Anxiety is one of the most pervasive mental health issues out there today. Anxiety, whether it is generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, or another form, has dozens of causes and a definitive cause can sometimes be difficult to find. Trauma, fears, or worries can cause anxiety, as can a number of mental health issues, personality types, and substances. Many individuals with anxiety do not report their symptoms due to not recognizing them or out of fear of being labeled neurotic. Despite the social stigma associated with anxiety, there are a host of medical complications associated with anxiety.
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Anxiety can cause an affected individual's neurochemistry to become imbalanced. Anxiety triggers many different 'fight-or-flight' neurotransmitters, which can, as a result, trigger the constant release of relaxation hormones and endorphins. This release can lead to a marked decrease in energy or a feeling of being constantly tired or fatigued. Many individuals with an anxiety disorder or heightened anxiety use caffeine or other stimulants to combat the associated fatigue, which can then lead to more anxiety, particularly when they drink too much and start to experience side effects, such as interrupted sleep at night. One of the only treatments for the decreased energy associated with anxiety is restful, normal sleep.
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Many individuals with an anxiety disorder experience insomnia. This insomnia is often due to the constant worried, racing thoughts associated with many types of anxiety, such as social anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder. Other forms of anxiety can cause individuals to feel jittery or panicked even when resting, which prevents healthy, restful sleep. Some over-the-counter and prescription medications can relieve insomnia associated with anxiety, but individuals dealing with this condition should always consult their doctors before taking any medications to combat the side effects of anxiety.
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Weakened Immune System
Anxiety often leads to a higher number of colds or other minor illnesses due to a decreased immune response. The relationship between anxiety disorders and the immune system is well-documented but still not well understood. Anxiety can trigger the release of stress hormones, which then cause a variety of changes in the way immune systems respond to threats. Cortisol, an anti-inflammatory hormone, is released when the body is anxious or stressed in some way. Cortisol works by essentially weakening the antibodies that can increase inflammation. Unfortunately, these antibodies also fight germs, leaving individuals dealing with anxiety a little bit more vulnerable to the common cold and other similar illnesses.
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Many of the most common physical side effects of anxiety and anxiety disorders are digestive issues. Anxiety is particularly known to cause diarrhea, indigestion, and abdominal cramps in many affected individuals, as well as more serious issues. Anxiety can also cause gastroesophageal reflux disease, or acid reflux, which can cause a painful buildup of stomach acid in the esophagus. This acid can also result in ulceritis, gastritis, and even irritable bowel syndrome. While some over-the-counter antacids can relieve these symptoms, the best treatment is to resolve the cause of the anxiety. In the case of chronic anxiety, prolonged treatment, such as through counseling or anti-anxiety medication, is crucial to obtain relief from digestive issues.
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Jaw Aches, Toothaches, And Headaches
Anxiety causes many individuals to clench their jaws either while they are sleeping or even when they are awake. All of the extra tension can cause jaw stiffness or aches as well as result in excess wear on the teeth. Grinding one's teeth in one's sleep can lead to a host of dental issues including broken or chipped teeth or misalignment of teeth. Clenched jaws frequently also cause tension headaches, and so can the stress hormones released by anxiety. While pain medications can treat these symptoms, they can also increase an individual's anxiety. Treating anxiety and anxiety disorder effectively and promptly is crucial in relieving the pain associated with toothaches, headaches, and jaw aches.
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Perspiration Or Shaking
One of the most visible and embarrassing side effects of anxiety disorders is the constant sweating or jitteriness associated with this mental health issue. Anxiety can trigger the release of adrenaline and other 'fight-or-flight' hormones which boost the body's energy levels. While this can be a good thing in truly dangerous situations, anxiety often strikes for reasons other than the need to protect oneself. That same 'fight-or-flight' response can then lead to shaking and excess perspiration, which can, as a result, create more anxiety over the social stigma associated with these behaviors. While temporary measures can help the perspiration and shaking, affected individuals must address their anxiety directly in order to obtain long-lasting relief from this physical manifestation of anxiety.
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Loss Of Sex Drive And Performance
The leading cause of erectile dysfunction in men, though it may come as a surprise to many, is anxiety. Since anxiety can disrupt the body's normal cardiovascular performance, it often causes erectile issues due to decreased blood flow to the penis. It is estimated nearly forty percent of American men suffer from some form of anxiety or anxiety disorder, but the number of erectile dysfunction cases reported is often much lower due to the stigma associated with this particular medical issue. That decline in sexual performance can, in turn, trigger more anxiety, and the vicious cycle feeds itself over and over again. Of course, the trick to beating anxiety exacerbated by this symptom is to treat the symptom, but once again, long-term results are only achievable through treating the anxiety itself.
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It Is Often Accompanied By Other Related Conditions
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), around half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is common in those who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, who have an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, or patients with body dysmorphic disorders. General anxiety disorder rarely occurs by itself, and sometimes the cause of this can be diet, environment, substance abuse, or an unstable home-life. Physical symptoms of anxiety such as dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, and rapid heartbeat, to name a few. Chemical imbalances in the body occur when anxiety is present, and these imbalances can exacerbate, or even cause, other related conditions to develop inside the body. There is also evidence indicating anxiety can lead to chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, later in life.
