Anxiety is experienced by everyone. It occurs in response to stress, worry, or fear. Most people will experience some form of anxiety in their daily lives as a natural response to life challenges and worries. However, if unmanaged, these feelings of stress and worry can wreak havoc on our mental and physical well-being. So, although it is normal to feel anxious when we are faced with life stresses, it is important to learn how to manage these feelings.
If unchecked, anxiety can cause physical and psychological symptoms that can have long-lasting and far-reaching effects on our lives.
Common physical symptoms of anxiety:
– Digestive issues (stomach aches, diarrhea, nausea, cramps)
– Fatigue or weakness
– Muscle aches/tensions
– Chills or sweating
– Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
– Chest pain
– Shaking or trembling
– Sleep problems
– Racing heart
If untreated, these symptoms can cause long-term health issues. Think of your body as being under a constant onslaught of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline). Cortisol triggers an enzyme called HSD which further reactivates inactive cortisol causing an even greater increase in the stress hormone, especially when left unchecked for extended periods.
High levels of cortisol from chronic stress or anxiety can cause:
– Slower metabolism (the body burns fewer calories) resulting in increased body fat, especially around the belly
– Sexual dysfunction
– High blood pressure
– Blood sugar imbalances
– Reduced immunity
– Increased inflammation in the body
– Reduced cognitive functioning
– Increased sugar and carbohydrate cravings
The stress response serves an important survival function in the body and its activation is normal when we are faced with life challenges. However, the key is being able to regulate and turn off the stress response.
Anxiety disorder occurs when the sense of worry, unease, and fear is constant and persistent. The fear is often excessive and disproportionate to the situation and results in overwhelming feelings of dread that can feel debilitating and uncontrollable. This often results in behaviours that affect our ability to function and perform daily tasks. We might find ourselves avoiding certain situations, people, or activities. We might also engage in behaviours that are harmful such as overdrinking, overeating, drug use, or other coping behaviours that make us feel worse in the long run. This feeds into the cycle of anxiety increasing the negative impact it has on our quality of life.
Anxiety can be categorized into different types of disorders such as Social Anxiety, Phobias, Panic Disorder, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder. However, regardless of the category, the physical, emotional, and behavioural implications are significant.
Although stress is a natural response to life stresses, it is when it is left unchecked and unmanaged that we experience significant negative outcomes to our health and functioning. The good news is that there are strategies and tools to help you manage your anxiety, reduce your stress response, and improve your quality of life. These include counselling therapies, dietary changes, and body (somatic) techniques that address both acute and chronic stress and provide long-term strategies for managing anxiety.