We recently discussed the physical effects of worry – responses ranging from nausea and fatigue to irritability and sweating. But an important part of the discussion of worry’s physical impact is the long-term physical effects worry can have.
Worrying about something like a presentation or a confrontation has a limited physical effect. You might feel short of breath or even nauseous beforehand, but once the event passes, you should return back to normal. The problem comes when you’re living a lifestyle of worry – one characterized by chronic anxiety and constant worry.
We talked before about how the stress response sends extra fuel to your blood – your body’s way of helping you power through “fight or flight.” It’s what makes you feel a surge of adrenaline when you know you’re about to have an argument or take a leap of faith.
But when that extra fuel in the blood isn’t used for physical activity, an extended outpouring of stress hormones can lead to serious physical consequences, including :
• Suppression of the immune system
• Digestive disorders
• Muscle tension
• Short-term memory loss
• Premature coronary artery disease
• Heart attack
That’s a pretty serious list. So taking action to combat excessive worrying and high anxiety is important for your physical (as well as your mental) health.
• Exercise regularly. Physical activity is the best way to burn off those stress hormones in your body, and exercise has been proven to help you stay calm and in control. Regular exercise is also an effective way to train your body to deal with stress in a healthy way.
• Watch what you eat. Many people find that when they’re worried, they eat too much, too little, or too much junk. Know your own reaction to worry, and maintain a healthy, balanced diet even during times of anxiety.
• Limit your caffeine intake. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system – and this can trigger adrenaline and leave you feeling nervous and jittery.
• Practice relaxation. Relaxation techniques can help you trigger the relaxation response when you need it most. This physiological state is the opposite of the “fight or flight” response, and is characterized by a feeling of warmth and quiet mental alertness. They also teach your body to self-manage stress, increasing blood flow to the brain and moving your brain waves from an alert rhythm to a relaxed one. Common relaxation techniques include deep abdominal breathing exercises, listening to calming music, and yoga.
• Meditate. Daily meditation decreases hormones which are released during the “fight or flight” or stress response. And meditation can help you gain control over your physical responses, as you become more attuned to what’s going on in your mind and in your body – and how the two processes are linked.
• Talk to your doctor. A physical exam with your primary care physician can help eliminate health problems that might be fueling your anxiety.
Have any of these methods worked for you? Do you have suggestions about how to control worry’s impact on your body? Leave your thoughts in the comments!