Maybe you live with anxiety. Perhaps you have always lived with it and you’re just used to it. But do you really know how anxiety affects your life?
Considering how isolating anxiety can be, you may be surprised to know that anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in America. Eighteen percent of the adult population suffers with some form of anxiety. (And that’s just the reported cases.)
The Way Anxiety Manifests
Some have generalized anxiety disorder and experience symptoms of anxiety every day without an apparent cause or trigger. Some have PTSD, social anxiety or panic disorder. Point being, there are many ways that the 40 million adults affected by anxiety experience this insidious foe.
If you have lived with anxiety for a long time, you may not have noticed the shifts in your thoughts, behaviors and relationships. You might even be surprised when you realize how anxiety affects your life.
Those fortunate enough not to suffer with anxiety may have difficulty understanding that anxiety is more than just worrying. It can secretly creep into your life and weave itself into every nook and cranny. By the time you notice something being “not right,” the anxiety has often already had profound effects on your life.
How anxiety affects your life isn’t limited to mental and emotional symptoms. It pervades your relationships and your physical well-being, as well.
The Ways Anxiety Can Affect Your Relationships
You overanalyze everything said, looking for clues of disapproval. It’s as if you’ve decided that you are not wanted or liked, but only tolerated, and you set out to find supporting evidence.
Friends don’t always understand what you’re going through. Communicating about your anxiety can be a struggle and cause problems in the friendship.
You are afraid to reach out because you don’t want to bother people. Because you are convinced you are not liked or wanted, you automatically assume you are a nuisance.
You decline and cancel plans, or find reasons not to make plans at all. For fear of doing or saying something wrong, you avoid crowds and parties.
Insecurity makes you read into everything and put out clingy vibes. Even the slightest rejection (or perception of rejection) can feel disastrous. Isolation becomes your solution.
You play out future conversations in your head in an effort to protect and prepare yourself. The result can be a veritable sabotage of relationships and social encounters.
Not trusting your friends’ sincerity, you convince yourself that they feel sorry for you and don’t truly want your company.
You may lose friendships altogether. Eventually, people stop inviting you or checking on you because you don’t show up, or you behave in passive-aggressive ways.
Getting and keeping a job may be difficult. Even if you get the job, your insecurity about being able to perform may eventually force you out.
On the positive side, experiencing your anxiety in an authentic way can lead you to your true friends. And those people will understand that your setbacks are only temporary. When you experience that kind of compassion, it’s easier to set your sights on the next opportunity to engage, knowing you are truly wanted.
How Anxiety Affects Your Life In A Physical Way
Chronic stress increases the risk of mental illness and the proclivity toward mood and anxiety disorders later in life. While the starting point in this scenario is stress, not anxiety, the two often go hand-in-hand, even when the stress is more obvious.
What’s important here is that chronic stress actually changes the brain by increasing myelin production. Myelin is the sheathing surrounding the brain’s white matter, which comprises the axons that are the “connectors” in the brain. Over-production of myelin causes a disruption in the delicate balance of timing and communication in the brain.
Stressful social encounters can decrease the survivability of new neurons in the brain, especially in the hippocampus, which is the seat of memory, emotions, learning and neurogenesis.
Translate those effects to anxiety, and you can see how stress and anxiety become a tag team in a downward spiral.
Anxiety compromises your immune system and indirectly predisposes you to heart disease. Healthcare providers don’t always make the connection between cardiac symptoms and underlying anxiety.
Pain, Insomnia, Heart Disease And Low Sex Drive
Anxiety can wreak havoc with your GI tract. There is a direct relationship between stress/anxiety/depression and GI issues. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) flare-ups are common after stressful experiences.
Headaches are common with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Fatigue is common with major depressive disorder and GAD.
Insomnia, a tendency to sleep excessively and sleep disturbance. The anxious mind is prone to rumination and chronic worry, making it difficult to fall asleep or to get quality sleep. At the opposite end of the spectrum is sleeping too much, whether as an escape or from utter mental exhaustion.
Heart disease. Anxiety puts extra stress on the heart. There is also a direct link between depression and heart disease.
High blood pressure. Episodes of anxiety can cause temporary spikes in blood pressure, which then cause damage to vessels, the heart and kidneys.
Weight gain or loss without dieting. You may even experience a change in appetite.
Low sex drive. Sexual desire is a positive emotion. When you’re struggling to feel any positivity in your life — and especially if you’re also sleep-deprived — a libido is tough to come by.
Muscle tension and pain. In addition to episodic pain, you are also at higher risk of chronic pain disorders like arthritis and fibromyalgia. There is a lot of truth to the saying that “depression and anxiety hurt.”
Shorter life expectancy. Sad as it is to see in writing, it shouldn’t be surprising. The combination of suffering relationships, social isolation and negative physical effects can actually truncate your life span.
Neurofeedback and Somatic Treatments
When you read these lists of how anxiety affects your life, you may think that all hope is lost. But advanced treatments like neurofeedback can begin to reduce your anxiety even in the first 2 or 3 sessions. Neurofeedback can be used for pain management, as well.
Somatic or body-centered psychotherapy is a holistic approach to healing and releasing sensations from past traumas trapped in the body. The mind and body are viewed and treated as one entity, capable of healing itself of its own accord when given the right environment and conditions.
Anxiety doesn’t have to be your downfall. It even has gifts to offer when embraced and used in a positive way. Successful athletes and performers often attest to a certain amount of anxiety that precedes their performances.
Once you know how anxiety affects your life, you can take steps to either optimize it or mitigate it. Either way, your strategy starts with self-awareness and doing that one thing that is often so difficult for the anxious person: reaching out for help.
If you are able to come to my office in either Santa Monica or Torrance, and you think I can help, please reach out to me on my confidential voicemail 310-314-6933 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.