Know the physical signs of anxiety

Mental Wellbeing Zainab Sulaimon
Today's Focus
Signs of Anxiety
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A large number of people highly doubt if the signs of anxiety can be seen externally. According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, anxiety is a multisystem response to a perceived threat or danger. It reflects a combination of biochemical changes in the body, the patient’s personal history and memory, and the social situation. Anxiety can be in the form of a feeling or experience and a disorder in a psychiatric diagnosis. This is why it is important to note that being anxious is very different from having an anxiety disorder.

Due to the fact that anxiety is a commonplace experience that everyone has from time to time, it is quite difficult to give a concrete description because it has so many different potential causes and degrees of intensity. Some doctors classify it as an “emotion” from the patient’s viewpoint and an “affect” (on the patient) from an observer’s viewpoint. This simply means that a patient is internally anxious but doesn’t realize that he or she is exhibiting some physical symptoms on the outside. The following are, therefore, ways to physically tell whether or not one is feeling anxious or is in a state of anxiety.

Some physical signs of anxiety

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome, otherwise known as IBS, can occur when an individual is anxious or stressed. This is noted as one of the major signs of anxiety. It can go as far as making the person vomit and develop sores in the stomach linings called ulcers.
  • Immune system interference. Whenever you are anxious, your immune system becomes distracted and may not be able to fight off germs and infections properly. If the individual is continuously anxious, the immune system begins to find it difficult to fight off flu and other types of viruses.
  • Continuous and repeated thinking about a particular thing (otherwise worrying) can lead to sleep difficulties at night and can eventually result in insomnia. This is common especially with patients who are going through a PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) because they have lost someone or gone through a traumatic experience. Getting a to-do-list can help with tackling, solving and getting problems off your mind.
  • Development of Tense Muscles. Because the body needs to protect itself as a natural reaction to when you become anxious, your muscles begin to tighten itself until the stress passes. However, if you worry and feel anxious all the time, these tense muscles will lead to constant headaches and migraines.

Other noteworthy signs

  • Signs of anxiety can also be seen through the famous “fight or flight” response. These are indications that arise when you react to something scary. Your fright activates the release of certain hormones which sends signals through the brain, spinal cord and nerves. Your glucose level increases and a sudden flow of blood rushes to your hands and legs in preparation to either fight the threat or run away (on a lighter note, for most individuals, the first response is to flee). This makes your breathing and pulse increase and in turn you get sweaty and shaky.
  • Development of Tachycardia and Tachypnea. These two terms are used to describe a fast heart rate and a fast breathing (both beyond normal). When you get scared all of a sudden, your body triggers stress hormones like adrenaline or cortisol and this makes your heart beat harder and faster than usual. You may also experience palpitations and if not taken care of, regular experiences like this can lead to stroke, heart attacks, high blood pressure and heart diseases. As a result of these palpitations, you begin to breathe very fast and might pass out or get dizzy. You need to realize that this can become very serious if you are an asthma patient or if you have a lung disease.
  • Constipation or Diarrhea is also a sign of anxiety.  Bowel problems like these can occur if you are constantly anxious. Even some doctors still can’t explain why this always happens. Imagine a scenario in the face of (sudden) death, the victim or animal always tends to either wee or poo on itself because they become anxious all of a sudden. Some researchers think that the awareness of death influences this.
  • A rise in your sugar level and weight gain. Due to the adrenaline and extra rushed strength (helpful if it is used up like when you actually run away from something or someone about to harm you) that your body develops when you are anxious, your sugar level rises. If this happens constantly, it can lead to diabetes, kidney & heart diseases and stroke. Also, when you are constantly anxious, you tend to eat continuously and have endless unhealthy cravings. These foods unfortunately contain lots of fats and sugars resulting in accumulated calories (by the body). In the end, you gain some weight which could have been avoided.

Other signs include nausea, dyspnoea, and recurring negative thoughts..

What you can do if you develop these signs of anxiety

Patients can undergo any of the following treatment methods:

  1. Medications
  2. Psychotherapy
  3. Psychosurgery
  4. Alternative treatment
  5. Also patients who consume a lot of caffeine such as coffee, cocoa, tea, chocolate, carbonated soft drinks can lower their anxiety symptoms by reducing their intake of these substances.

Can anxiety be prevented?

Gale states that “Humans have significant control over thoughts, and, therefore, may learn ways of preventing anxiety by changing irrational ideas and beliefs. Humans also have some power over anxiety arising from social and environmental conditions. Other forms of anxiety, however, are built into the human organism and its life cycle, and cannot be prevented or eliminated”.

***Note that phobias and OCDs are also types of anxiety reactions.