Physical Ways Anxiety & Depression Can Harm The Body

If you’re one of the 40 million American adults who suffers from anxiety, or you count yourself among the 19 million Americans who battle depression, then you don’t need me to tell you that mental illness literally hurts. At best, depression causes all-over body aches, while chronic anxiety results in stiff muscles, jaw pain, and headaches. On a more serious scale, both anxiety and depression can increase your risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. 

Even if you don’t currently struggle with an anxiety disorder or depressive episodes, learning about the physical manifestations of anxiety and depression is still a good idea. Millions of Americans deal with the health risks of mental illness on a daily basis, and even if you're not one of them, there’s a pretty good chance you know and love someone who is struggling.  

Moreover, now that the majority of Americans are dealing with post-election stress and depression on top of their day-to-day anxiety and/or depression symptoms, staying informed about how the mind affects the body is probably more important than ever. The best thing any of us can do right now is take care of ourselves — because only then will we have the mental and physical strength to take care of and protect one another in the coming days. 

Anxiety And Depression Mess With Appetite 

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I'm fairly certain that anyone who suffers from anxiety and depression would cite changes in appetite as one of their most consistent side effects — I know I would. As Gary Kennedy, MD, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York, told Everyday Health back in 2012, "Loss of appetite can be an early sign of depression or a warning of a depression relapse. On the other hand, some people can't stop eating when they are depressed." Unfortunately, appetite is one area where the connection between mental and physical health is pretty much impossible to avoid, and experts aren't 100 percent sure why. In the case of depression, changes in appetite often occur because depression sufferers are hit hard by a lack of energy and interest in all things, including food.  

When it comes to anxiety, there are a few possible causes for decreased or increased appetite. When anxiety causes someone to want to overeat, it's probably because eating is their go-to coping mechanism. According to Calm Clinic, if an anxious person is overeating, it's most likely because food allows them to "experience a flood of positive neurotransmitters — brain chemicals that cause them to feel good." 

Conversely, when anxiety makes food lose it's appeal, there's not just one possible reason. The experts over at Calm Clinic speculate that the reason "anxiety reduces hunger in some people is because the excess stomach acids simply create the 'full' feeling for longer, and chemicals that signal hunger no longer reach the brain." However, since most people with anxiety also suffer from a serotonin imbalance — and serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating mood and hunger — it's possible that anxious people consistently lose their appetite simply because they don't have enough serotonin to maintain a healthy appetite. 

Anxiety Can Cause Skin To Age Faster

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So let me be clear about this: it's OK to age. the last thing I would ever want to do is add to the ridiculous amount of pressure that women are put under to look 25 forever. Aging is a perfectly natural part of life, and wrinkles are nothing to be ashamed of. Period. All of that said, premature aging isn't great for you, and sometimes it shows up on our face.

 It's important to remember that being physically healthy isn't the only requirement for aging well — mental health also plays a role in how we age. In fact, anxiety can actually cause skin to age faster than it shouldWhen anxiety is triggered, the body's "fight or flight" reaction is set into motion, causing excess blood to be redistributed to our muscles. While this abrupt change of blood flow is awesome if you're running for your life or whatever, prolonged overexposure to this reaction is terrible for your skin, causing premature aging. 

Anxiety And Depression Can Cause Chronic Headaches 

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As the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports, "people with a co-occurring anxiety disorder and migraines have an increased likelihood of experiencing major depression; as many as 40% of patients with migraine also experience depression." Also according to the ADAA, people who struggle with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) are at a particularly high risk of experiencing chronic and co-occurring headaches, and research also suggests a link between anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, and migraine headaches

The good news is there are amply ways to fight headaches naturally and avoid headache triggers

Anxiety Can Cause Jaw Pain 

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If you struggle with an anxiety disorder of any kind, then you probably don't need me to tell you that anxiety can cause jaw pain — but since anxiety and chronic stress have been linked to jaw pain at best and Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) at worst, I think we need to talk about it. 

Because anxiety makes your whole body tense up, people with anxiety (like myself) will often clench their jaws and/or tense the muscles in their faces without even realizing it. What's more is, anxious people typically clench their jaws and grind their teeth in their sleep as well. Inevitably, all of that pressure leads to near-constant jaw pain. Even worse, as Calm Clinic points out, "anxiety can make what would be regular jaw pain feel more pronounced, so less jaw pain feels more painful because your mind can't stop focusing on the discomfort." So basically, anxiety and jaw pain are a vicious cycle. 

Luckily, there are actually lots of home remedies for treating anxiety in general, and anxiety-induced jaw pain in particular. For the latter, I recommend a hot cup of peppermint tea and a jaw massage

Anxiety Can Cause Hot And Cold Flashes 

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Iron deficiencies, hypothyroidism, and a number of other physical ailments can cause chills. Conversely, everything from hormone disorders to hypoglycemia to certain medications can cause hot flashes. So if you've been dealing with lots of hot and cold flashes lately, then you should see your doctor about it so you can rule out any physical condition as the culprit.

That said, since anxiety excites our sympathetic nervous system in the same way that hormonal fluctuations do, it's quite possible that any hot and/or cold flashes you might be experiencing could be from your anxiety alone. If you think this might be the case for you, make an appointment with your primary care physician to talk about it. 

The Bottom Line

Untreated anxiety and depression can rule your life and wreck your physical health, so don't be ashamed to get help if you deal with either (or both) of these conditions. If you're going without health insurance right now, know that being uninsured doesn't mean you have to go without care. Don't underestimate the toll poor mental health can take on your overall well-being. Instead, check out these affordable alternatives to therapy, and find as many positive ways to manage your mental health as you can. 

Images: Pexels, Giphy/(5)

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