause, hormone levels change a lot. These changes are associated with anxiety, mood swings, and feelings of distress. Chronic anxiety may make the physical symptoms worse. For example, more anxious women may experience a higher number and more severe hot flashes during menopause.
Managing The Physical Symptoms
Anxiety disorders are more common than you think. Treating anxiety disorders is important for better mental health and physical health. The first step when it comes to treating anxiety disorders is to take care of yourself. There are many healthy habits you can include in your daily life such as:
- maintaining a healthy social support network
- be physically active
- getting 8 hours of sleep per night
- meditating or doing yoga
- avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine
If you are still experiencing excessive or chronic anxiety, a mental health professional can help you find ways to cope with the symptoms. Treatment requires the understanding of the symptoms you are experiencing and their severity. It often includes therapy or medication.
Anxiety disorders can be treated by therapy alone. But, if symptoms persist, your doctor may prescribe prescription medications as well. If you are experiencing anxiety symptoms, make sure to pay a visit to your doctor.
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Do I Have An Anxiety Disorder
If you identify with any of the following seven signs and symptoms, and they just wont go away, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder:
Who Is At Risk For Anxiety Disorders
A mix of genetic and environmental factors can raise a persons risk for developing anxiety disorders. You may be at higher risk if you have or had:
- Certain personality traits, such as shyness or behavioral inhibition feeling uncomfortable with, and avoiding, unfamiliar people, situations or environments.
- Stressful or traumatic events in early childhood or adulthood.
- Family history of anxiety or other mental health conditions.
- Certain physical conditions, including thyroid problems and heart arrhythmias .
Anxiety disorders occur more often in women. Researchers are still studying why that happens. It may come from womens hormones, especially those that fluctuate throughout the month. The hormone testosterone may play a role, too men have more, and it may ease anxiety. Its also possible that women are less likely to seek treatment, so the anxiety worsens.
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When Anxiety Feels More Physical Than Mental
The shaking wouldnt stop. I took deep breaths. I added blankets and then took them off. I tried to relax each muscle in my body one at a time. But still, but no matter what I did, I kept furiously shaking as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep. I felt like I swallowed a brick. I tried to take sips of the water on my nightstand to keep myself from throwing up, but it was tough to swallow.
In the daytime things were easier, but not by much. I would feel dizzy and lightheaded often. It was difficult to eat a full meal, not because I felt full, but because my stomach felt like it was at capacity and wouldnt accept one more bite. Alcohol and caffeine made things worse instead of helping me loosen up or wake up, both just made me feel more on edge.
This had been happening multiple times a week for the past few months, to varying degrees. Id also begun to feel an underlying, unshakable irritability a feeling that something was always wrong. I started researching what illnesses might be causing this specific combination of issues and came up with a short list of contenders: a malfunctioning thyroid, a urinary tract infection, pregnancy.
When I went to the doctor, though, every test came back negative. Nothing was wrong with my body I didnt even have low blood sugar. I was told to track when I felt bad and to come back in a week.
Dr Jennifer Ashton Opens Up About What It’s Like To Live With Anxiety
Dr. Jennifer Ashtons anxiety attacks started to happen after she had a severe allergic reaction to a food.
I had a couple of episodes where I thought mistakenly that I had eaten that same food that I was allergic to, said Ashton, ABC News chief medical correspondent and a board-certified OBGYN. And even though I was not having any true physical symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction, once my mind went there, it was almost like a marble rolling off the edge of a table.
I started to feel dizzy. I started to feel chest tightness. My heart was racing. I was short of breath, but objectively, I was not having an allergic reaction, she said. And even though I recognized that I was having an anxiety attack, I was unable to stop it.
Ashton spoke out about her own experience with anxiety during Mental Health Awareness Month to put a spotlight on a condition that is common but not always easily understood.
Anxiety is the feeling evoked when someone experiences fear of something bad happening, and it can lead to avoidance, attacks, excessive worrying or other symptoms. Everyone has anxiety sometimes, but when anxiety becomes overwhelming to the point it consistently interferes with daily life, or in the case of Ashton, prompts anxiety attacks that interfere with daily life, it can be an anxiety disorder, according to the U.S. Office on Womens Health .
Anxiety disorders are so common they affect about 40 million American adults every year, according to OWH.
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Heres How And When To Get Professional Help
Now for a bright side: Its totally possible to treat anxiety and panic attacks. Therapy is often a crucial part of treatment, especially methods like cognitive behavioral therapy, to help you retrain your brains anxious thoughts. Medications like antianxiety drugs may help too, as can lifestyle changes, including joining a support group or picking up some stress-management techniques. The best course of treatment is different for everyone and will depend on your specific symptoms. For many people, a blend of techniques will work best.