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It Can Be Hereditary
Anxiety can be passed down through family genetics, and many who suffer from this condition may have had a family history of anxiety and related disorders. Biological factors contributing to anxiety is an emerging field of study at this point and more will be discovered in the next ten to fifteen years. If both parents suffer from a clinical anxiety disorder, their child will have a higher chance of developing it. However, this type of occurrence may not be biological; it may be environmental or psychological due to the conditions in which the child was raised (with two parents both suffering from anxiety disorders). Many researchers and medical professionals will agree anxiety is a combination of several factors including biological, environmental, and psychological. This opinion is the consensus, although many doctors will ask if there is a family history of mental illnesses if visiting for a first appointment.
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It Is Incredibly Common
As many as forty million American citizens aged eighteen and above will experience anxiety at some point in their lives. Anxiety is an incredibly common mental health issue, and although it may feel highly individualized and isolated, many cases are similar. As much as forty-two billion dollars is spent annually by the American government for treating and diagnosing anxiety disorders. This amount equates to approximately one-third of the entire national budget for mental health per annum. Women are more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder (except for post-traumatic stress disorder) than men. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states anxiety can occur earlier in a woman's life than a man's and that it is most common in women who are aged between puberty and fifty years old.
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Anxiety Is Highly Treatable
Many individuals suffer with their anxiety in silence because they don't realize it's a medical condition. This is why it's important for everyone to know anxiety is highly treatable. Feelings of persistent anxiety can be caused by a number of different disorders. There are disorders like generalized anxiety, which makes the patient feel general anxiety in a number of life areas for an extended period. Some disorders are more specific, like social anxiety, which manifests when the individual is anxious in social situations. Personality disorders like avoidant personality disorder are considered anxiety disorders because their symptoms involve avoiding conflict at all costs since it causes heightened anxiety. No matter what the cause of an individual's anxiety is, it can be treated. There are anti-anxiety medications that can help balance brain chemistry, and many behavioral therapy methods can be used to address anxiety and lessen fear.
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Affected Individuals Are More Likely To Go To A Doctor
Individuals with anxiety have more documented medical issues or fears than those without anxiety, making them more likely to go to a doctor. This statistic remains fairly consistent whether an individual's diagnosis is generalized anxiety or another kind of anxiety disorder. Research shows patients with anxiety disorders have a three to five times higher likelihood of going to the doctor's office when compared to those without anxiety disorders. Some of this may be because heightened anxiety makes individuals more worried about their health. It may also be due to the physical symptoms anxiety causes like shortness of breath, a racing heart, and nausea. In addition, those with anxiety disorders are hospitalized for psychiatric issues at a rate six times higher than those without anxiety disorders. Sometimes this is due to the anxiety itself, and sometimes it's because of comorbid conditions.
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More Than Just Stress Or Worry
When anxiety becomes a medical condition, it's more than just stress or worry. It's normal to feel stressed in response to one's life circumstances. Maybe an individual has a relationship that's difficult at work, or they're worried about how they'll get everything done, or they don't have enough time for hobbies. All of these things add to stress. It's also normal for individuals to worry about situations they can control and situations they can't. Ceasing to worry is a behavior that takes active training of the mind. Humans are hardwired to worry about situations as a survival mechanism. But serious anxiety is more than that. An individual's worry isn't proportional to the situation at hand. Anxiety also may cause affected individuals to avoid situations, have relationship troubles, cancel plans, and fail to meet conflict head-on. Anxiety causes distress and inhibits an individual's overall functioning, rather than being normal worry they can put aside when need be.
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Causes Significant Difficulties Concentrating
Anxiety causes significant difficulties in concentrating. If an individual is struggling with anxious thoughts and feelings, they may notice their short-term memory is affected. They may also not be as productive as they usually are, which can seriously impact their functioning in school or at work. One of the reasons for this is anxiety interrupts an individual's ability to encode short-term memory into long-term memory. Thus, affected individuals are less likely to retain information they learn when they're anxious. When this impacts school or work performance, it can lead to further anxiety, causing a vicious cycle. Many individuals have little to no difficulty concentrating when they aren't anxious, but in stressful situations, they find their ability to focus is greatly diminished.
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Exercise Can Be Extremely Beneficial
Not only does exercise have physical benefits like improving muscle tone and immune function, but exercise can be extremely beneficial when an individual is struggling with anxiety. When individuals exercise, their brains release chemicals that help dissipate 'brain fog' and fatigue. The cardiovascular effects can also help individuals feel more awake and alert. This helps overall mental function. Researchers have found evidence indicating just five minutes of aerobic exercises decreases stress levels, elevates mood, improves sleep, and improves overall feelings of self-esteem. Some psychologists say just ten minutes of walking around the neighborhood can have an anti-anxiety effect as powerful as a forty-five-minute workout. Because of this, inactive individuals with anxiety can ease into a more active lifestyle. It also means those with physical disabilities may be able to reap the anti-anxiety benefits of exercise as well, even if they can't withstand an intense and prolonged workout.