What Anxiety Does To Your Body: 7 Common Physical Symptoms
While conversations on anxiety tend to revolve around how a person feels mentally and emotionally, its important to consider the physical symptoms, too. For a lot of women struggling with anxiety, its not always clear how to make the connection between how they are feeling physically and their emotional state.
To begin to understand the physical symptoms of anxiety, its important to remember how anxiety triggers the physical fight or flight response. While a helpful tool when facing a real physical threat, your brain doesnt distinguish between that and anxiety, which is often caused by fear and worry. Because your brain is wired to respond to any perceived threat by kicking on your sympathetic nervous system, when you feel anxious a lot of involuntary responses start to happen, like increased breathing and a more rapid release of hormones into your bloodstream.
How your body physically responds to anxiety is unique, but there are seven common physical symptoms that you should be aware of. When you understand what your body does when its stressed, you can start to connect the dots between your anxiety and your physical body.
When To See A Doctor
While natural treatments can help with anxiety symptoms, some signs may indicate that you need to call your doctor:
- Your anxiety is chronic , and it interferes with your ability to function daily
- Your symptoms have persisted for six months or more
- Youâre experiencing physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate, difficulty sleeping, stomach issues, or chronic fatigue
- Youâre avoiding people or places
- Youâre having thoughts of self-harm or suicide
Your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medications or refer you to a specialist. In some cases, the natural remedies described above may be used along with more conventional treatments to help you manage your symptoms.
Is Stress Causing Your Back Pain
For those familiar with the trappings of stress and anxiety, emotional strain and mental tension can be all too consuming. Before we know it, physical symptoms present themselves too and manifest in a multitude of ways. Be it compromised immune health, poor digestion or neck and back pain, we often pay a painful price for prolonged stress. I am here to talk about stress, how it can influence physical symptoms like back pain, and what you can do to ease any discomfort.
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Socioeconomic Factors In Stress And Chronic Pain
There is evidence that disparity in many dimensions of socio-economic status such as income, education, and occupation, account for a significant variance of medical morbidities and mortalities.15,16 Studies have found a so-called gradient between occupational hierarchy and health disparities in adults. People in the bottom of the gradient have worse morbidities and mortalities.15 These SES disparities can in turn translate at the individual level to environmental stressors leading to a vulnerability to depression, substance use disorders, and obesity among others.4,17 Furthermore, children growing up in poor communities are at an increased risk of exposure to crime, economic hardship, and pollution18 this in turn can lead to adverse behavioral 17,19 and neurodevelopmental outcomes .20,21 While the brain is believed to be at the center of this process, the direct path linking SES factors to neurobiological brain adaptive and maladaptive responses remains largely unknown,9 with pain and stress as putative contributing factors.
What Causes Back Pain
There are many possibilities, some more obvious than others. The most logical possibility is direct injury or trauma to your back, which can cause chronic pain. However, back pain can also be attributed to many other causes like muscle tears, ligament strains, ruptured disc, arthritis, muscle spasms, or hernias. Not to forget, activities that could seem harmless and repetitive. For example, lifting weights can strain your muscles and cause back pain.
The causes for back pain are also area-specific. For instance, pain in the lower right back could be caused by problems related to the kidney, such as kidney stones or even an infected or inflamed kidney, due to its proximity to the area. In the same manner, facet joint dysfunction, Spondylolisthesis, or such injuries to the spine could be what causes lower back pain.
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Stress And The Sensitive Gut
Psychotherapy may help ease persistent gastrointestinal distress.
Functional gastrointestinal disorders affect 35% to 70% of people at some point in life, women more often than men. These disorders have no apparent physical cause such as infection or cancer yet result in pain, bloating, and other discomfort.
Multiple factors biological, psychological, and social contribute to the development of a functional gastrointestinal disorder. Numerous studies have suggested that stress may be particularly important, however. The relationship between environmental or psychological stress and gastrointestinal distress is complex and bidirectional: stress can trigger and worsen gastrointestinal pain and other symptoms, and vice versa. This is why psychological therapies are often used in combination with other treatments or even on their own to treat functional gastrointestinal disorders.
The enteric nervous system as a second brain
Psychotherapy options for gastrointestinal distress
Cognitive behavioral therapy . This standby of psychotherapy helps patients to change counterproductive thoughts and behavior and learn coping skills to better manage stress and anxiety. CBT may be most useful in helping patients to cope with persistent gastrointestinal distress, rather than reducing pain.
