The human body and brain are amazingly, intricately linked. What happens in the brain directly impacts the body. The same is true in the opposite direction. Essentially, the body and brain work in a constant feedback loop to regulate both mood and physical state.
This interwoven reality of the body and brain is often forgotten, however, in treating mental health issues. Chief among these is anxiety.
If you’re living with anxiety while also experiencing physical complaints, it’s important to educate yourself about the possible links. As we identify these links, you can take steps to address both the anxiety and physical symptoms that will have a positive effect in reducing both.
Why Does Anxiety Cause Physical Problems?
Anxiety is rooted deep in the human brain in a region called the amygdala. This region regulates much of our emotion.
When something makes you feel threatened or scared, the amygdala springs to action. It creates a series of reactions that prepare you to protect yourself. But it does this automatically, without you even realizing it.
This reaction is often referred to as the fight, flight, or freeze response. Stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released when this system is set off. These hormones tell your lungs to breathe faster and your heart to beat faster. Activities that the body deems non-essential are stopped or slowed and muscles become tense.
As you can see, this response to stress is bound to cause physical problems.
What Physical Problems Can it Cause?
Anxiety is often accompanied by hallmark physical problems.
The stress hormones released by the body in response to anxiety can lead to gastrointestinal issues. This includes diarrhea, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome, and butterflies in the stomach.
This can be partly because digestion is seen as non-essential by the body, so it wants to rid itself of waste products as quickly as possible. This way it can divert blood and oxygen to the brain, heart, and lungs.
The longer you live with anxiety, the more pronounced these symptoms can become.
The fight, flight, or freeze response wants to keep you prepared to spring into action. Part of being prepared means that your muscles remain activated and tense, ready to move as quickly as possible. However, you’re often unaware of this muscle tension.
As you think about this, you can see how chronic aches and pains often develop because of anxiety. Muscles aren’t meant to be engaged all the time. They need a chance to relax and release. When they don’t get this opportunity, pain may become an issue.
Another common physical symptom of anxiety is brain fog. This means that your thinking may feel fuzzy. You struggle to concentrate and you may feel mentally exhausted. Making decisions or completing tasks can seem impossible.
Part of this lies in the fact that anxiety requires a great deal of energy. Just as anxiety causes your physical body to always be “on”, it does the same with your mind. It makes it hard for you to focus on other things or function normally.
These aren’t the only physical symptoms of anxiety, but they are some of the main ones. As exhausted as you may feel from your anxiety, it’s important to know that things can get better.
At DC Metro Sleep and Psychotherapy, we can help you learn life-changing skills to manage your anxiety. Things like mindfulness, relaxation, and positive self-talk can make a big difference. Physical exercise, good sleep habits, healthy nutrition, and other lifestyle changes also play a role.
As you put these skills into practice, your physical symptoms can improve. Please reach out to our office to learn more about the anxiety treatment we offer. We are trained in a number of different therapeutic techniques that are effective in making positive changes.