How Worrying Affects the Body
Can Excessive Worry Make Me Physically Ill?
Chronic worry and emotional stress can trigger a host of health problems. The problem occurs when fight or flight is triggered daily by excessive worrying and anxiety. The fight or flight response causes the body’s sympathetic nervous system to release stress hormones such as cortisol. These hormones can boost blood sugar levels and triglycerides (blood fats) that can be used by the body for fuel. The hormones also cause physical reactions such as:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry mouth
- Fast heartbeat
- Inability to concentrate
- Muscle aches
- Muscle tension
- Nervous energy
- Rapid breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Trembling and twitching
When the excessive fuel in the blood isn’t used for physical activities, the chronic anxiety and outpouring of stress hormones can have serious physical consequences, including:
- Suppression of the immune system
- Digestive disorders
- Muscle tension
- Short-term memory loss
- Premature coronary artery disease
- Heart attack
If excessive worrying and high anxiety go untreated, they can lead to depression and even suicidal thoughts.
Although these effects are a response to stress, stress is simply the trigger. Whether or not you become ill depends on how you handle stress. Physical responses to stress involve your immune system, your heart and blood vessels, and how certain glands in your body secrete hormones. These hormones help to regulate various functions in your body, such as brain function and nerve impulses.
All of these systems interact and are profoundly influenced by your coping style and your psychological state. It isn’t the stress that makes you ill. Rather, it’s the effect responses such as excessive worrying and anxiety have on these various interacting systems that can bring on the physical illness. There are things you can do, though, including lifestyle changes, to alter the way you respond.