Don’t Ignore the Symptoms! – Ways Anxiety Can Affect Your Physical Health

An anxious woman clutching her chest - physical symptoms of anxiety

Have you been struggling with a chronic physical problem?

Do headaches keep you up at night?

You may not realise it, but these symptoms might be caused by anxiety. Knowing the signs and making the connections will help you get the right help to alleviate your problems.

What are the physical symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety can affect you physically in many different ways. For example:

  • Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Feeling tired
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Stomach problems/nausea
  • Trembling

Some people have several of these symptoms, while others might have just one or two of them. And, the symptoms could change over time.

Why does anxiety cause physical symptoms?

Our mental, emotional and physical selves are more closely connected than you might realise. Each one affects the others. When you are getting enough rest, eating healthy, and feeling connected emotionally to other people, you will feel better than you would otherwise.

However, when you are struggling with anxiety, it can throw everything off the rails. Then you might more easily become irritable and have trouble remaining focused on what you are doing. The tension that you are holding inside may come out physically instead of verbally.

The result often is that you feel terrible. These feelings, in turn, exacerbate the anxiety, making the whole problem much worse.

Making the connection

To connect the dots linking your physical symptoms and anxiety, you need to do some reflecting. Ask yourself some tough questions and answer them honestly:

  • When did your symptoms start?
  • How long have you had these symptoms?
  • What kinds of symptoms are you experiencing?
  • Have there been any events in your life that could cause anxiety?
  • What was happening in your life around the time the symptoms started?
  • How have you been coping with that anxiety, if at all?

Take detailed notes when answering these questions. You can then use your notes to build a picture of your overall physical and mental health. That picture can help you decide if some hidden anxiety might be the causing problems you are experiencing.

When the symptoms feel normal

It can be more challenging to make the connections linking anxiety and your physical ailments when you have “always felt this way.” Perhaps you have had headaches for years or have learned how to get by with less sleep. Because you have been experiencing them for a long time, the symptoms can seem like “normal”, and it’s hard to make the connection with anxiety.

The scary thing is that you could have quite a severe anxiety problem but not even realise it. Instead, you have become numb to the physical symptoms and just get by. Yet, these symptoms are still holding you back.

How to treat physical symptoms of anxiety

Counselling and psychotherapy are the best treatments for chronic anxiety. However, there are many things that you can do yourself to alleviate some of the physical symptoms.

For example:

  • Sleep: Create a room that promotes sleep by removing TVs, games, consoles, tablets and mobile phones. Make sure to go to bed at a reasonable time.
  • Nutrition: Eat whole foods loaded with nutrients as opposed to foods packed with sugar and empty calories. Make sure you get enough vegetables and protein, too. Eating a healthy, balanced diet can make a big difference in how you feel.
  • Taking breaks: If you notice that you are feeling anxious, take a quick break. Go for a walk around the office building to stretch your legs. Taking a break takes you out of your immediate situation, giving you space to calm and still your mind.
  • Volunteering: Doing things for other people helps you to feel connected with others and gives you purpose. It helps you “get out of your own head” and redirecting your attention to other things.
  • Mindfulness: Use breathing and meditation exercises to slow down and feel calm. Taking five slow deep breaths, counting to five on the in-breath and seven on the out-breath only takes one minute, but the calming effects last a lot longer.
  • Substances: Avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and recreational drugs. These don’t help with alleviating anxiety and can make things worse.
  • Exercise: Move your body, even if it’s merely going for a walk. Exercise is proven to stress, and it releases feel-good hormones, leaving you feeling much better for a long time afterwards.

Be kind to yourself

Yes, anxiety is a frustrating condition. You might feel angry, upset or disappointed with yourself for having your anxious feelings and thoughts. Rather than coming down hard on yourself, learn to treat yourself with kindness and forgiveness. Don’t dwell on the past. Instead, make productive steps forward to generate a healthier you.

Once you have made the connection between anxiety and physical symptoms, everything will start making sense. Those headaches aren’t random; they originate with your anxiety!

By understanding both anxiety and its physical symptoms, you can begin to make positive change.

Getting further help

Check out our anxiety page for further information and sources of help in dealing with your anxiety. If you would like to speak with someone about your anxiety, call or email us today. We would welcome your call.

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