What You Need to Know about the Physical Effects of Anxiety


I started suffering from anxiety in my early twenties. I married and moved away from home for the first time when I was 20 years old. After my husband finished college, we moved to the east coast, about 1200 miles from home.

The first couple of years it was exciting! We didn't have children, and we spent every weekend and vacation exploring up and down the coast.

But about 3 years into living there, I started to experience panic attacks whenever my husband was traveling and I was home alone. This was especially bad because his job involved him being gone 3-4 days every week!!

I wasn't able to eat when he was gone. I had crazy fears of choking, being poisoned, and being alone with nobody to help me. I knew my fears were unreasonable, but they persisted nonetheless.

Eventually, my husband found a job closer to our families, where we moved and started a family.

Anxiety left me alone for a very long time, but I also avoided doing many things for fear of a panic attack.

Anxiety hit with a vengeance during peri-menopause, which for me was my late 40s. I was barely functional! I have learned that increased anxiety is common during hormonal changes, such as menopause, but nobody told me that when I was going through it!

I struggled for almost a year, trying everything short of medication to get my "normal" life back. I eventually took medication for my anxiety, but I learned many other coping skills that I still use today. 

All of this is to say that I understand what you are going through if you struggle with anxiety. I hope you will find the information below helpful. 

Anxiety affects your body as well as your mind.

If you are dealing with or have dealt with anxiety, you already know that you don't only feel the effects in your mind.  

In addition to worrying and feeling nervous, you may experience changes in your immune function, circulatory system, and other areas. Anxiety may also be caused by physical conditions and may increase your risk for certain disorders.

It’s an important issue because anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting an estimated 40 million adults yearly. It can take many different forms, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, or phobias.

Whatever the cause, anxiety usually responds well to medical treatment and lifestyle modifications. If you or someone you know is being treated for anxiety, consider these physical changes that you may want to address.

Managing the Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

When you’re anxious, your body releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that prepare you for fight or flight. Since such physical responses are rarely required in modern life, those chemicals now interfere with natural bodily functions.

Here are some strategies for dealing with anxiety more constructively:

1. Breathe deeply. When you’re tense, your breathing tends to become rapid and shallow. Remind yourself to slow down and breathe from your abdomen instead of your chest. You’ll feel calmer and increase the supply of oxygen and nutrients to your brain and other organs. You can set the alarm on your phone or computer to remind you to breathe, or there are some great apps you can download. 

2. Avoid infections. Anxiety may hamper your immune system. Take extra precautions against catching colds and other bugs. Please wash your hands and keep them away from your face. After wearing masks for covid, I believe they are a great tool to ward off colds and flu. Wear your mask in public to stay healthy.

3. Dress in layers. Blood vessels sometimes constrict due to chronic stress, making it more difficult to regulate your body temperature. Keep a sweater or wrap handy if you’re prone to sweats and chills.

4. Eat well. Anxiety has a major impact on your digestion. You may overeat or lose your appetite. You may experience irritable bowel syndrome or stomach-churning. Plan your meals and snacks to give your body the necessary nutrients and calories.

5. Limit caffeine. Does coffee give you the jitters? Try cutting back on caffeine to see if you feel more at ease. You may want to avoid coffee completely or limit yourself to one cup a day.

6. Exercise regularly. Physical activity is one of the most effective and constructive methods for dealing with stress. Find a variety of activities that you enjoy. Invite a friend or family member to work out with you so you’ll have more fun and increase your chances of being consistent.

7. Rest and relax. Anxiety often interferes with sleep, so remove any obstacle you can. Going to bed at the same time each night and keeping your bedroom dark and quiet will help you sleep better. Relax during the day with meditation, instrumental music, or a warm bath.

In addition to all of the above, I also used Mindfulness Meditation to help deal with my anxiety. I've written a few articles about mindfulness and meditation, which you can read here and here.

Understanding the physical effects of anxiety can help you heal your mind and body. Talk with your doctor about your individual concerns and learn to manage anxiety to enjoy greater physical comfort and peace of mind.


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