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How Worrying Affects the Body

Are you an excessive worrier? Perhaps you subconsciously think that if you "worry enough," you can prevent bad things from happening. But the fact is, worrying can affect the body in ways that may surprise you. When worrying becomes excessive, it can lead to feelings of high anxiety and even cause you to be physically ill.

What Happens With Excessive Worrying?

Worrying is feeling uneasy or being overly concerned about a situation or problem. With excessive worrying, your mind and body go into overdrive as you constantly focus on "what might happen."

In the midst of excessive worrying, you may suffer with high anxiety -- even panic -- during waking hours. Many chronic worriers tell of feeling a sense of impending doom or unrealistic fears that only increase their worries. Ultra-sensitive to their environment and to the criticism of others, excessive worriers may see anything -- and anyone -- as a potential threat.

Chronic worrying affects your daily life so much that it interferes with your appetite, lifestyle habits, relationships, sleep, and job performance. Many people who worry excessively are so anxiety-ridden that they seek relief in harmful lifestyle habits such as overeating, cigarette smoking, or using alcohol and drugs.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. Ongoing anxiety, though, may be the result of a disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or social anxiety. Anxiety disorders are commonplace in the U.S., affecting nearly 40 million adults. Anxiety manifests itself in multiple ways and does not discriminate by age, gender, or race.

Stressful events such as a test or a job interview can make anyone feel a bit anxious. And sometimes, a little worry or anxiety is helpful. It can help you get ready for an upcoming situation. For instance, if you’re preparing for a job interview, a little worry or anxiety may push you to find out more about the position. Then you can present yourself more professionally to the potential employer. Worrying about a test may help you study more and be more prepared on test day.

But excessive worriers react quickly and intensely to these stressful situations or triggers. Even thinking about the situation can cause chronic worriers great distress and disability. Excessive worry or ongoing fear or anxiety is harmful when it becomes so irrational that you can’t focus on reality or think clearly. People with high anxiety have difficulty shaking their worries. When that happens, they may experience actual physical symptoms.

Can Excessive Worry and Anxiety Cause a Stress Response?

Stress comes from the demands and pressures we experience each day. Long lines at the grocery store, rush hour traffic, a phone ringing nonstop, or a chronic illness are all examples of things that can cause stress on a daily basis. When worries and anxiety become excessive, chances are you’ll trigger the stress response.

There are two elements to the stress response. The first is the perception of the challenge. The second is an automatic physiological reaction called the "fight or flight" response that brings on a surge of adrenaline and sets your body on red alert. There was a time when the "fight or flight" response protected our ancestors from such dangers as wild animals that could easily make a meal out of them. Although today we don't ordinarily encounter wild animals, dangers still exist. They’re there in the form of a demanding coworker, a colicky baby, or a dispute with a loved one.

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