How does stress, anxiety and low mood affect your body?
One of the things I have noticed repeatedly since writing this blog and answering related questions, is the number of concerns expressed about physical symptoms and whether or not they are linked to anxiety, stress and low mood.
For those of us who have experienced unpleasant challenges to our mental well-being, the physical impact can, at times, be as worrying as the shifting state of mind and emotions!
I think back to a time, in the aftermath of my father’s death, when as well as the inevitable grief, I was struck by accompanying waves of anxiety and a strange array of physical symptoms which included:
- A sensation of something being stuck in my throat (known as globus sensation)
- Hot flushes, especially at night (not related to menopause)
- Disorientation and memory loss for tasks that I had carried out routinely for 15 years
- A feeling that my body was buzzing
- Waking up in high alert between 4 and 5.00am in the morning with racing thoughts
- Feeling cold all the time
Hearing about other people with similar symptoms is reassuring as it makes us realise that we are not alone. In addition to those listed above, here are some of the other bodily sensations which people have asked about:
- Neck pain, neuralgia, tension headaches and a feeling of extreme pressure in the head.
- A sensation that the body is breaking down
- Tight chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Dry mouth
- Feeling shaky and dizzy
- Body weakness
- Restlessness at night
- Disrupted menstrual cycle
Why might these symptoms occur?
When we feel stressed or anxious our body responds as though we are under attack, releasing a surge of adrenaline and kicking into ‘fight or flight’ mode.
This in turn causes our sympathetic nervous system to release more stress hormones, such as cortisol, and increase our blood sugar levels and triglycerides (blood fats) as a means of providing sufficient fuel for the body to burn.
The heart beats faster to pump more blood around the body, blood is diverted away from our digestive system to organs with greater need, breathing speeds up to get oxygen to the muscles and brain as quickly as possible, sweat levels increase to get rid of toxins and stop the body overheating and blood vessels constrict, increasing blood pressure and pumping more blood to the organs.
And we wonder why we are experiencing baffling bodily behaviours, particularly if the levels of stress and anxiety remain high over a period of time?!!
Naturally, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, the first port of call should be your GP, who can offer support for mental health concerns and also carry out a variety of tests to rule out any other health issues.
Needless to say, a holistic approach is ideal when tackling stress, anxiety or low mood but provided the GP tests do not reveal another health concern, there are a variety of routes you could follow to support your physical well-being.
Consult a medical herbalist www.nimh.org.uk or a nutritionist www.bant.org.uk who can put together a protocol specifically designed to suit your needs.
Avoid stimulants or anything that increases blood sugar too rapidly (caffeine, sugar, white processed foods, alcohol etc)
Eat foods rich in Zinc, B vitamins, Vitamin C and Magnesium (see this link for food sources –
http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/guide/vitamins-and-minerals-good-food-sources) as these help to support your nervous system. If getting adequate supplies of these vitamins and minerals through dietary sources is a struggle, take a good multi vitamin.
Exercise and get the heart pumping to release some of the built up stress hormones (but not excessively, or it will stress the body further). Practice relaxation exercises such as Yoga or Tai Chi (to calm to body)
Take Passiflora Complex or Avenacalm for longer terms stress (traditionally used to support the nervous system) and Stress Relief Daytime for shorter term stress.
The blog Coping better with stress by Jan de Vries may also be of help.