The Brain-Body Connection: Anxiety and Physical Illness

Anxiety is a mental health challenge that often gets dismissed. Some might say that others will “grow out” of social anxiety or that generalized anxiety disorder is nothing more than someone being overly sensitive. This isn’t true. Anxiety might often be dismissed, but it can have harmful physical symptoms and consequences if not taken seriously.

Anxiety and Physical Illness

In this article from The Mighty, 24 people shared the physical symptoms that they experience with their anxiety. These symptoms included difficulty breathing, gastrointestinal problems, body pain, extreme coldness, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, and more. Mental health professionals recognize many of these symptoms as signs of anxiety and use them for diagnosis purposes. However, recent research from the medical community suggests that the physical symptoms of anxiety might be more damaging than expected. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have linked untreated anxiety with gastrointestinal disorders, chronic respiratory disorders, and heart disease. Between 10% and 20% of Americans suffer from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and functional dyspepsia (upset stomach). By studying subjects with gastroenteritis, researchers found an association between high anxiety levels and development of IBS.

Similar studies also found high rates of anxiety symptoms and panic attacks in patients who have chronic respiratory disease. Patients who have both anxiety and chronic respiratory disease report more hospitalizations and a lower quality of life. Two studies by Harvard Medical School and Lown Cardiovascular Research Institute found that patients with an anxiety disorder were twice as likely to have a heart attack than those without anxiety. Women with phobic anxiety in particular are 59% more likely to have a heart attack. They were also 31% more likely to die from it than women without phobic anxiety.

Help Your Brain, Help Your Body

Due to the strong links between anxiety and debilitating, life-threatening health conditions, seeking treatment for anxiety can do more than save your brain, it can save your life. Anxiety is highly treatable with medication options, cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and relaxation techniques. 30% of people with anxiety disorders go through life undiagnosed and untreated. If you could benefit from speaking to a mental health professional about anxiety, see the Resources page to find options. Check out the Guided Resources Tool for more assistance. To learn more about physical symptoms, check out an earlier post on Physical Symptoms of Depression.


0 Points