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3 min read

The Effects of Anxiety on the Body Over Time

A pair fo women in therapy

Stress is a common factor in human life, and anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health disorders. Most of us tend to worry now and then, and even experience fairly intense fear in certain stressful situations. However, in some individuals, the stress response is out of alignment, and this imbalance can lead to poor mental health.

In this article, we'll explore common anxiety disorders, and the effects of anxiety on the body, both short and long-term. We will also share some tips for reducing anxiety, and when to seek help for stress.

Short-Term Effects of Anxiety on the Mind and Body

Anxiety disorder is when a person's stress response is excessive to what the situation demands. A person may feel intense fear or anxiety with no trigger, or an exaggerated physical response that does not match the situation.

Some short-term effects of anxiety include:

  • Irritation or anger
  • Inability to focus
  • Panic attacks
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Heart palpitations
  • Persistent worry
  • Muscle tension or muscle aches
  • Frequent illnesses

Chronic stress and anxiety are part of anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, and other mental health disorders. Post-traumatic stress disorder is another mental health disorder that used to be classified as an anxiety disorder, but is now a trauma disorder. However, it too can cause the type of persistent anxiety that leads to increased risk to physical health in the long term.

The Long-Term Effects of Anxiety Disorders and Stress Responses

The kind of chronic anxiety that is connected to anxiety disorders doesn't only lead to symptoms in the short term but can also lead to physical and mental health conditions in the future if left untreated. People who experience excessive anxiety are at increased risk for many chronic illnesses or serious health issues.

Breathing and Respiratory System Changes

People with unmanaged and prolonged anxiety disorders may find that their breathing becomes more rapid and shallow over time. Chest tightness and shortness of breath can become problematic for people with existing respiratory issues like asthma.

Gastrointestinal Disorders

There is a strong connection between gut health and brain health. Many patients suffering from gastrointestinal problems also experience severe anxiety. Chronic anxiety can cause changes in digestive function, trigger irritable bowel syndrome, and even create ulcers in the stomach lining.

Cardiovascular System Response

Anxiety affects the cardiovascular system, as well. Stress hormones cause the heart to beat faster, and long-term anxiety can lead to high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other forms of heart disease.

Muscle Tension and Chronic Pain

Among anxiety symptoms are muscle tension and pain, and with years of holding your body in "stress" positioning, you may find yourself with chronic pain conditions.

Immune System

Researchers have found that the excess stress hormones released due to anxiety disorders may impact the function of your immune system, leading to greater chances of bacterial and viral infections.

Reproductive Health

Chronic stress can lead to low libido in both men and women. Erectile dysfunction or impotence may occur in males, while females may notice changes in their menstrual cycle or have difficulty conceiving.

People who develop anxiety disorders are also at greater risk of developing other disorders like depression or substance use disorders.

How Are Anxiety Disorders Best Treated?

When it comes to an anxiety disorder like generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, or other types of mental disorders, there are a few avenues of treatment available. If the anxiety is fairly new or is mild, then you may be able to manage the symptoms with some lifestyle changes. This may include things like:

  • Improving sleep hygiene
  • Taking time to get outside
  • Practicing mindfulness exercises
  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Practicing self-care

In more severe cases, you may require help from a licensed therapist or medical professional.

The Benefits of Professional Anxiety Treatment

If you are dealing with severe anxiety, a healthcare professional may suggest talk therapy with a licensed professional. Several evidence-based therapies are effective at managing the mental and physical symptoms of this common mental health disorder, as well as addressing any environmental factors, inherited traits, or traumatic events that may be causing you to experience anxiety.

Anxiety disorder is best treated through a combination of talk therapy, lifestyle change, support groups, and, in some cases, the use of prescribed anti-anxiety medication. A therapist can help manage your care, heal any trauma, and offer coping skills and strategies to help manage stress in your life.

Learn More about Managing Anxiety

Whether you are dealing with panic attacks, or trying to manage the worry that comes along with generalized anxiety disorder, it can help to read up on these conditions. You may not be qualified to diagnose an anxiety disorder, but understanding what you are dealing with may get you bored with trying to incorporate some simple lifestyle changes, and if symptoms are severe, seek professional help.

Mental Health America (MHA), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are good places for resources and information on anxiety disorders and their effects.

Therapy for Anxiety in Austin, TX

Anxiety disorders can steal joy from your life but aren't always manageable on your own. Therapy can help you process your emotions and regulate your stress response.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, our Austin therapists are all doctoral-level psychotherapists who implement the most effective evidence-based practices to get results.

Reach out today, and our patient coordinator will help you find a therapist who can help you manage anxiety symptoms and bring joy back to your daily life and relationships.

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today

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