What To Do When Anxiety Causes Leg Pain
- Some forms of leg pain can be caused directly by anxiety
- Other types of leg pain can be caused by other issues but exacerbated by anxiety
- Often improving your breathing style and taking your mind off your pain can be enough to reduce the symptoms
- Leg pain from anxiety is never dangerous, but those with anxiety leg pain should try to avoid over-correcting as a result of their leg pain, as this may put pressure on other parts of the body
- Reducing anxiety overall is the only way to reduce the frequency
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How Do You Get Rid Of Aches And Pains
A healthy diet full of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, a gentle exercise regime and stretching can all help to reduce aches and pains. On top of these lifestyle changes, a herbal remedy may also be beneficial.
Our Atrosan Devils Claw Tablets help to relieve muscle and joint pain, as well as rheumatic pain, backache and lumbago. They can be used with other painkilling medications but if symptoms fail to improve after 8 weeks of using the product you should consult your doctor about your symptoms.
Stress Creates A Vicious Circle
The final point is a psychological one, but its important. Stress creates a heightened awareness of pain so if youre carrying a shoulder injury, it may cause you to focus greater attention on the painful symptoms in that area. This in turn can heighten stress. So a kind of feedback loop of discomfort is created. I sometimes observe this in shoulder patients after surgery. Stress can cause them to have a heightened perception of their pain and in some cases that heightened perception may lead them to change, or to break off, their rehabilitation regime. This isnt always ideal, since it can lengthen the recovery process when it might be better to relax and persist with the exercises.
So if you are experiencing stress, what should you do? The first answer is to examine the roots of your stress. And the first way to do that is to talk. For anxiety, that might mean confiding in a friend or seeking professional help through your GP or a counsellor. For stress thats causing obvious physical problems in the shoulder and neck area, you might choose to speak to a physiotherapist. They will be able to help you unpack the issues: how things should be working, where the pressure points are, what kinds of exercises you could take up to alleviate the problems. Or of course you could book in with us for a check-up. I am always happy to analyse the issue, talk through the options and advise on the next steps.
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When Is Stomach Pain Most Likely To Occur
If you have anxiety, stomach pain can occur at any time even when no anxiety is present. However, many people experience stomach pain during panic attacks.
The exact link between an anxiety attack and stomach pain is not clear, other than the fact that during a panic attack, your body is under a considerable amount of stress, and your hormones are often on overdrive. Also, those with anxiety attacks are prone to hyperventilation, which may lead to symptoms that create stomach pain.
Psychological Stress Can Cause Back Pain
Though it might seem hard to believe, mental or emotional distress may be the reason you are experiencing back pain. In fact, there is a long list of physical symptoms that have been proven to be associated with stress and anxiety, including:
- Low libido
Stress itself is the bodys reaction to certain usually unpleasant situations or thoughts. You may not realize it, but when you are feeling stressed or anxious, there are chemical and physical reactions taking place in your body to try and protect you from harm. Cortisol and adrenaline are released, and there is typically an involuntary tightening of your muscles. This often occurs in the neck, shoulders, and down the spine. Prolonged tension in these areas can lead to back pain and, more specifically, lower back pain. You may have had a massage therapist tell you that you hold a lot of tension in your shoulders, and this phenomenon is what they are referencing.
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Choose Positive Ways To Cope
Some things like alcohol, marijuana, overeating, or smoking may feel like temporary fixes. But over time, they can be harmful to your health and cause problems that make stress worse. Developing new, healthier coping strategies can help break this cycle and provide deeper, longer-lasting relief.
Try to be aware of how you handle stress so you can make healthier choices, Dr. Howitt explains. Consider keeping a journal of your habits, so you can understand your patterns. Make a list of positive actions you can take like calling a friend, going for a walk, or putting on music and dancing.
Ideally, over time, these healthier alternatives will become your new go-to activities for stress relief.
How Do You Manage And Prevent Stress
There are plenty of ways to help manage your stress, or to help you prevent chronic stress in certain situations. Keeping your body healthy and fueled by eating right and staying active can help your body handle stress. If you are overly anxious, try going for a run or walk outside to release excess energy or even practice yoga to help your body relax. Overthinking can increase stress, along with not taking a break during a busy schedule. Meditation can aid your body to relax and help your mind calm down and to stop worrying.
