Anxiety, either about a current situation or forthcoming event is a normal bodily reaction to stress. This reaction begins in the Amygdala - an area in the brain which sends distress signals to the hypothalamus. These signals are then communicated to the rest of the body to evoke a ‘fight or flight’ response.
Physiologically, a positive stress response is short-term, when the adrenalin hormone, an increased heart rate, blood flow to the brain, and consequent rush of oxygen collectively forces us to concentrate on the problem and cope with it in a constructive manner.
However, long term repetitive stress responses to anxiety, excessive, and undue worry about a number of situations in every day life - such as, apprehensions about arriving late at work due to traffic, a failed deadline, a lost or misplaced item, a crying child, dread of examination or interview stress, fear of meeting a person or socialising, a missed appointment, and so on - can trigger a series of stress responses causing damaging emotional, and actual physical reactions in your body.
Lightheadedness, dizziness, an impending sense of doom, are also physiological reactions of long-term anxiety. Chronic anxiety, however, can lead to severe effects that are harmful to your body. Here are 7 such effects:
When a person is anxious, his or her breathing becomes short, shallow and rapid. This leads to unhealthy breathing patterns when the amount of oxygen inhaled is more than the amount of carbon dioxide exhaled by the person. Excess of carbon dioxide can restrict the blood supply to the brain, leading to dizziness, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, or loss of consciousness. Anxiety can also worsen the symptoms of Asthma conditions. Patients suffering from inflamed airways or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may also need frequent hospitalisation due to stress.
Anxiety and constant worry can lead to chronic digestion and excretory problems, such as stomach pains, excessing bloating or abdominal cramping, diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, vomiting, and so on.
Frequent stress hormones and coping with the fight or flight response may not allow your body to return to its normal rested state, leaving your immune system vulnerable to illness and viral infections. During this time, regular flu jabs and vaccination may also not work for you.
Heart palpitations and rapid breathing patterns are commonly experienced during a bout of anxiety. The persistent rush of stress response hormones at persistent, high levels of anxiety may cause high blood pressure and coronary problems such as heart disease or heart attack.
Frequent distress signals from your amygdala to your central nervous system to prepare for a stress response can cause your muscles to contract, or tighten very often. Constant muscle tension can lead to cramped, stiff or sore muscles, and aches and pains that can tend to spread throughout the body. This may result in chronic pain conditions such as joint pains, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and so on.
If you are a constant worrier or suffer from a generalised anxiety disorder, it may also impact your short-term or working memory. As a consequence, you may find yourself making frequent mistakes, forgetting important appointments, and unable to cope with hectic schedules. When this happens regularly, it is difficult to take important decisions at work or at home; performance at school or office environments may be severely compromised. This leads you to be more anxious, and enter into a state of depression.
When you get anxious repeatedly, your brain floods your body with hormones of adrenalin and cortisol. This ‘high’ probably influence you to reach out for ‘sweet’ comfort foods like chocolate, creamy pastries or cake, and aerated drinks that contain a lot of sugar. However, the rise and subsequent drop in your blood sugar levels lead to an incessant craving for salty and sugary foods again. This unending roller-coaster of persistent anxiety levels can lead to weight gain and obesity.
Anxiety and depression are two different states of energy (high, and low) that are connected by a common cycle of fear, feeling of helplessness, loss of control in routine activities, and frustration or dejection. The constant fear of letting oneself down can push a person to be anxious again. Untreated anxiety disorders can easily lead to a state of depression. However, anxiety can be overcome using therapy, with love and family support, meditation, and many other techniques. Do speak to your doctor as early as possible if you are concerned.