The Physical Side of Anxiety – World Mental Health Day 2017

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Today, for World Mental Health Day, I’ve decided to talk about something that doesn’t seem to get spoken about much, the physical side of a mental health issue. Something I have dealt with since I was younger is anxiety, despite being a mental illness, anxiety also comes with a whooooole lot of physical side affects which are often ignored/not spoke about. There is a certain lack of information provided on the physical symptoms caused by anxiety which in some cases can then lead to further stress and worry! I have spent a lot of time over the past few years researching these physical side affects as even after being diagnosed with anxiety I was never told of them. Today I wanted to do a post where I spoke to other people who suffer with anxiety to show those struggling in silence that they aren’t alone in the way they are feeling.

According to the World Health Organisation1 in 4 people in the world will be affected by a mental or neurological disorder at some point in their life, and although treatments are available, nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health care professional. The stigma surrounding mental health is one of the lead causes for these people never seeking help, which is why it is becoming increasingly important to get rid of the stigma surrounding mental health and to do this we must talk about it in order for people to understand.

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As you will know if you have read my anxiety and panic attacks post, I was diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder when I was 17 and it is only in the past year or two I have became comfortable enough to openly speak about it without feeling awkward or embarrassed. I spoke to some people on Twitter and Instagram who also suffer with anxiety as research for this post and over half of the people I spoke to said they put off going to the doctors due to the fear of being told there was nothing wrong with them, or that there was nothing that the doctors could do for them.

Speaking from personal experience, there is so much out there for anxiety, you just have to find a doctor who listens to you and takes you seriously, sometimes this can take a few attempts which can be stressful, I know. For example, the first time I ever plucked up the courage to go to the doctors I was sent away with an inhaler and was told it could be the start of adult asthma! Thankfully, a little while later I found a doctor who really helped me and understood and that’s when I realised there is actually so much out there to help anxiety and other mental health issues, for example, I have tried medication, two 10 week courses of cognitive behavioural therapy and hypnotherapy. It’s so important to know that if you’re putting off going to the doctors in the fear that they’ll do nothing for you that there is sooooo much out there that can help, you just need to make the first step in getting that help and often that can just be speaking to someone about what you’re going through whether it be a health professional or a family member/friend.

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Now at 21, it’s taken me 3/4 years to realise how many physical symptoms are actually a result of anxiety. Whether it’s when I’m very consciously aware that I’m feeling anxious/panicky/stressed or when I’m feeling okay and the anxiety is all sub-conscious, there are so many physical side effects that never seem to get spoken about.

<3 Some of the physical symptoms of anxiety I have experienced are:

Panic Attacks
Although I am lucky in that I don’t suffer with panic attacks anywhere near as much as I used to, they are very much a physical result of anxiety. For me I hyperventilate, can’t breathe, get pins & needles in my whole body, cry, feel like I need to either get out of wherever I am (if it’s a public place) or if I’m by myself, curl up in a ball, I also tend to feel completely disoriented and out of control of my body for the whole time it lasts.

Headaches
I get a really bad headache whenever I’ve been in a situation that’s made me feel the slightest bit anxious, whether it’s going to the doctors, having an interview or doing a presentation, for about an hour after I’ll have the worst headache, this is known as an adrenaline headache. These headaches are caused by the body releasing adrenaline in order to help you deal with a stressful situation, adrenaline belongs to a family of chemicals called ‘amines’ that have been known to trigger headaches and migranes.

Shortness of breath/unable to breathe deeply
This one’s a really odd one to explain, it comes and go’s even when I’m not consciously aware that I’m anxious. It’s the feeling of when I breathe, not being able to breathe fully, or deeply and being very aware of my breathing. This is paired with excessive yawning, which seems to be the only way to properly catch my breath. This is caused by your body reacting to stress, this doesn’t necessarily have to be stress that you’re aware of, if you’re sub-consciously anxious this stresses the body which can cause fight or flight which can alter the way you breathe (generally more rapidly- but not hyperventilating). The excessive yawning is a result of your brain thinking that you’re not getting enough air due to this rapid breathing.

