Most people, whether they want to admit it or not, have experienced anxiety at some point in their life. It is that vague sense of being ill-at-ease. Usually, anxiety is situational, but some people have chronic anxiety and it can really take a toll on their life. Life stressors such as an unhealthy relationship, stressful job or some kind of trauma are causes for chronic anxiety. However, it can also be biochemically or genetically based. Anxiety can present itself for no apparent reason at times. This can be particularly frustrating for the affected individual. After all, if you don’t know the cause of the problem, how are you supposed to find a solution? Early people were preprogrammed to pretty instantaneously decide whether to fight or flee when they encountered a perceived threat. It was a necessary survival mechanism since they were a lot more vulnerable. The fight or flight response is, of course, still needed in this day and age, but fortunately, it’s very seldom that most people legitimately have any use for it. For some people, though, perceived “threats” are all around and their body is in an almost constant state of readiness for whatever it is that’s lurking. So, it’s understandable how chronic anxiety can cause health problems, both physical and mental. What’s worse is that health issues not associated with anxiety can actually be anxiety-provoking. A vicious cycle of anxiety-fed illness seems impossible to overcome. So, what are the costs of chronic anxiety?
One of the most common effects of anxiety is depression. They almost go hand-in-hand. Imagine feeling ill-at-ease day in and day out with little relief, the feeling of helplessness that usually attends life-threatening health issues.
High levels of chronic stress can cause the body to release a steroidal “stress hormone” called cortisol. This hormone assists the body in responding to stressful situations by increasing appetite and sending a signal to the body to start storing more fat. This reaction can cause weight gain. Some people also gain weight due to comfort eating in times of high stress.
Medical professionals like Dr. Steven Gundry MD appreciate how those with anxiety disorders can develop a malfunctioning stress response. This response promotes inflammation which can damage the lining of the arteries, eventually causing coronary plaque buildup. Chronic anxiety can ultimately lead to problems such as high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attack and heart disease.
Weakened Immune System
During times of high stress, cortisol is released in order to try to reduce inflammation in the body. This reduction of inflammation weakens antibodies that are responsible for controlling inflammation. Inflammation is one of the body’s weapons for fighting off viruses and other ailments. A stressed body exposed to an illness may not be able to fight it off as well as one protected by a normally functioning immune system.
Stress often causes the muscles around the head and eyes to contract. This tension can cause what is, appropriately enough, referred to as a tension headache. Chronic anxiety increases the frequency of these headaches.
The brain and gut share a strong connection. During the fight or flight reaction, cortisol prohibits the functioning of nonessential bodily processes, including those of the digestive system. Adrenaline will cause the stomach muscles to relax, which can result in an upset stomach, nausea or diarrhea. Stress also increases the amount of acid in the stomach. This increase can lead to heartburn and indigestion.
Insomnia and Fatigue
Insomnia can be attributed to the body’s release of cortisol, which can disrupt the daily cycles of other hormones. Those things that go bump in the night pale compared with the very real challenges that will be confronted in the coming workday. Worry won’t surrender to sleep. Not getting enough restful sleep will ultimately cause fatigue, which will make it difficult to function and complete daily activities. The constant “on guard” feeling of anxiety itself can lead to extreme fatigue.