The signs and symptoms of anxiety are often difficult to recognize…
From headache and chest pain, to heartburn and abdominal pain, worry can take a real physical toll on your body.
Most patients are sure there’s an underlying health problem at the root of symptoms like these. But I’m here to tell you — most often you can blame them on your mind-body connection…
Does that mean they’re benign? On the contrary. If you don’t recognize these 5 symptoms and find a better way to deal with your stress, the underlying chronic health condition you feared will become a reality…
How stress manifests in your body
Have you ever felt the adrenaline rush in a moment of crisis? For example, imagine you are driving along and you glance in your rear-view mirror and see a policeman following you with flashing siren lights.
That momentary thought casts a feeling of panic throughout your body: your heart races; your breath stutters, your hands tremble, and your pupils dilate. You may even get a sick feeling inside you.
Given this scenario, consider how rapidly just that one little thought changed your physical body.
Was it all in your head? Of course not. However brief, that thought caused a whole lot of very real physical havoc. And if allowed to persist, that thought will cause more worrisome symptoms such as chest pains, heartburn or abdominal pain.
Let me share with you five common symptoms I see in patients which are caused by their thoughts of worry or distress…
You probably know the pain of a tension headache. This pain is from neck muscle tension, which radiates to the flat muscles below your scalp on the back/top of your head (occipitalis muscle), or the front/sides of your head (frontalis muscle). Excessive worry or mental stress subtly tenses all these muscles, resulting in a tension headache.
Migraines are more severe head pains accompanied by nausea or vomiting. These headaches have more diverse causes, but are often triggered by a tension headache.
This is a common occurrence I see when I work in the Urgent Care. The typical patient with anxiety-induced chest pain (a panic attack) is a 26-45-year old male or female. This pain is described much like a heart attack, with pressure and shortness of breath, and maybe even dizziness.
However, they almost never have risk factors for heart disease, and their electrocardiogram and blood cardiac enzyme levels are normal. They also have symptoms of worry and stress, which have now physically manifested as chest pain. Recently I even had two male patients, both pastors (and who teach stress reduction to their followers) present with chest pains from anxiety as described. So it can hit anyone.
Shortness of breath or wheezing
There may not be much in the scientific literature about how stress induces asthma, but in clinical practice I note this often. Just like a panic attack causes chest pain, it can also tighten small airway muscles, resulting in airway narrowing and shortness of breath. In fact, this is often the only symptom of a panic attack, which can be dangerous for an asthmatic.
You’ve even heard the expression, a “gut feeling”, which describes our brain-gut connection known by many as butterflies in the stomach. Moreover, when stress is severe or chronic, it directly increases your stomach acid secretion, weakens your stomach lining barrier, and increases your sensitivity to pain. It can progress to anxiety-induced nausea.
The predominate worry thought you carry with you can become an emotional “hangover” that keeps you from falling or staying asleep. Fear of financial troubles, stress in a relationship, worry about self-image, and fear of illness’ effect on your life are just a few of the sneaky factors robbing you of your sleep.
These beliefs about your circumstances and yourself need to be cleared out of your mind or else the increased stress hormone cortisol will suppress your sleep hormone, melatonin. And melatonin is important not only to help you sleep, but to age slower and avoid disease.
As you can see, worry thoughts cause real physical symptoms. In fact, they can actually cause chronic diseases beyond those listed here. I’ll take up that topic in my next article.
To healing and feeling good,
Michael Cutler, M.D.