As you may know, anxiety symptoms aren’t only mental or emotional symptoms.
There is something called the mind-body connection–this connection means that our thoughts and feelings have real, physical effects on our bodies. Often when our mental health is declining or ignored, our physical health also suffers.
You may not even realize that the physical symptoms you’re experiencing are due to anxiety at all. And if you’ve only treated the symptoms rather than the cause, chances are they have come back, or your health has simply suffered in a new, different way.
So what are these physical signs of anxiety?
People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) often suffer from chronic muscle aches and pains. Typically, when faced with a threat, our necks and upper backs tense quickly before we take action. This same sort of physical state is prolonged for people with chronic anxiety. Rather than letting go of the tension once out of the stressful situation, that stiffness stays with them. And it takes a conscious effort to relieve that tension (through meditation, massages, heat treatment or medication). Frequent soreness or aches in the neck, back, jaw, or shoulders can all be physical signs of anxiety.
There is an extremely strong connection between anxiety and the gut. Things like frequent nausea, diarrhea, constipation, or other digestive issues are common among people with GAD. Stomachaches and loss of appetite are also extremely common physical manifestations of anxiety. If this is happening to you frequently, it is likely an effect of anxiety, rather than a stomach bug, or a funny reaction to something you ate.
Unsurprisingly, chronic anxiety frequently leads to fatigue. With your mind and body constantly in survival mode, you never get a chance to rest and recharge. And while anxiety can lead to exhaustion, that exhaustion doesn’t necessarily lead to sleep. In fact, oftentimes people with chronic anxiety cannot quiet their minds or slow their thoughts long enough to fall into a deep, restful sleep. This contributes to growing exhaustion, which often stresses the person out. And the more stressed you are, the harder it is to quiet your mind and get some rest.
Poor immune system
As explained by Healthline: “Anxiety can trigger your flight-or-fight stress response and release a flood of chemicals and hormones, like adrenaline, into your system.” This is a survival response that goes into overdrive and never shuts back off for people with chronic anxiety. Because it never shuts off, your system never resumes normal functioning. As it is so preoccupied with the apparent danger, you become more vulnerable to illness and infections.
With all of the other physical symptoms brought on by anxiety, it is no surprise that headaches are on the list. If you are getting poor, restless sleep and have frequently tensed muscles, it makes sense that headaches would stem from that too. But the constant chatter of an anxious mind is also a factor in the development of headaches. While the link between headaches and anxiety isn’t crystal clear (whether the headaches or anxiety came first is a bit like “chicken or the egg”) it is clear that people with anxiety are far more likely to experience chronic headaches or migraines than those without.
Learning to take notice of how your mental health and mood impact you physically is the first step in learning how to treat what ails you. And when anxiety starts to impact your daily functioning and it is important to seek anxiety treatment.