Heart disease, obesity and diabetes, cancer, asthma, gastrointestinal disease, Alzheimer’s, premature aging, and depression all have anxiety’s fingerprints all over them.
For millennia we have been hardwired for anxiety. The sudden burst of energy, oxygen, and alertness is a lifesaver when you’re trying to avoid being eaten by a tiger. However, tiger attacks are less than a daily occurrence these days. Stress, though, is definitely a regular occurrence – your demanding boss, your lousy commute, your own perfectionism, family problems, that weird noise your car is making. It’s all pretty small potatoes compared to rampaging wildlife, but when even minor stress continues day after day, it can have wide-ranging effects on many aspects of life.
Researchers report that 43 percent of adults report that their stress affects their health. At the doctor’s office, a large majority of patients come in suffering side effects of anxiety. The American Medical Association reports that stress is at the root of more than 60 percent of physical ills.
The effects of anxiety show up in a number of areas:
The list of physical effects from stress seems endless. When you feel threatened or even pressured, a flood of hormones pours through your body, preparing you to respond physically. Your heart races, your muscles tense, your breathing becomes rapid and deep. Your vision, hearing, even sense of smell become more acute. You’re ready for whatever comes along.
When nothing identifiable comes along, your body continues its preparation. Your heartbeat thunders. You may breathe so quickly that you hyperventilate. Your chest aches, you feel you are choking. Your vision blurs and your brain becomes foggy. You sweat, your mouth becomes dry, you feel nauseated, and you may begin to tremble from the hormones pouring into your muscles.
If you get no relief, you may suffer long-term effects like headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, and chronic stomach problems.
Sexual problems, most prevalently aversion to sex, can also arise from anxiety. If all that is not enough, anxiety can make us old before our time, afflicting even young people with conditions associated with old age.
Uncomfortable as those symptoms are, your stress is making even more mischief, contributing to life-threatening illnesses like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, lung problems, and cirrhosis of the liver. Because of its sometimes hidden contribution to serious illnesses, stress is referred to as the top proxy killer.
It stands to reason that chronic worry and physical excitement can affect how our brains function. People under stress may have problems focusing on important situations because your brain is searching for the perceived threat and trying to come up with strategies for staying safe. Your thoughts become negative. You may have difficulty following through on tasks and logical thinking can go right out the window. Eventually you may become so exhausted from the constant distraction you lose the will to even try to accomplish important tasks. All of this can have a negative effect on your work, creating even more stress.
Stress on steroids leads to panic attacks, stress so intense you may be convinced you’re having a heart attack, that your tongue has swollen and is choking you. A panic attack is usually short-lived but the feelings are so intense and unpleasant you may begin to contort your life to avoid situations you feel contribute to the attacks.
Anxiety can also feed depression and social isolation as sufferers avoid other people to avoid being judged.
Anxiety can rob us of the ability to enjoy our lives, creating instead hopelessness and shame. We find it hard to stop obsessing long enough to enjoy a loving relationship, find humor in life, or enjoy peaceful moments. We cannot create, relax, or imagine a life without fear.
Fortunately, there are many ways to combat anxiety:
- See a therapist to understand your condition and learn techniques for overcoming stress.
- Practice self-relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, or simply living in the moment.
- Find a support group where you feel no need for shame and can find understanding.
- Educate yourself about what’s going on.
- Choose to be optimistic; it won’t be easy at first but optimism is a skill that you can learn.