Rash/blotchy skin
Since I can remember in absolutely any situation where I’ve felt embarrassed/anxious/worried/stressed, I get a ‘stress rash’ all across my chest, the tops of my arms and my cheeks, the skin goes bright red, boiling and blotchy. This can be a result of the state of tension stress puts your body in which causes a release of cortisol and adrenaline into your blood stream, causing rashes/break-out’s, etc.

Feeling spaced out
The last few times I’ve felt panicky it’s started with waking up feeling just a bit weird. A bit shaky and spaced out and detached from the situation I’m in, like I’m not really there, kind of like I’d had a few too many glasses of wine! This then tends to lead on to feeling breathless and then getting that feeling as if I’m going to have a panic attack and wanting to leave whatever situation I was in.

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The NHS reported these symptoms as being the possible physical side affects of anxiety:

  • dizziness
  • tiredness
  • a noticeably strong, fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • muscle aches and tension
  • trembling or shaking
  • dry mouth
  • excessive sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • stomach ache
  • feeling sick
  • headache
  • pins and needles
  • difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia)

<3 I spoke to different people who suffer with anxiety about the physical symptoms they have experienced:

“When I feel anxious and feel a panic attack coming on I start to feel very agitated. I often feel like the room and my head is closing in on me and squeezing me into something small. Suddenly all the air in the room had gone and I’m hot and feel sick”.

“Anxiety makes me feel stressed, small, hot, sick, unable to breathe, unable to think. My heart feels like it’s going to beat out of my chest or I feel like I might collapse from lack of being able to breathe”

“Constant nausea to the point where I was actually sick in my car at the petrol station!”

“I get a burning feeling in my chest and my chest goes really red and blotchy and makes me feel like I can’t breathe. Also I feel like I wee all the time when my anxiety is bad but I think that’s because it get’s me out of situations that makes me anxious. And I get really bad panic attacks”

“I find that when I’m going through a particularly stressful time I struggle go for a number 2, if you know what I mean, but I wee loads!”

“Dramatic weight loss due to being too anxious to eat”

“At parties I get very anxious around people, I get sweaty palms, my heart rate rises, people think I’m being shy/funny with them but I’m not. Certain situations cause my chest to go tight, palms sweat and heart rate rises a lot”

When I’m anxious I feel hot and bothered like I can’t breathe and want to leave any situation I’m in immediately, I also struggle to sleep well”

<3 I also asked these people how they overcome these physical symptoms caused by their anxiety.

“I find breathing exercises and apps such as Calm and Headspace are really helpful”

“It sounds daft but I play Word Association in my head or with my boyfriend if I’m with him as it takes my mind off things and calms me down” 

“I like to spend time with my family or my friends or even my dog! Just as long as I’m not alone”

“When I’m anxious I go for a walk or even a run if I’m feeling up to it as I always have so much excess energy in my body that makes me feel agitated and restless, any form of exercise really helps me and it gets me out the house”

“I always have water with me because it makes me feel more calm taking a sip of that”

“I like to talk about it to someone. I’m a strong believer in a problem shared is a problem halved, my friends are probably bored of me talking their heads off when I feel panicky but it helps me and they’re so supportive”

“I try to rationally think through things making me anxious, like if I’m anxious about something happening I list all the reasons why it’s unlikely to happen or the things that I could do to deal with it if it does happen! Distracting myself with something is also good like baking or drawing! Sometimes I just have to ride it out and hope I feel better the next day”

When I feel panicky/anxious I like to go for a walk outside, it can be good to help regulate your breathing and clear your mind. I also like to watch TV programmes/films that I find comforting, as I’ve said before a few of these for me are Friends, The Holiday, Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging, Gavin & Stacey and Elf (all year round of course) you know those films/shows that make you feel all warm inside and you could watch over and over and over and over again? Spending time with people can help too, I prefer not to be alone when I’m having one of those days, even if you don’t want to talk about how you feel just being in someone else’s company can totally take your mind off the way you were feeling.

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If you’re struggling with anxiety or any other mental health issue then there is no better time than the present to speak to someone about it. No matter how alone you think you are in this there are so many people who will be feeling the same way you are and by opening up and talking about your struggles we are taking away the stigma surrounding mental health more and more every single day.

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about, be kind, always”

Thanks for reading,

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