Any given physical issue can point toward a handful of underlying health problems. But one problem with a huge variety of symptoms is anxiety. Many ailments that seem purely physical could actually have this emotional root. The mind and body really are connected — after all, the mind is part of the body.
“Nearly all my clients with anxiety complain of physical symptoms as well,” therapist Amy McManus, LMFT, tells Bustle. “Anxiety often results in a continuous feedback loop with symptoms, so it is sometimes difficult to tell which one came first. Physical causes get inextricably intertwined with emotional causes. You’re worried that your stomachache might turn into loud rumbling at your meeting; you’re afraid that headache might keep you from focusing during that important presentation; you’re concerned that your backache will make that plane flight excruciating, etc. Your worry can make all those symptoms worse, so it’s impossible to know if there was originally a physical reason without a medical checkup.”
Of course, it’s very impossible that any given physical problem does have a physical cause. But if you’re dealing with anxiety, that possibility should be explored, too. Here are some common health problems that often stem from anxiety.
When we can’t sleep at night, it’s often because we’re worrying — sometimes about the insomnia itself. “We lie in bed thinking how tired we will be the next day, how bad for us it is to miss a good night’s sleep. This, ironically, keeps us awake even longer,” says McManus. “If you are having trouble sleeping, see if addressing your anxiety about sleeping helps you. In fact, just resting quietly in bed, even if you are unable to fall asleep, is very restorative for the body. The less you worry about how much you are sleeping that night, the more restorative it will be, and, ironically, the more likely that you will fall back asleep.”
Anxiety makes your body produce hormones called androgens, Caitlin Hoff, Health & Safety Investigator at ConsumerSafety.org, tells Bustle. These can cause acne on your face and back. One sign your breakouts may stem from anxiety is that they pop up in extra stressful situations.
Anxiety can make you tense up, leading to muscle aching and fatigue, says Hoff. Next time you’re stressed, pay attention to what your body’s doing. If you’re clenching any muscles, this could be the source of your pain.
Stress weakens your immune system, so if you’re getting a sick a lot, that could be the culprit, says Hoff. Taking on an overwhelming workload may pay off in the short term, but it could backfire in the long run, because you’ll have to take more sick days.
Anxiety can contribute to exhaustion by contributing to insomnia, but it can also contribute even if you easily fall asleep. You might be waking up at night without remembering, says Hoff, leading you to feel less rested the next day.
Anxiety can actually lower your blood sugar, mimicking symptoms of hypoglycemia, like shakiness, fatigue, and irritability, psychologist R.Y. Langham, MS, PhD tells Bustle.
Since it makes your nerves hyper-reactive, anxiety can interfere with digestion in several ways, including constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. Some of the symptoms of anxiety can mirror symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome or gastroenteritis, says Langham.
Before jumping to the conclusion that you have anxiety, see a doctor to investigate potential physical issues. If your health problems can’t be explained by those, mental causes are worth exploring.