Worrying can have a negative effect on your health, making you tired, stressed, speed up the ageing process and sometimes more prone to depression.
What worrying does to your body
When you worry, your body responds to your anxiety the same way it would react to physical danger. To help you cope with the physical demands you are about to ask your body to perform, your brain releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. They trigger a range of physical reactions that will equip your body for action.
Your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes heavier and you may sweat more. You may also become pale as the blood moves away from the skin towards the muscles to help them prepare for the ‘fight or flight’ situation your worry has created.
The ‘fight or flight’ response is your body’s instinctive reaction to danger. Unconsciously your body prepares itself to either run away from danger or becomes very alert in order to fight predators.
But many of the things we worry about today cannot be dealt with by fighting or running away. Credit card bills, bad relationships or stress at work cannot be dealt with physically, so our body remains in a state of anxiety, ready for action.
This means the stress hormones are still circulating in the blood stream. Theresa Francis-Cheung says over a prolonged period of time, raised levels of these chemicals can start to have a toxic effect on the glands, nervous system and the heart, eventually leading to heart attacks, increased risk of stroke and stomach ulcers.
Because your body has tensed ready to respond to the threat you are feeling, this muscle tension can turn into aches and pains causing headaches, back pain, weak legs and trembling. This tension can also affect your digestive system triggering bouts of constipation or diarrhoea.
You may also become more prone to infections. It is widely accepted that stress and anxiety can lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to picking up colds or more serious illnesses. With excessive worry, our immune systems have little time to recover so you become even more tired and lethargic.
How worry affects your brain
Worrying also has an effect on our brains. Excessive worry disturbs your peace of mind making it harder for you to concentrate on one task at a time. This means it may also be difficult for you to fall asleep at night. Once you are suffering from insomnia, many worriers start to worry about that as well making their symptoms even worse.
Loss of libido is another symptom of worrying. ‘To have a fulfilling sex life you need to feel healthy and relaxed in body and mind. When you are worn down by worry, you are neither,’ says Theresa.
Worry may also make you absent minded or neglectful of your health. You may feel too stressed to eat properly so you are not getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet. This could speed up the ageing process as you are not replenishing your skin, muscles or brain with the right nutrients from your food.
Excessive worry could even lead into depression. If you start to worry about everyone and everything day and night, feel that life is unfair and justice does not exist or become paranoid that people will betray you, these could be the first warning signs of depression. Talk to your doctor or a trained counsellor if you are starting to feel like this.