Speaking of professional help, you might find yourself wondering when to know its time to seek some for your physical symptoms of anxiety. Honestly, theres no clear-cut answer, but a good rule of thumb is if these symptoms are getting in the way of your life, you might want to consider seeing someone. Even if they dont feel super disruptive, it cant hurt to check with your doctor or make an appointment with a therapist. Because, hey, you could always feel better.
If youre feeling ready to take a step toward professional help, this guide to finding an affordable therapist is a solid place to start.
In The Meantime Heres How To Deal
Though professional help is the most effective way to treat physical symptoms of anxiety, therapy and/or medication arent always accessible. In that case, it might be helpful to know some of the common ways people with anxiety practice self-care and help themselves feel better. Like we mentioned earlier, deep breathing is a big one for anxiety symptoms, since hyperventilation can exacerbate many of the symptoms on this list.
Beyond that, our Anxiety Center is full of helpful, expert-recommended tips to make living with anxiety a little easier. Here are a few specific articles to get you started:
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How To Deal With Your Anxiety Symptoms
Right now, with stay-at-home orders and extreme economic uncertainty part of the new normal,anxiety levels are very high, even for those who havent experienced much anxiety in the past, Dr. Merrill says.
Just because a symptom is linked to anxiety doesnt mean it should be ignored.
Mindfulness-based practices can help, especially if they involve some type of physical movement that benefits both body and mind. He suggests yoga or tai chi, for example, because they incorporate breath-work in their practices.
In terms of treatment, Dr. Laino suggests talking with your healthcare provider about both your symptoms and anxiety as a possible cause to ensure youre getting an accurate diagnosis from a trained professional. Even if youre under a stay-at-home order, there are many telehealth options right now, he adds, which means you can have an appointment and even get a prescription without going into an office.
Most of all, take it seriously. Just because a symptom is linked to anxiety doesnt mean it should be ignored, he says There are various medications and talk therapies that can help people who suffer with acute, chronic, or post-traumatic anxieties.
Best of all, as your anxiety knots get loosened, its likely many of your physical issues will start to ease as well.
The Physical Side Of Anxiety
The brain is a powerful organ. So much that the anxiety, the depression, and the fear can turn mental fears into actual physical pains.
Most people actually experience anxiety as a physical problem, said Jason Conover, social worker for Intermountain Healthcares Utah Valley Hospital. It often doesnt get recognized because the physical symptoms are so apparent and quite troubling that they might think they are experiencing something else for instance, a heart attack.
Anxiety builds tension throughout the body. Conover said in the brain can react to thoughts of fear and turn to the muscles to brace for a moment that is not happening. Much like if you were about to get in an accident or protecting your body to get punched. The action never happens but chemically you just experienced it just from a random fear thought that crept in.
Treating anxiety is important for better mental health and physical health as well. Inflammation builds up from the stress, and inflammation is a culprit in numerous chronic conditions such as heart and gastrointestinal conditions.
Here are several ways that anxiety manifests in physical problems.
Breathing Due to the tension, your breathing can change, Conover said. Breathing can become shorter, shallower, or even holding your breath too long. The lungs do not fully exhale due to the tension. Relaxation and breathing techniques can help.
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Why The Body Responds To Anxiety
Stressful life events can trigger panic attacks. However, panic attacks do not always have an obvious cause.
The physical symptoms of panic attacks are due to the bodys fight-or-flight response, which generates fear and anxiety.
During the fight-or-flight response, an individual responds to authentic and unreal danger in the same way and with the same physiological reactions. For example, their heart and breathing rates increase, they have a surge of adrenaline, and their senses become hyperalert.
A persons body responds in this way because it is preparing to either fight the threat or run away from it.
The increase in blood flow prepares the muscles to flee from danger and allows the brain to focus and make quick decisions. The rapid breathing provides the body with more oxygen, ready to escape.
However, these things may cause the individual to feel as though they cannot get enough air, which may result in further feelings of panic.
How To Cope With The Physical Symptoms Of Anxiety
Understanding why our bodies are responding to our anxiety in such a way is one thing, but that doesnt make the symptoms any less uncomfortable.
However because, unlike stress, anxiety is often a result of our thoughts and perceptions rather than a physical threat or situation that we have to face, we can practice psychological techniques to reframe our thought patterns and help reduce our anxiety levels.
The current situation with Covid-19 is an interesting example of how we perceive threat there is indeed a real threat, but we tend to focus on this rather than take-in the entire picture, Dr Arroll explains.
Yes, tragically tens of thousands of people across the world have succumbed to this virus but many more people have recovered. We really dont know the true rate of infection and when we have this data, we may see that even more people are asymptomatic. But even now we can use this information to reassure ourselves and reduce levels of anxiety.
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