The Effects of Anxiety and Depression on Your Physical Health
Almost everyone experiences some degree of anxiety or depression at various points in life. In the right circumstances, anxiety is actually a normal “fight or flight” response that helps you navigate a precarious or stressful situation with extra precaution or care. It’s also perfectly normal to feel lonely, sad, or disinterested when faced with difficult, life-changing events.
But when anxiety interferes with daily life and feelings of overwhelming sadness or emptiness persist, it’s no longer normal — it’s a mental health disorder.
Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million Americans, or almost 20% of the adult population. Anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand: Close to half of adults who are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder also have some type of depressive disorder.
Living with an untreated anxiety or depressive disorder can impact more than your daily life, it can also affect your physical health, either by making existing health problems worse, or causing serious problems to develop. Here’s a short list of some of the ways anxiety and depressive disorders can influence your physical health:
The physical response of anxiety
Constant anxiety is an emotional response, but those feelings of worry or fear also give rise to a physical response. When you feel anxious, your neurotransmitters relay these impulses to your sympathetic nervous system, making your muscles contract and your heart rate and respiration increase. It also redirects your blood flow from your abdominal organs to your brain.
When anxiety is the norm rather than the exception, its physical effects can become intensified, leading to physical symptoms like lightheadedness, stomach pain, and a high resting heart rate.
Here are some of the physical problems associated with anxiety disorders:
Constant feelings of anxiety can literally make you sick to your stomach, causing abdominal cramps or ongoing digestive issues that lead to gas pains, diarrhea, or constipation. That’s because anxiety’s physical response has a direct impact on your nervous system, and your nervous system has a direct impact on your bowels.
Chronic anxiety is associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional dyspepsia (upset stomach), which affect as many as one in five adults. With both of these disorders, the nerves that regulate digestion are hypersensitive to stimulation. It’s believed that about half of adults who are treated for IBS also have an anxiety or depressive disorder.
Ongoing anxiety is hard on your heart. Research shows that living with an untreated anxiety disorder makes you more likely to develop heart disease. If you already have heart disease, constant anxiety can substantially increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Recent research shows that adults who have heart disease as well as an anxiety disorder are two times more likely to have a heart attack as those with heart disease who don’t have an anxiety disorder. Another study concluded that women who have a history of severe panic attacks are three times more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke.
The physical response of depression
As a mood disorder, depression can have a powerful, negative effect on how you feel, what you think, and the way you behave. People living with depression often find that it interferes with their ability to perform tasks and get through their normal daily routine.
Although researchers haven’t uncovered any single underlying cause of depression, they do know that brain chemistry, hormonal imbalances, and genetic factors are often involved.
While researchers still have much to learn about the biology of depression, they do know that an untreated depressive disorder can take a major toll on your personal life as well as your physical health.
Untreated depressive disorders are associated with:
Women and men who are depressed are more likely to gain weight or become obese. In the United States, more than one in three adults, or nearly 79 million people, qualify as obese, meaning they have a body mass index (BMI) score of 30 or higher.
Being overweight increases your risk of developing high blood pressure and makes you more likely to have unhealthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels, all of which boost your chances of developing heart disease or having a heart attack or stroke. Being overweight or obese also increases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
While people feel the physical effects of depression in a variety of different ways, one of the most common complaints is chronic pain, including headaches and migraines, back pain, arthritis, and fibromyalgia pain.
Chronic pain is both a physical sensation and an emotional condition that’s very similar to depression in that it can have a far-reaching impact on your mood, thoughts, and behavior. In fact, the relationship between depression and pain is a tight one — depression can cause and intensify physical pain, and chronic pain is depressing.
Men and women with untreated depression are three times more likely to develop chronic pain than those who aren’t depressed, just as adults living with a chronic pain condition are three times more likely to develop depression or anxiety.
Migraines and chronic daily headaches are also a common problem for people who have anxiety, particularly those living with an untreated general anxiety disorder or a panic disorder. It’s estimated that about 40% of adults with anxiety who experience routine migraines also have depression.
The benefits of treating anxiety and depression
Digestive disorders, heart disease, obesity, and chronic pain are just a few of the possible physical ramifications of untreated anxiety and depressive disorders. Other conditions associated with anxiety and depression include sleep disorders, substance abuse disorders, respiratory illnesses, and thyroid problems.
Here at Folsom Psychiatry Associates, we know that anxiety and depression usually get worse without treatment. But we also know that both disorders are highly treatable. Psychotherapy, drug therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy are just a few of the treatments that can help you toward full recovery. These solutions can help you reclaim your life and preserve your long-term physical health.
To learn more about the benefits you stand to gain by treating your anxiety or depression, call our office in Folsom, California, or schedule an appointment using our convenient online booking tool.