How Anxiety Affects the Body

How Anxiety Affects the Body

How Anxiety Affects the Body

Anxiety An emotion is familiar to most, if not all, of us. Getting late for a necessary appointment, speaking in front of a large crowd, or even the sensation you get before sending that text to someone important. Feelings of tension and worried thoughts are a natural part of life.

The way our body experiences anxiety includes rapid breathing, tightness of the chest, and sweaty palms. In its evolutionary nature, anxiety serves the protective purpose of alerting us of environmental danger.

In moderate doses, anxiety is helpful. What makes anxiety harmful depends on its four D’s: Deviance, Dysfunction, Danger and Distress.

 Deviance: The extent of anxiety being viewed as unconventional or violating social standards.

• Dysfunction is the degree to which it significantly interferes with daily tasks and functioning.

• Danger: The extent it harms or puts the person and/or the people around them at risk.

• Distress: The intensity of anxiety and suffering.

Whether helpful or harmful, anxiety can affect the body in many ways. According to research, the bodily effects of anxiety can be grouped into three categories –neurophysiological effects, autonomic effects, and panic symptoms.

Neurophysiological effects of anxiety refer to how anxiety influences the body through the functioning of the brain nervous system, including the chemical and electrical activities of neurons. Neurophysiological effects of anxiety include:

  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Wobbliness in legs
  • Dizziness or lightheaded
  • Heart racing
  • Hands trembling
  • Shaky feelings
  • Indigestion

Autonomic effects of anxiety refer to involuntary reflexes that occur when one experiences anxiety. Autonomic effects of anxiety include:

  • Feeling hot without physical exertion
  • Face flushed
  • Sweating without physical exertion

Panic symptoms are sudden uncontrollable anxiety or fear that prevents a person from acting out or reasoning. Panic symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Choking sensation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fear of dying

When anxiety persists in duration, is prevalent in two or more settings, and impairs our functioning, it becomes an anxiety disorder. There are seven main types of anxiety disorder: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, selective mutism, and specific phobia.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

Persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about many different things, and the worry is difficult to control. Other symptoms include restlessness, easy tiredness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, sleep difficulties, and/or muscle tension.

Social Anxiety Disorder:

Significant fear or anxiety about one or more social situations, such as interacting with others (e.g., having a conversation, meeting strangers), being observed by others (e.g., eating or drinking), and performing in front of others (e.g., giving a speech).

Separation Anxiety Disorder:

Inappropriate and excessive anxiety about separating from those to whom the person is attached (e.g., parent, partner, friend etc.). There is also persistent and excessive worry about losing the attachment figure or about them getting harmed.

Panic Disorder:

Having panic attacks unexpectedly and repeatedly. A panic attack is sudden intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes. When one has a panic attack, one typically experiences trembling, heart racing, sweating, feeling of choking, chest pain or discomfort, fear of dying, and/or fear of losing control.


Intense fear or anxiety about more than two of the following situations:

  1. Using public transportation (e.g., cars, buses, trains).
  2. Being in open spaces (e.g., parking lots, marketplaces).
  3. Being in enclosed places (e.g., shops, theatres, cinemas).
  4. Standing in line or being in a crowd.
  5. Being outside of the home alone.

Selective Mutism:

Consistent failure to speak in specific social situations when they are expected to speak, despite speaking in other situations. This has to interfere with their school, work achievement, or interaction with others.

Specific Phobia:

Intense fear or anxiety about a particular object or situation. The feared object almost always provokes immediate fear or anxiety. The intensity of the fear is also out of proportion to the actual danger of that specific object or situation. Here are some of the rare and weird phobias:

• Plutophobia: The fear of money. People with photophobia may fear rich people or fear becoming rich themselves.

• Optophobia: The fear of opening our eyes. People with optophobia may prefer to stay indoors or in areas with little lighting.

• Ergophobia: The fear of work. People with ergophobia tend to have extreme fear linked to their workplace or work environment.

• Decidophobia: The fear of making decisions. Making decisions would be a great challenge, as people with decidophobia do not trust their opinions.

When appropriate to the context and duration, anxiety is natural and essential. If you notice your anxiety seems to be controlling you more than you control it, you are not alone. Seek help personally and/or professionally. You matter.

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