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The Unexpected Physical Effects of Anxiety

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The thought process of anxiety is relatively well-known in today’s world. You don’t have to search for long before you find a list of all the varying states of mind that can be attributed to anxiety. Thoughts of, “I can’t do this,” “They think I’m faking” or even “I need to leave” are all relatively “standard.” However, the physical symptoms of anxiety are often overlooked.

I have struggled with anxiety for a long time now, and whilst I have had the “normal” thought processes of someone with anxiety, it is the physical side I really hate. Personally, I try to hide my symptoms, as do many others with anxiety, but when your mental state starts to affect your body it becomes a lot harder to disguise.

Chest pains — not just a tightening but true stabbing pains to the heart. At one time I was in so much pain I had to consult my doctor because I was terrified my heart was failing. I was fine, but the pain was very real. I’ve also had severe stomach cramps where I’ve had to leave a room to dry heave. All I could think was, “Have I eaten something wrong?” I hadn’t, and I was simply uncomfortable with the conversation I was having. I’ve had my legs go weak and almost buckle beneath me. I’ve had to brace myself between two walls because I thought I was going to collapse.

My experience of anxiety has mostly been with the physical symptoms. It took a long time for me to realize what was causing them. I expect there are others out there too who struggle with such things. The issue is, when you go to a doctor about chest pains, they look at your heart. If your stomach is hurting, they may look at your diet or give you something to settle it. In my experience, it’s quite rare for someone to make the link to the brain.

For me, I rarely experience the anxious thoughts anymore. I only have pain. I have my legs cramp along with my neck. I clutching my chest, trying to slow my breathing. There is very little I can do to stop these symptoms, as normally I can’t quite determine what is causing them.

Mental illness is not just a condition of the mind; it can affect the entire body in ways you wouldn’t immediately think. Learning to understand and recognize these physical symptoms is essential. It is essential because it does not matter how many irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) tablets you take — that pain will not subside until you relax, which is easier said than done for most people who live with anxiety.

So the next time your chest flares or your legs wobble, make a note of the situation you are in. Trying leaving the room or area. Learning the difference between actual physical illness and that caused by mental conditions will save you a lot of time and worry.

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Thinkstock photo via champja

Originally published: April 20, 2017
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