From head to toe — and from inside to outside — anxiety can have many physical impacts on the body.
Living with anxiety can affect your health in a variety of ways, and some are more straightforward than others.
For example, you might find that anxiety causes you to isolate yourself from loved ones. But physical anxiety symptoms — such as stomach pain, nausea, and IBS symptoms, to name a few — can often be the reason you might isolate yourself due to anxiety in the first place.
Also, other common mental anxiety symptoms such as fatigue, worry, and difficulty concentrating can be linked to physical anxiety symptoms. You might respond emotionally with worry because of how anxiety feels in your chest. You might have trouble focusing because anxiety is making it too uncomfortable to stay present in your body.
Anxiety can pop up in nearly every part of your body, but recognizing it can make it easier to manage.
The hormone cortisol is responsible for several important bodily functions, including:
- fighting infection
- regulating blood sugar
- maintaining blood pressure
It’s also known as your body’s “stress hormone.”
When you live with an anxiety disorder, your body
Another chemical your body produces when you have anxiety is adrenaline. You may already have an idea of what adrenaline is, as used in the context of an “adrenaline rush.”
While an adrenaline rush isn’t always seen as harmful — it might bring to mind activities like roller coasters or skydiving — too much adrenaline produced by the body in less relevant settings, like sitting on a train, can add to anxiety.
The overall effect of adrenaline is to prepare the body for the fight, flight, or freeze response in times of stress. But if there’s nothing actually life-threatening to be worried about, too much adrenaline may just cause unneeded worry.
Too much worry can also cause higher levels of cortisol and adrenaline. The relationship between these chemicals and anxiety is complex and almost cyclical.
The physical symptoms of anxiety are plenty — you may experience only one or many of them.
Headaches are common among people who have anxiety. Research from 2010 suggests episodic migraines, chronic daily headaches, and aura were all significantly more prevalent among people with anxiety than those without it.
To manage this symptom, you might want to consider taking a hot or cold shower or gently massaging your muscles. Stress management techniques like meditation could also help prevent anxiety-induced headaches.
Stress can slow digestion, as well as cause bloating, pain, and constipation. But anxiety can also speed up digestion and cause diarrhea. In addition, stress can worsen digestive conditions such as stomach ulcers and
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to help some people manage IBS connected to anxiety.
When you’re feeling anxious, your body is
- rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
- increased blood pressure
- decreased heart rate variability
Reducing the amount of tobacco, caffeine, and alcohol you consume can also significantly improve the cardiac symptoms you feel with anxiety.
Lower sexual desire and sexual aversion are
If you already experience performance anxiety, you may have trouble getting into — and staying in — the right mindset for sex. Instead of enjoying yourself, you might be consumed with fear about meeting your partner’s expectations or your own.
Because fatigue is so subjective, the connection between fatigue and anxiety isn’t clearly understood. Nonetheless,
While there’s no perfect remedy to beat fatigue, addressing your anxiety (if that’s a root cause) could help. In addition, getting enough sleep, incorporating movement into your day, and eating foods that make you feel good can help.
Many chronic pain disorders aren’t uncommon alongside anxiety disorders. And in addition, higher levels of anxiety tend to be
For example, you might live with anxiety and:
- Chest pain. Anxiety disorders — including panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder — are
fairly common causesof chest pain.
- Fibromyalgia. This is a chronic medical condition that causes widespread muscle pain and fatigue, and it’s often linked to anxiety.
- Back pain. Some research has found that anxiety levels may be higher in people who experience chronic back pain and highlights anxiety as a factor that could exacerbate the pain.
Many treatments for anxiety disorders may also improve chronic pain symptoms. This can include therapy or even simply relaxation techniques like exercise, yoga, and acupuncture.
A common symptom of anxiety is shortness of breath or rapid breathing, and this can cause sharp chest pain that sometimes occurs with anxiety.
Research suggests that even just deep breathing can have a big effect on this symptom. So if you’re feeling short of breath as a result of anxiety, taking a few moments to practice some deep breathing could make a difference.
When you’re aware of the physical symptoms of anxiety, you can also be more empowered to recognize those symptoms in yourself.
By getting to the root of the issue — treating your anxiety — you could potentially alleviate or manage some of the physical symptoms you’re experiencing.
Here’s a good place to start if you’re looking for more info on managing anxiety.