Everyone experiences anxiety sometimes. It’s normal to feel anxious before a test or a job interview, but if you feel anxious most of the time and about relatively minor things, you may have an anxiety disorder. Signs of anxiety disorders include panic attacks, phobias, constant worry, and insomnia. Anxiety isn’t just unpleasant or inconvenient. It can have a major effect on your health. Here are some ways anxiety is bad for you.
The two most common digestive disorders are irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, and dyspepsia, or upset stomach. These appear to be caused by hypersensitivity in the nerves that regulate digestion. If you’ve ever been very nervous, you know that it can cause abdominal cramping. Carrying excess low level anxiety can have the same effect. Your stomach feels like you’re constantly under threat. Not only is this unpleasant, inconvenient, and possibly embarrassing, but it also prevents proper digestion. And constant stomach problems can make you reluctant to eat at all.
Chronic anxiety increases the levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, in your body. These are meant to only be released for brief periods and if they hang around too long, they start to impair your cardiovascular health. Many studies have linked anxiety disorders and heart disease. One study found that women with extreme phobias were almost 60 percent more likely to have a heart attack and almost 30 percent more likely to die from a heart attack than women with the lowest levels of anxiety. Other studies have found that if you already have heart disease, anxiety puts you at much higher risk of heart attack.
Anxiety increases your sensitivity to pain. You also are more likely to be tense, especially in your shoulders, neck, and jaw, which lead to more frequent headaches. Constant anxiety can also lead to chronic inflammation, which you might experience as back pain, joint pain, or even depression.
When you’re chronically anxious, your body believes you are always under threat. Normal maintenance gets deferred until the threat has passed, but you never feel like the threat has passed. Therefore your immune system is always on standby and your body never has time to adequately heal or fight infections. You end up getting sick more often.
Anxiety can make it hard to get enough quality sleep. Either you can’t fall asleep, or you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, or both. Lack of sleep causes many physical and mental health problems. Physically, you are more prone to illness, as sleep is when your body fights infections. You also feel more fatigued and may gain weight. Mentally, you have more trouble focusing and remembering. You have less self-control and less emotional regulation. You become more prone to anxiety and depression.
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