Impact of Excessive Worrying on Physical Health
There are some who worry a lot.
Perhaps the reason for their excessive worrying is in the notion they carry, that if they worry enough, they can prevent ominous things from becoming a reality.
The process of worrying goes on in their sub-conscious state of mind.
However, if it stretches beyond a certain point, worrying can have a gross negative impact on our body and which can even lead to physical illness.
What Happens With Too Much of Worrying?
Worrying is a general feeling of uneasiness that creeps in when any situation or problem is too much of a concern to you. This is accompanied by a constant thought as to what might happen that keeps coming back to us again and again. All of this leads to anxiety or even panic as long as we are awake. For chronic worriers, feelings of fear that is unrealistic as best or of inevitable doom add to their worries. They are usually extremely sensitive to changes taking place around them and are critical to other’s criticism about them. The thought of what others might be saying or thinking about them keeps doing the rounds in their mind. All of this makes them perceive everything and everyone around them as a potential threat.
Worrying incessantly can cast a pall of gloom in everything you do and has been found to have an adverse impact on daily activities like appetite, relationship, lifestyle habits, sleep or even performance on the job front. This prompts them to seek out cheap ways to get relief from the ensuing anxiety, like overeating, smoking cigarette, eating junk food, alcoholism or even worse, getting into drugs.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is how our body reacts to the occurrence of stress. However, a persistent state of anxiety may be the signs of a disorder like generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or social anxiety. It’s a common disorder in the U.S. with some 40 million adults found to be affected by it. There are several ways anxiety disorders can make its presence felt and is essentially non-discriminatory, since it doesn’t make a distinction between age, gender or race.
There are many events that can make us feel stressed out, like a test or a job interview. This makes us anxious, which can be helpful in certain situations. For instance, when preparing for a test, a little bit of worry is actually beneficial since it helps us to prepare better for the test. Similarly, a bit of nervousness before a job interview can act as a stimulus to carry out research work about the position on offer, which again helps in making a professional presentation to prospective employers.
However, for chronic worriers, these situations are enough to cause stress and disability in them, the reason for which lies in their very nature of reacting quickly and intensely to these stress-inducing scenarios. Even the mere thought of these situations can cause them great distress. Too much of it can cause a lot of physical harm, when it becomes intense enough that it hampers their normal ability to focus or their ability to think with a clear mind. For them, getting rid of their worries becomes all the more difficult.
Can excessive worrying and anxiety cause a stress response?
Stress has its origin in the demands and pressures that we have to go through in our everyday life. Whether it’s peak hour traffic, chronic illness, a phone that just doesn’t stop ringing or serpentine queues at the grocery store, all of these add to our stress everyday. This leads to undue tension and anxiety, and when these cross the threshold of our endurance, it acts as a trigger for stress response.
Two elements make up our stress response, the first being how we perceive the challenge ahead. The second is the autonomic physiological reaction that occurs within us and which prepares our body for what is known as the ‘fight or flight’ mode, marked by a rush of adrenaline that puts our body on the highest state of alert. It is this fight or flight mode that helped our early ancestors from enduring the vagaries of nature, like a sudden encounter with a wild beast on the prowl. However, though coming face-to-face with a wild animal out for a kill is not what we expect in our everyday life, danger still lurks around us. For instance, it can be in the form of a demanding co-worker, a colicky baby or a difference in opinion with someone you love.
Impact of Excessive Worrying on Physical Health
Continuous worrying, emotional stress, too much of anxiety – all of these can have a heavy toll on your physical health. Stress and anxiety caused by too much of worrying acts as the trigger for the body to get into a fight or flight mode, as a result of which, the body’s sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones like cortisol into the system. These hormones cause blood sugar level and triglycerides i.e. the blood fats to rise significantly, in preparation for the body to use them as fuel. However, if such changes taking place in the body occurs on a regular basis, problems begin to crop up. The presence of these hormones in the system leads to several physical reactions such as:
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Dryness in the mouth
- Rapid heartbeat
- Problem in concentrating
- Muscle pain
- Muscle tension
- Nervous energy
- Rapid breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Sweating profusely
- Trembling and twitching
However, if the body does not perform some active physical activity to utilize the excessive fuel that has entered the blood stream, it can lead to serious consequences for the physical health. These includes:
- Muscle tension
- Premature coronary artery disease
- Short-term memory loss
- Digestive problems
- Suppression of the natural immune system
- Heart attack
If proper treatment is not meted out in cases of high anxiety or stress, depression sets in and in extreme cases, it can even give rise to suicidal thoughts. Also, what has to be understood thoroughly is that these effects are what you are prone to be affected with in cases of severe stress, and for that, stress is merely the trigger. It all depends on how well we are able to cope with stress situations. Stress does not make us ill. Instead it is the after effects of stress like excessive anxiety or tension that has a damaging effect on our body, causing physical illness.
