Searching for an Answer
Here’s a scenario you may unfortunately be dealing with: for a while now, you've been dealing with multiple unexplained health issues. You may be experiencing a variety of symptoms including headaches, stomach pain, nausea, and overwhelming inflammation, amongst other alarming problems.
You decide to probe deeper, in the hopes of finding the cause of these issues. So you begin journaling your symptoms in a diary, as well as jotting down your diet, exercise routines, and sleep patterns. But these are all things that you're already optimizing to improve your health and quality of life.
Further down the line, you begin to identify trends. Your symptoms are worse when you have an over-flowing schedule or are working late into the night. Your symptoms subside when you get to rest on weekends, and they flare up again once Sunday's coming to an end.
You're stressed. That has to be it! However, that's nothing new. Stress is something that comes with the territory of a busy lifestyle and you've been stressed before. Previously, you never experienced nausea, an upset stomach, or persistent headaches.
And then, one day, a sense of concern overwhelms you, lasting more than an hour. You're confused in the moment, and find it difficult to breathe. Eventually, the episode subsides, but you're shaken and finally decide to speak with your doctor. You discover that you are just 'stressed'; you experiencing constant anxiety and that overwhelming sense of lacking control was actually a panic attack.
The symptoms you'd been experiencing, your uncertainty—all of it—had come together and triggered an attack. It's clear that you need to get your anxiety under control. To do that, though, your first step is to understand what anxiety is and how it's linked to your symptoms.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the body's natural reaction to stress. Anxiety can help get you through crises, but it is meant to be a short-term response. When anxiety is present for an extended period, it can affect your physical and mental health negatively.
Anxiety has many symptoms that revolve around worry, panic, and feeling nervous and tense. It also causes physical symptoms like pain, nausea, and weakness, and is linked to chronic disorders and health issues that affect various parts of the body.
Here are some of the ways your anxiety may manifest:
Headaches are a common symptom of many anxiety disorders. The scientific community isn't exactly sure how they're linked, and which is the cause of the other. Some people develop anxiety before they start experiencing headaches, and for others, it's the other way around. Yet, anxiety increases your chances of getting frequent headaches if you never used to have them much before. Some of the most common types of headaches, like tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches, are associated with anxiety.
There's a connection between anxiety and heart disease, and the occurrence of cardiovascular events in people who already have heart disease. Multiple studies have found that people who've already been diagnosed with heart disease and are suffering from an anxiety disorder are twice as likely to have a heart attack as those without any history of anxiety disorders. Another, with over 70,000 participants, found that among women with no history of heart disease, those with high phobic anxiety were 1.3 times likely to develop fatal heart disease.
The gastrointestinal tract is linked to the brain in ways that make the functioning of one affect the other. There are instances where chemicals and hormones released in response to a bout of anxiety can hinder digestion and lead to gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps as well as conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Additionally, experiencing these unexplained symptoms can also worsen existing anxiety. Studies have also confirmed a relationship between gastrointestinal symptoms and anxiety disorders.
Depression and anxiety frequently co-exist. Studies show that as many as 63% of people with anxiety disorders are dealing with a depressive disorder too. There's a complicated connection between anxiety and depression, and scientists don't know which causes the other, if any. Nevertheless, one can trigger the other. Constant anxiety can lead to felling of loss of control over your life, resulting in feelings of depression.
The Bottom Line
Anxiety can affect your physical and emotional health to the point where your quality of life deteriorates significantly. If this is you, finding out how to alleviate your symptoms, and the underlying anxiety, is the natural next step.