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Breakdown of Anxiety and Long-Term Effects

By Jessica Carson, LMHC 

Fortitude Mental Health Counseling, PLLC

We’ve all experienced anxiety and worry in our life whether it be from work, finances, relationships, loss and life changes. While we may be faced with stress it usually subsides and we proceed with our daily lives. One sign that points to anxiety is when it interferes with our functioning. Functional impairments include difficulties with interpersonal relationships, productivity at work, maintaining personal hygiene and care and other areas of life feel overwhelming. 

Stress vs anxiety

Stress is a response to external factors such as a fight with a partner, expectations at work, an illness, going to a job interview, etc. Stress triggers are typically short term, and the stress goes away once the external trigger is resolved. Stress isn’t inherently bad. It can create motivation to find solutions, change or improve our situations. If you feel a little bit of stress every now and then, but easily return to a calm state after not too long, you’re likely experiencing good stress. Chronic prolonged stress can create physical symptoms, such as irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle pain, digestive troubles, and difficulty sleeping.

Symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety symptoms may sometimes be covert, and difficult to point out. The more obvious symptoms are;

  • Excessive worry and fear

  • Feeling restless

  • Feeling tense and on edge

  • Inability to focus and concentrate

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Rapid breathing

  • Sweating

  • Shaking

  • Fatigue and tiredness

  • Insomnia and changes in sleep habits

  • Changes in appetite

  • Avoidance of situations, people and places that trigger anxiety.

Signs of anxiety that are less obvious and often time people are unaware of are;

  • Feeling nauseous

  • Constant complaints of pain (headaches, indigestion, body aches)

  • Zoning out

  • Being easily angered or frustrated

  • Self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, 

  • Binge eating or restricting food intake

  • Hypervigilance (looking around, watching your back)

  • Hair loss

  • Picking your skin or pulling out hair from your head, eyebrows, eyelashes

  • Dizziness

  • Feeling a tightness in your throat.

  • Hives and skin issues

  • Constant sweating and shaking

  • Derealization; feelings disconnected and as if you are watching yourself from outside of your body

Anxiety and our nervous system

When our body perceives a threat, it activates the fight-or-flight response which triggers the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). This system releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to help us stay alive and safe. When someone experiences chronic stress and/or anxiety our Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), which is our resting mode, doesn’t regain control, leaving our body in constant distress and threat mode. When our parasympathetic nervous system is in control, we can get good quality sleep, can relax and our body can function healthily.  Prolonged SNS strains may lead to;

  • Heart rhythm issues (including arrythmias)

  • Constipation due to slowed down digestion 

  • Dizziness or passing out when standing up.

  • Eyelid droop

  • Affects to immune system and the body’s repair processes

  • Fast heart rate (tachycardia)even when resting.

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Sweating too much or not sweating enough 

  • Trouble digesting food 

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Increased risk for obesity and other metabolic problems

Help for Anxiety

If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms there is help. Anxiety is treatable and you do not have to live in chronic distress. Techniques such as mindfulness, breathwork, relaxation exercises, exercise, CBT, DBT, Exposure therapy and challenging unhelpful thought patterns have all been shown to significantly reduce anxiety. Here at Fortitude Mental Health Counseling, we are here to help guide you through your journey to wellness.

Please reach out to our compassionate team so we can help identify your needs. 

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