How Does Anxiety Affect The Brain and Body

Do You Want To Learn: How Does Anxiety Affect The Brain and Body?

Anxiety can impact physical and mental health. There are short- and long-term effects on both the mind and body. There are many questions in our minds for anxiety-like: How Does Anxiety Affect The Brain and Body? How severe do the symptoms vary from person to person?

Some people have only 1 or 2 symptoms, while others have many more.

Affect on the body:

Anxiety can have a significant effect on the body, and long-term anxiety increases the risk of developing chronic physical conditions.

The medical community suspects that anxiety develops in the amygdala, an area of the brain that manages emotional responses.

When a person becomes anxious, stressed, or frightened, the brain sends signals to other parts of the body. The signals communicate that the body should prepare to fight or flee.

The body responds, for example, by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, which many describe as stress hormones.

The fight or flight response is useful when confronting an aggressive person, but it is less helpful when going for a job interview or giving a presentation. Also, it is not healthy for this response to persist in the long term.

Some of the ways that anxiety affects the body include:

  • Sleep problems:    A lack of sleep can cause weight gain, disrupt the immune system and even contribute to heart disease. The National Sleep Foundation provides some helpful tips to fall asleep when feeling anxious.
  • High blood pressure:   Anxiety can cause dramatic, temporary spikes in blood pressure. While there is no indication that anxiety causes long-term hypertension, these short-term spikes can cause damage to blood vessels, kidneys, and the heart.
  • Unexplained aches:    Pain can be a common symptom of an anxiety disorder. Those with GAD are particularly susceptible to unexplained aches and pains. Chronic pain can make work and everyday activities harder.
  • Weakened immunity:    Anxiety is believed to negatively impact the immune system, making those suffering from these conditions more vulnerable to getting sick.
  • Stomach problems:   Anxiety disorders can cause stomachaches and cramps. But more than that, anxiety and depression are linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It’s common for people with IBS to experience anxiety and depression. Anxiety can worsen symptoms of IBS.

Affect on the brain:

When you have an anxiety disorder, your brain doesn’t return to a sense of normalcy when the stress is gone. Instead, anxiety disorders can trigger your brain’s fight or flight mode even when there’s no perceived danger. This heightened level of anxiety can make your brain hyperactive to threats.

Below is more about anxiety and how it affects the brain.

  • Increased Levels of Stress Hormones: 

    The link between anxiety and brain function involves the sympathetic nervous system. This system controls the body’s rapid and involuntary responses to dangerous or stressful situations. The brain’s attempt to fight off whatever makes you anxious causes a flood of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in the central nervous system.

  • Hippocampus:    The region of the brain primarily responsible for long-term memory. The hippocampus also plays an important role in regulating our emotional responses.
  • Amygdala:    The amygdala is an almond-shaped mass of gray matter in the brain involved with expressing emotions. Commonly thought of as a working part of a larger neural system. The amygdala is responsible for responses to fearful and threatening stimuli.
  • Difficulties with Rationalizing:   Anxiety can also weaken the connection between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex of the brain. Which helps regulate your short-term memory and how well you plan and prepare for activities. A shrunken prefrontal cortex can cause short-term memory loss, difficulty planning and executing events, and increased irritability.

Depression Can Cause Inflammation in the Brain:

Untreated depression can also inflame the brain. Not everyone who has depression experiences brain inflammation, but if you do, it can lead to severe symptoms like:

  • Confusion, agitation, hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis in certain parts of the face or body
  • Speech or hearing problems
  • Loss of consciousness, including coma

Brain inflammation can also trigger chronic illnesses such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease

Physical manifestations of anxiety disorders and depression can be detrimental to overall health. But they can also be an indicator of an individual’s mental health and, in some cases, help diagnose otherwise unrecognizable anxiety disorders or depression.