Posted on September 14th, 2016 in Anxiety

Everyone has experienced occasional stress or anxiety. A busy day at work, overwhelming schedule, or unexpected flat tire can throw anyone for a loop. However, for those with chronic stress, anxiety takes on a whole new meaning. The feeling of panic, fear, or foreboding seems to never go away, and can actually grow over time.

There are many ways to treat both short-term and chronic anxiety, including therapy and medication. These approaches can help a person build coping skills to deal with anxiety as well as providing some relief from obsessive thinking and worry. Therapy and medication in combination can be a particularly powerful approach to address the mental and emotional symptoms of anxiety.

However, for many people, anxiety causes severe and specific physical symptoms in additional to mental distress. Tense muscles, headaches, stomach upset, digestive issues, and overall aches and pains can all be manifestations of anxiety and stress. These physical symptoms can not only be caused by mental anxiety, but they can also perpetuate it. In this way, the physical expressions of anxiety can actually trigger or elevate mental stress when a person may otherwise have been feeling calm.

Unfortunately, many people aren’t aware of the things that trigger their physical anxiety and stress and may unknowingly engage in behaviors that exacerbate their symptoms. Here are a few of the hidden factors that may secretly be contributing to your physical stress and anxiety:

  1. Too much caffeine: Yes, there can be too much of a good thing. Unfortunately, consuming large amounts of coffee, tea, or soda throughout the day can lead to elevated heart rate, sweating, and ear-ringing: the perfect precursors to a panic attack. Even consuming smaller amounts of caffeine late in the day or on an empty stomach can lead to these symptoms. If you struggle with anxiety and tend to drink a lot of coffee, consider cutting back.
  2. Eating too little/skipping meals: When someone is busy or overwhelmed, eating regularly or staying on a healthy nutrition routine can be one of the first things to go out the window. However, skipping a meal causes blood sugar to drop rapidly. This decrease in blood sugar actually leads to an increase in blood pressure as arteries narrow, and results in symptoms such as nausea, lightheadedness, and fatigue. Even though many people lose their appetite in times of elevated stress, eating a meal can actually help alleviate these physical symptoms that can mimic or trigger a panic attack.
  3. Mind-altering substances: After a long day’s work, having a drink to unwind can be tempting, especially when experiencing elevated stress or anxiety. Many people use alcohol or other habit-forming substances to relax and de-stress, especially in social settings. But, those same substances that provide short-term relaxation actually contribute to unhealthy changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the long run. These changes, particularly increased cortisol levels, can lead to chronic physical anxiety as the body responds to processing and breaking down habit-forming substances repeatedly.
  4. Irregular sleep patterns: Night-time sleep is when the body repairs and restores itself, both physically and emotionally. Too little sleep can result in cognitive processing issues such as memory loss, mood swings, compromised immune function, changing hormone levels, and chronic physical inflammation. Unfortunately, anxiety often causes sleep disturbance, which then perpetuates anxiety and continues the never-ending cycle. If you are experiencing severe anxiety, make sleep a priority by talking to your doctor or therapist about sleep hygiene techniques and natural remedies such as melatonin.
  5. Too little activity: The benefits of exercise have been common knowledge for years. Even though many people feel too busy or overwhelmed to include exercise in their daily schedule, remaining active on a regular basis actually reduces physical anxiety and restlessness overall. When the body isn’t active enough – for example, sitting at a desk all day every day – symptoms such as restlessness and fidgeting can increase. Make a point to do something physical – even walking – for a few minutes each day to help tire your body out and reduce physical anxiety resulting from too little movement.

Chronic anxiety and stress can be overwhelming and all-consuming, interfering with daily functioning and reducing quality of life. By beginning to incorporate some of the changes outlined above, you can take the first steps to control your life and stop letting anxiety rule your day.