How Anxiety and Depression Can Affect Your Physical Health

Hundreds of millions of people across the globe live with a chronic mental health disorder every day. The two most common mental health conditions — anxiety and depression — also happen to be among the leading causes of disability worldwide.  

As the most prevalent form of mental illness in the United States, anxiety disorders affect some 40 million Americans, or nearly one in five adults. Anxiety disorders and major depression often go hand-in-hand — almost half of all adults who are diagnosed with anxiety are also diagnosed with depression. 

Unfortunately, it’s not just your mental health that suffers when you have anxiety, depression, or both. Left untreated, these mental illnesses can have severe and far-reaching effects on your physical health, too.

For the team at TMS & Brain Health, treating anxiety and depression isn’t just about restoring and fortifying your mental health — it’s also about preventing or reversing the serious physical health effects that either condition can cause. Here’s what you should know.    

What are the physical effects of anxiety?

An anxiety disorder gives rise to persistent worry or fear that keeps your body in a perpetual state of “fight or flight.” Your brain relays these constant impulses to your sympathetic nervous system, which in turn triggers a set of physical responses.   

Anxiety can leave your muscles in an ongoing state of low-grade contraction, drive your resting heart rate up, and increase your normal rate of respiration. Chronic anxiety also redirects some of the blood flow from your abdominal organs to your brain. 

Over time, the physical effects of anxiety can intensify, leading to worrisome symptoms such as unexplained stomach pain, lightheadedness, and a high resting heart rate. Untreated anxiety increases your risk of developing:

Cardiovascular problems

Chronic anxiety is hard on your entire cardiovascular system, including your heart. Living with an untreated anxiety disorder makes you more vulnerable to heart disease, and if you already have heart disease, it increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. 

Digestive disorders

Stomach pain is a common physical symptom of anxiety — feeling anxious all the time can literally make you sick to your stomach. That’s because anxiety provokes your nervous system, and your nervous system has a direct impact on your bowels.

From painful abdominal cramps and constipation to persistent digestive problems, anxiety can increase your risk of developing a chronic digestive disorder like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or functional dyspepsia

Chronic headaches

Untreated anxiety is also associated with an increased susceptibility to chronic headache pain, including migraines. As many as two in five people with anxiety who have migraine headaches also have a major depressive disorder. 

How does depression affect my body?

Major depression is a chronic mood disorder that can have a powerful, negative effect on how you feel, what you think, and the way you behave. Apart from making daily life feel like a major challenge, depression can have a huge impact on your physical health and well-being.  

Although mental health experts still have much to learn about the biology of depression, they do know that intense feelings of sadness, apathy, or worthlessness can take a deep and lasting toll on your body. Untreated depression can lead to: 

Depression is also associated with chronic inflammation and reduced immunity; it also tends to worsen existing chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. 

Chronic pain is one of the most common physical manifestations of depression — adults living with untreated depression are three times more likely to develop a chronic pain condition than those who aren’t depressed.  

Can treatment protect my physical health?

The mental and physical effects of anxiety and depression can be serious and numerous, but the picture isn’t as bleak as it may appear — the right treatment approach can help you restore your mental health and help you take control of your physical health for life. 

Here at TMS & Brain Health in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California, our team of mental health specialists is committed to providing innovative, whole-person solutions for depression and anxiety that aim to help you live your best life.  

If you’re ready to reclaim your health and your life, we can help. Call your nearest TMS & Brain Health office today, or use the easy online booking tool to schedule an appointment with one of our seasoned mental health experts any time.

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