Its also important to make time for hobbies that we enjoy. A lot of times, we cut out the fun in our lives when we are stressed. The fun activities help to put us in a good mood and keep our mind at ease. If you feel as if you are frequently at high levels of stress and have a difficult time calming down and enjoying your life, it may be a good idea to talk to someone about what is causing your stress. Talking aloud about your problems to a loved one or getting professional help may reduce stress levels and get you back on track.
1 Mental Health Foundation: Stress. Last updated March 26, 2021. Accessed July 9, 2021.
2 National Sleep Foundation: Stress and Insomnia. Last updated June 24, 2021. Accessed July 8, 2021.
3 Hale Plus Hearty: Natural Cure For High Blood Pressure. Last updated May 11, 2017. Accessed July 9, 2021.
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Chronic Stress And Long
Aches and pains are common symptoms of stress, however, ongoing pain or stiffness may be a sign of a more serious problem.
A 2018 study published by PubMed revealed Stress-related disorders were significantly associated with risk of subsequent autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune diseases cause your immune system to produce antibodies which attack and damage the bodys healthy tissue instead of fighting infection. In certain conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, the antibodies attach to connective tissue within the joints leading to pain, stiffness, swelling, andwithout treatmentpotentially permanent joint damage.
Autoimmune diseases are often incurable however, early intervention and treatment can help prevent further damage and joint deterioration.
Why Does My Back Hurt
There are a number of reasons, some of which may not be glaringly obvious, why you are experiencing back pain. Trauma or direct injury to the area can certainly result in acute or chronic pain, but oftentimes the cause of your back pain can be traced to something else. Some of the most common causes of back pain include:
- Muscle spasms
- Herniated disc
Seemingly harmless activities like repetitive lifting or repetitive motions such as swinging a golf club often put a strain on your muscles and ligaments and result in back pain. Chronic or degenerative conditions, such as those listed above, can also be culprits of back pain. However, if none of these things apply to you, your back pain may be the result of something else.
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Sexuality And Reproductive System
Stress is exhausting for both the body and mind. Its not unusual to lose your desire when youre under constant stress. While short-term stress may cause men to produce more of the male hormone testosterone, this effect doesnt last.
If stress continues for a long time, a mans testosterone levels can begin to drop. This can interfere with sperm production and cause erectile dysfunction or impotence. Chronic stress may also increase risk of infection for male reproductive organs like the prostate and testes.
For women, stress can affect the menstrual cycle. It can lead to irregular, heavier, or more painful periods. Chronic stress can also magnify the physical symptoms of menopause.
Excretory And Digestive Systems
Anxiety also affects your excretory and digestive systems. You may have stomachaches, nausea, diarrhea, and other digestive issues. Loss of appetite can also occur.
There may be a connection between anxiety disorders and the development of irritable bowel syndrome after a bowel infection. IBS can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.
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Pay Attention To Your Gut
The gut-brain connection is no joke it can link anxiety to stomach problems and vice versa. Have you ever had a gut-wrenching experience? Do certain situations make you feel nauseous? Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach? We use these expressions for a reason. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation all of these feelings can trigger symptoms in the gut.
The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomachs juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a persons stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. Thats because the brain and the gastrointestinal system are intimately connected.
This is especially true in cases where a person experiences gastrointestinal upset with no obvious physical cause. For such functional GI disorders, it is difficult to try to heal a distressed gut without considering the role of stress and emotion.
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How Does Anxiety Cause Leg Pain
Leg pain is not a common symptom of anxiety by any means. But some people do experience this symptom, especially those who have anxiety attacks. The underlying causes of the leg pain, and the type of pain, may differ from person to person. Some of the more common experiences are:
- Hyperventilation Cramping Hyperventilation cramping is the most common cause of leg pain in those with anxiety. Although it may occur at any time, it is especially likely during panic attacks when people are more prone to hyperventilating. Muscles become drained of the proper balance of carbon dioxide, causing cramping.
- Muscle Tension Muscle tension is also a fairly common cause of leg pain in those with anxiety. When a person feels high levels of stress, the muscles tend to become tense, and this tension, over long periods of time, can leave legs feeling achy.
- Sleep Tossing and Turning Those living with anxiety often have difficulty sleeping, and end up tossing and turning throughout the night. This increases ones likelihood of ending up in positions that put considerable stress on the legs and joints.
- Perceived Pain A common problem for those living with anxiety is a hypersensitivity to pain from issues that are normal/natural. Your body has very small aches and pains every day. Some of these pains are so mild or natural, that those without anxiety often don’t even notice the pain. But those with anxiety may be extra sensitive to pain, leading to a greater level of perceived pain.
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