Health Effects of Stress – Anxiety

The mind and body act on each other in remarkable ways. Recent research indicates that the immune system is in direct contact with and under at least partial control of the part of the brain physiologically reactive to emotions. Thus there may be a biological link between emotions and disease and even death. Mortality is three times higher in individuals with few close relationships, whereas people with strong support groups have additional protection against life stressors. Death rates are higher for cancer patients with pessimistic attitudes. Illness is more common among people who feel locked into strife-ridden marriages. Conversely, AIDS patients with healthy psyches seem better able to withstand disease.

Any stressful situation takes its toll on the human body. Stress can be a primary enemy of overall health and a major contributor to disease. Because stress affects the immune system, the body becomes more susceptible to a multitude of ailments, from colds to cancer. Respiratory conditions, such as asthma, may become worse. The cardiovascular system reacts by constricting the blood vessels while increasing blood volume. The net result is a rise in blood pressure throughout a stress-ridden day. Multiple increases in blood pressure can eventually contribute to chronic high blood pressure. More forceful contraction of the heart elevates levels of free fatty acids, enhancing the development of clogged arteries leading to and including the heart itself. In extreme cases, sudden death can occur, especially if an individual has been experiencing high levels of uncontrolled stress for an extended period.

Headaches, including migraines, have long been associated with stress. Tension headaches are caused by involuntary contractions of the scalp, head, and neck muscles. Typical muscular reaction to stress is contracting or tensing. When chronic stress occurs, the body reacts by being constantly ready to respond and the muscles become braced, or always in a state of tension. More stress magnifies the tension the muscles are already undergoing. Increased muscular tension manifests itself in headaches, backaches, neck aches, and other pains. The smooth muscles that control internal organs also experience pains. More intense contractions can lead to stomach ache, diarrhea, hypertension, heartburn, gastritis, diarrhea, bloating, inflammation of the pancreas, and blockage of the bile ducts

Stress decreases saliva in the mouth, often making speaking awkward. Swallowing may become difficult, and the increase in stomach acids contributes to ulcer pain. People tend to perspire more, and electrical currents are transmitted more quickly across the skin. Skin conditions, such as acne, psoriasis, herpes, hives, and eczema, are exacerbated.

Stress also seems to affect the body’s nutritional status and immune response to disease. Individual nutritional patterns can also influence stress management efforts. For example, eating too much or too little, eating the wrong kinds of food, and overusing products such as caffeine or alcohol upset homeostasis. Diets high in fat, sugar, and processed foods place a heavy burden on various body systems. Ingesting too few calories can lead to the breakdown of lean tissue. To meet the demands of stress, you should maintain adequate nutrition through a balanced and varied diet.

Ultimately, no body system escapes the effects of stress. Long-term presence of certain stress­associated hormones in the brain damages receptors and cells found in the hippocampus. (The hippocampus sends messages when stress is occurring.) Because brain cells do not regenerate, these cells are lost forever. The effects of this loss are unknown, but indications are that eventually humans become less able to respond to stress appropriately provides guidelines for identifying stress style and suggests relaxation activities.

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Spotting Unusual Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses in the United States, affecting almost 40 million adults or nearly 18 percent of the population every year. Despite being highly treatable, only 37 percent of the people receive treatment.

Those struggling with anxiety disorders grapple with common symptoms like shortness of breath, sweaty palms, chest pain and nausea among others. But, one might also struggle with some unusual symptoms like eating disorders and increased substance abuse, which may go unnoticed. Some of these uncommon anxiety manifestations are discussed below.

  • Eating disorders – According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety and eating disorders might co-occur in an individual. A person struggling with an eating disorder might end up eating too less or too much and also get extremely conscious about body weight and shape. He or she might follow an extreme diet or be obsessed with exercising. All these manifestations could have a serious bearing on a person’s health and life.
  • Substance abuse – Anxiety can sometimes be so unbearable that a person might resort to self-medicating with alcohol, prescription drugs or other illegal drugs. The high gained from such substances can temporarily numb the user’s thoughts and related distress. However, it is important to understand that a person can get only short-term relief from these substances, but they do more harm in the long run. They destroy relationships, career, finances, social life, physical and mental health, and can even cause death.
  • Sleep disturbances – Anxiety can induce sleep problems like insomnia, lucid dreaming, sleepwalk and even narcolepsy. When a person is anxious, he/she can have a major difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep, or might also struggle with disturbed sleep in the form of night terrors and nightmares.
  • Social media presence – A person struggling with an anxiety disorder might become hyperactive on social media. Anxiety induces a strong urge to reach out to others. Too much activity on social media might lead to withdrawal from real-world interactions, restlessness when one is not able to log in, loss of interest in other activities, etc.
  • Desire to assert control – People struggling with anxiety often think that they have lost control over many things in their life. This leads to obsessive-compulsive habits like doing something repeatedly until one is sure of doing it perfectly.
  • Itching, picking and biting – Some people channelize their anxiety through physical acts like scratching repeatedly, picking a scab and biting nails. This could result from feeling anxious due to pressure at work, stress at home or any other situation.
  • Developing phobias – Sometimes, anxiety leads to the development of unexplained phobias. One might start fearing heights, water, confined spaces or people.
  • Social anxiety disorder – People grappling with anxiety often avoid social interactions due to the fear of being rejected, ridiculed or judged. Anxiety might compel one to stay indoors and only interact with people when forced to.
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances – Anxiety can also lead to gastrointestinal disturbances because the gut is sensitive to emotions like anger, depression and anxiety. A person is likely to experience diarrhea and acid reflux or serious conditions like gastroparesis and inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Miscellaneous symptoms – Experiencing olfactory hallucinations (smelling a substance), excessive burping or farting, too much yawning, getting cold hands and feet, having a dry mouth and jittery legs are some of the other symptoms of anxiety.

Anxiety is treatable

Despite being a prevalent mental illness, many people avoid seeking treatment because they fear stigma and discrimination. It is important for them and their families to understand that anxiety can be managed and that there is nothing to be ashamed of it. With medication and therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, the symptoms can be controlled and a person can be healthy and productive again.

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