I think we all know anxiety is just a big, wadded ball of worry in our brains. Unless you’re like me and you are a big ball of worry. But, what about the physical aspects? Believe it or not, stress can affect your body in ways you never thought.
At first, I thought these physical symptoms were preposterous. I mean, worry affecting us physically? Never heard of such.
That is, until I experienced these changes. They don’t seem so absurd, now. My symptoms can range anywhere from minor to moderate to even severe, sometimes. As I have said a hundred times before, everyone experiences anxiety differently. You may have none to all of these symptoms. Me? I have all of them.
So, here are just a few ways stress has impacted my physical being.
- Stomach Problems – Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), gas, acid reflux, nausea, cramps, and just plain tummy discomfort are very common with anxiety. Sometimes, it can get so bad, people call their doctor, thinking it is something more serious. Scientist have studied (and confirmed) ways the mind is connected to our digestive system. According to CalmClinic, “Both are affected by the same hormones and neurotransmitters, and both are extremely sensitive to stress and changes in those chemical patterns.” It can also make PMS worse. I actually have more stomach trouble than anything else. (Hence, the reason I have this as number one.) You name the gastrointestinal issue, and I bet I have or have had it.
- Headache – A majority of the population has had a headache at some point. They are definitely awful. Stress headaches tend to start in the back of your head and can travel down your neck and shoulders. They can be small, bothersome aches or they can stop you in your tracks. Migraines can also appear out of the blue. You may experience numbness around your forehead and temples, at times, too. I have had awful headaches that cause me extreme pain. Upon asking my doctor, she confirmed that anxiety and headaches can be an ugly marriage. Sometimes, even taking an over-the-counter pain medication doesn’t help.
- Break outs and acne – Ugh. It’s like puberty all over again! You wake up one morning, thinking you’re going to be the most attractive person in the Milky Way, and there, right smack in the middle of your forehead, is the biggest zit you have ever seen. I’m pretty sure this is why people think I look twelve years old. My face looks like I have the chicken pox, sometimes. Since anxiety affects our hormones, I guess it is like going through puberty. Pudulterty? I don’t know, but I really don’t want to go through my Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake phase, again.
Okay, maybe a little.
- Fatigue – We may always feel tired from our constant stress. Our bodies are just plain exhausted from all the chemical imbalances and levels going on. It doesn’t matter how much coffee we drink, we are always ready for a nap. The sudden rush of adrenaline during anxiety attacks are a big part of our fatigue. That, and the sleepless nights, tossing, turning, and basically sleeping with one eye open. Just thinking about it makes me sleepy. *yawns*
- Heart flutters/abnormal patterns – This symptom isn’t as common as headaches or fatigue, but it can be another side effect. I would know. I asked my doctor. (She loves me.) You can be sitting there and suddenly your heart starts racing or it feels like it’s about to stop for a few seconds. It has caused me many panic attacks, which only made them worse. I have felt my heart flutter in my chest for ten to fifteen seconds, but the average time is around five seconds. They are not usually accompanied by any pain or other symptom, for me. Other than my usual panic attack symptoms, anyway. While they can be just a minor discomfort, it is always best to call your doctor if they last a while or are accompanied by chest pains or shortness of breath. You can never be too careful!
- Body aches – Your racing heart may have a lot to do with your aching back or limbs. Your heart is pumping blood through your body at a faster pace to accommodate the constant bursts of energy created by your fight or flight response. That’s more blood rushing through you than you might be used to, all at once. But, that isn’t the only reason. Frequent trembling can put strain on your muscles, and if you tend to sit or lie in one spot, thinking and worrying, it can cramp up your muscles, too.
- Weight gain/loss – This is also a fairly common physical symptom of anxiety. You may gain weight, lose weight, or the scale may fluctuate. This has a lot to do with hormones, but it can just be an increase or decrease in appetite. You may find comfort in food, or you may just stop eating. I can gain ten pounds, lose it again, and gain five back all in one month. My eating habits are greatly determined by my mood. If I’m worried about something, I may eat little to nothing for days. But when I make a comeback, boy, do I make one. I can’t stop eating! My bathroom scale is my worst enemy.
- Hair loss – Oh, those stress hormones. Why can’t they just let us be? Since our stress hormones and regular functioning hormones can battle each other, it’s fair to say it affects just about everything. That includes our hair growth patterns. On average, we lose about 100 hairs a day. Not me. I can take a shower and pull a small Yorkshire terrier from the drain. I used to have a healthy, flowing mane, though. Now, it’s a stringy, thin mess atop my cranium. Thanks, hormones!
- Loss of sex drive – Sorry spouses whose husband or wife has anxiety. Their libido isn’t what it used to be. You may think we are lying when we say, “not tonight, I have a headache”, but sometimes, it is all too real. Our headache is deeper than you think. Again, with the hormones. We just can’t make peace. This is not the case for everyone, however. Some people can be stressed and have a perfectly healthy sexual relationship. Alas, those of us who aren’t as lucky may find it difficult to “give some sugar”. If your spouse is stressed and doesn’t want to do the “horizontal high five”, please, do not think they lost interest in you. There is a war in their head they are trying to calm, so it’s not easy to get in the mood at just any time.
- Trembling/fidgeting – Hold your hand in front of your face. Are you trembling or twitching? If not, lucky you! You can write and draw without constantly erasing! If you are, though, that would be your nervous system giving you a hard time. Since you are always “on the look out for danger”, your body keeps you alert and ready to flee (or fight) whatever danger it thinks is coming. When we see someone who is about to sky dive or speak to a large crowd, they are, most likely, shaking. They’re nervous. In our mind, this is dangerous and we must be ready to jump to action. That’s why we stay so jumpy. I do, anyway. If you’re around me, you may notice I’m either shaking or fidgeting. I’m never calm unless I’m asleep. Yes, I am tired. No, it doesn’t mean I can run thirty miles. Moving around does help, however. I follow Taylor Swift’s advice when she says “Shake it Off”.
These aren’t even all of my symptoms. You can browse the ways anxiety affects us, all day long. Anxiety, you are mean.
You may have a couple or none of these symptoms. You could also be like me and have all of them. Just a warning: If you have severe symptoms that are concerning, call your doctor! Do not ignore something that could possibly be serious!
It’s likely just your anxiety laughing at you (the bastard), but it’s better to be safe than sorry!