I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment – Cure: a journey into the science of mind over body by Jo Marchant – and it has deepened my understanding of the complex but clear link between body and mind. The studies on placebo effect, hypnosis and meditation all demonstrate the extraordinary ability for the mind, with encouragement, to help make our bodies better. And the flip is also true.
There is a long, long list of physical symptoms that are associated with anxiety – whether that is the heart pumping harder and temperature rising with the ‘in the moment’ stress or the multitude of seemingly random manifestations of long-term, long-held anxiety. But they are not random – they make sense. If you keep a body that is made well for short-term stress in the same state for a prolonged period, all the things that ‘help’ us in the short-term – bursts of adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol all begin to have very different consequences when maintained for too long.
The vicious circle of being anxious, experiencing numerous physical ailments, becoming them more anxious, seeing your GP, having tests, not finding anything, still experiencing physical problems, feeling more anxious is exhausting and thoroughly undermines wellbeing. And often people are ashamed of being anxious. It is a horrible, debilitating experience.
There are a number of identifiable types terms of long-term anxiety including:
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Attack Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Whilst there may be different underlying causes and reasons for the different types, all variations of anxiety dis-order can result in physiological symptoms.
Top of the list of physical symptoms you may experience as a consequence of anxiety are:
- Racing heart
- Sudden changes in body temperature
- Pins and needles
- Skin flushing
- Aches and pains
- Stomach upset
- Dry, sore eyes
- Ringing in the ears
- Strong feeling of impending doom / foreboding
Sometimes physical symptoms are the things that finally help an anxious person to recognise they are experiencing and being heavily influenced – in terms of their thoughts, emotions and behaviours – by anxiety.
Understanding the physiology of anxiety
I think it can be incredibly powerful and therapeutic to understand physiologically what is happening when we are anxious – it can’t take away the core psychological challenge but it can help alleviate further anxiety and allow people to be calmer and more compassionate to themselves when they experience physical symptoms.
It is not always immediately apparent what a client may be anxious about at a fundamental level. There are many things in life we can point to to be worried about – our health, our financial situation, our loved ones, our job. I believe long-term anxiety is fuelled by some deep-held beliefs about oneself that manifests in situations like your job, your home life, your family – but actually has a common foundation within the individual. And these beliefs, these aspects of ourselves, are likely to have been formed in our childhood.
If you are concerned about your health please contact your doctor. If you are struggling with long-term anxiety and would like counselling support please do get in touch.