Anxiety is no joke and the effects it can have on our body and brain is nothing short of detrimental, especially if it is prolonged.
It's normal to experience anxiety. After all, there are plenty of stressors in life that can cause us to worry and be anxious. For example, you might have felt it before a job interview or if a loved one is sick. However, chronic anxiety can have detrimental effects on not just your mind but your physical health, too. Around 284 million people experienced an anxiety disorder in 2017 around the globe, and the numbers have onlu been rising since then, reports Our World in Data.
The different types of anxiety disorder are listed below, based on the report by The American Anxiety Association (AAD).
1.Generalized anxiety disorder
This disorder is characterized by excessive anxiety that has no reason behind it. According to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), a person is diagnosed with GAD if they experience constant worrying or anxiety for at least six months, which they find hard to control, and is accompanied by physical or cognitive symptoms listed in the DSM. It also increases the risk for other ailments such as depression, increased BP, muscle tension, body ache, etc. according to Healthline.
2. Social anxiety disorder
This disorder is characterized by a paralyzing fear of social situations, especially around judgement and humiliation by others. People with this type of disorder often know that the fear they experience is not appropriate to the situation at hand, but they find it hard to keep things in control. The symptoms include avoiding situations that puts you in the spotlight or having to talk to people and the physical symptoms include blushing, sweating, higher heartrate etc.
3. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
This disorder is characterized by trauma caused due to witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. The symptoms don't always appear immediately and, in some cases, make themselves known only years later. Episodes could even be triggered without warning. Some causes for PTSD include war, natural disasters, or a physical attack.
4. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Those diagnosed with OCD often feel overwhelmed with the need to complete certain rituals repeatedly (compulsion) or experience intrusive thoughts (obsession) that seem to be stuck on a loop, which ends up distressing them. Some examples include obsessive hand-washing, counting, cleanliness, or need for symmetry.
Phobias are characterized by an intense fear of an object or situation. This includes common phobias such fear of tight spaces—claustrophobia and fear of heights—acrophobia and some rare phobias such as xanthophobi—fear of the color yellow.
6. Panic disorder
This disorder causes panic attacks, characterized by sudden and unexpected feelings of anxiety, terror, or impending doom. This feeling could translate into physical symptoms as well.
“When a person experiences anxiety, it’s essentially the fight-or-flight system kicking in and saying, ‘Danger!’” Dr. Neda Gould, a clinical psychologist and associate director of the Johns Hopkins Bayview Anxiety Disorders Clinic, told SELF. And here is how it affects your body:
According to Healthline, anxiety can cause rapid and shallow breathing, which can worsen other symptoms if you also suffer from asthma. This unhealthy breathing pattern results in more oxygen being inhaled than carbon dioxide being exhaled. In turn, this excess of carbon dioxide in your system can cause blood supply to the brain to reduce and lead you to experience dizziness, tingling, numbness in your limbs, or even loss of consciousness, according to Medanta. Those who have inflamed airways or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may also find themselves needing more frequent hospitalization because of stress.
While the release of stress hormones is normal and even good for the system in small doses, the constant flight-or-fight response may not bode well for your system. Because your body is unable to return to it's normal rested state, your immune system becomes vulnerable and the chance of contracting illnesses increases, according to Mayo Clinic. Even medications may not work if you have chronic anxiety.
When you're anxious, you might feel your heart beat pounding rapidly and feel some pain in your chest. This increasingly persistent and high flow of stress hormones caused by anxiety may raise your blood pressure and open you up to cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks.
Anxiety can also cause an imbalance in the functioning of your excretory and digestive systems. You may experience stomach aches, nausea, diarrhea, and other digestive issues. You might even face a loss of appetite and put yourself at risk of developing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is characterized by vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.
When your body experiences distress signals, it prepares for a stress response that causes your muscles to tighten or contract. If your anxiety rears up often, this constant muscle tension can lead you to suffer cramped or sore muscles, and these aches can spread throughout your body. Prolonged rigidity of your body while anxious can be painful, especially in places like your neck, back or shoulders, explains Dr. Mona Potter, medical director at McLean Anxiety Mastery Program in Boston, to SELF. “From head to toe, almost every system can be impacted just by nature of your body releasing a lot of stress hormones."
Acording to Medanta, when you get anxious frequently, your brain is flooded with adrenalin and cortisol. The combination of these hormones causes a "high," which will then lead you to eat "sweet" comfort food that contains a lot of sugar. The rollercoaster craving for salty and sweet foods can lead to weight gain and obesity, especially if there is no exercise to balance out the intake of sugar and carbohydrates.
Apart from these effects, you may also experience social isolation, insomnia, and depression. If you suffer any of these effects due to chronic anxiety, it is important that you visit a mental health professional like a therapist or you can contact your GP or local social worker, who can assist you in finding the right expert. You're not alone in this, and you deserve to feel better.
Cover image source: Getty Images | Photo by fizkesDisclaimer : This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.