Our response to stress involves the activity of our immune system, our heart and blood vessels, and how some specific glands secrete certain hormones. These hormones act as the regulatory factor of various functions in the body, like nerve impulses or the functioning of the brain. How these systems interact has a direct bearing on how we handle stress or what our psychological state is. However, there’s hope in that incorporating lifestyle changes can help you manage stress better.
Lifestyle Changes for Chronic Worriers
The aim is to bring about a perfect harmony of your mind, body and spirit, in the face of the imbalance that sets in in our body due to excessive worrying and anxiety. And for this, a few lifestyle changes are all that is needed.
- The first step that you can take is to talk to your physician. A thorough physical examination is also necessary so as to establish whether you are having other physical deficiencies that can be the root cause of your anxiety and stress. Talk to your physician about taking natural anxiety remedies so that you are in a better position to manage your stress and anxiety.
- Get into a habit of exercising daily, with due permission from your doctor. Moderate exercise leads to the production of several chemicals within the body that has an extremely beneficial effect on the immune system. An exercise regimen consisting of aerobic and strengthening exercise may be all that is needed to keep your stress under control.
- Keep a watch on what you are consuming and look to it that you are having a healthy and balanced diet. For some people, eating too little or too much is how they hope to manage their stress while some even show a tendency to go for unhealthy foods. So, it’s important to keep a tab on your health when excessive anxiety may create the urge to go for unnecessary junk food.
- Caffeine acts as a stimulant for the nervous system and too much of it can act as a trigger for adrenaline glands, leading to an adrenaline rush that can make you feel nervous and jittery.
- Try to address your worries so that you can look for ways to get rid of them. And for this, what you can do is to set aside a specific time period, say 15 minutes, each day that should be solely dedicated for your worries. When 15 minutes is over, vow to let go of your worries and fears. Some people even resort to the use of rubber bands, which they wear on their wrists for the duration of the 15 minutes that reminds them that they are in their worry mode. You can devise your own methods that you find suitable to help you remind when you should start and stop your worrying.
- Master a few relaxation techniques. This acts as a trigger for the relaxation response, which is a physiological state marked by a sense of warm feeling and quiet mental alertness, just the opposite of what fight or flight response is. Relaxation techniques have the potential to minimize many of your anxieties and worries and enhance your ability to manage stress better. When the body is in a relaxed state, there’s an increased amount of blood flow to the brain and causes brain waves to shift from beta rhythm that signify alertness to alpha rhythm, which is a symbol of a peaceful state of mind. Meditation, deep abdominal breathing, listening to soothing music, or physical activities like yoga and tai chi are common relaxation techniques the regular practice of which can be an excellent means of keeping stress at bay.
- Daily meditation can work wonders for you since it acts as a stress reliever and enables you to withstand stress better. It frees you from the shackles of perennial worrying and the ensuing stream of negative thoughts that keeps the body on a state of constant alert. What meditation actually does is that is makes you to concentrate on what’s going on at the present moment without thinking of the past or the future. It works to decrease the amount of hormones like cortisol or adrenaline in the body which otherwise gets released in response to the body encountering a high stress situation that has only two option for you to react, either to fight or flight.
- Develop a strong social network that you can easily fall back upon during times when you feel lonely or a bit low. This is because loneliness has been identified to be as much responsible for physical ailment as high cholesterol or smoking cigarettes is. People who live a happy conjugal life or have a large friend circle not only live longer but also lead a healthy lifestyle, with incidences of any type of diseases being minimum.
- You can also take the help of a professional therapist if you find yourself to be wanting in your ability to cope with excessive stress, since appropriate psychological counseling helps you achieve just that. For the therapist, the job is to identify the thoughts or beliefs that might be giving you sleepless nights and to suggest ways to get rid of them, which you can also use in conjugation with or independent of other treatment program. However, the success or failure of any such therapy rests solely on you since it’s only you who has to force things to move for the better.