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How Much Is Too Much?

We all worry from time to time, but if you can’t shake it after a few weeks or it starts to get in the way of your normal work or home life, talk to your doctor. It can take a toll on your health and might be linked to an anxiety disorder. Therapy, drugs, and other strategies can help.

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neurons illustration
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Nervous System

This messaging network is made up of your brain, spinal cord, nerves, and special cells called neurons. Worrying too much can trigger it to release "stress hormones" that speed up your heart rate and breathing, raise your blood sugar, and send more blood to your arms and legs. Over time, this can affect your heart, blood vessels, muscles, and other systems

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Muscles

When you’re troubled about something, the muscles in your shoulder and neck can tense up, and that can lead to migraines or tension headaches. Massage or relaxation techniques, like deep breathing and yoga, may help.

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man using inhaler
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Breathing

If you’re worried a lot, you might breathe more deeply or more often without realizing it. While this usually isn’t a big deal, it can be serious if you already have breathing problems linked to asthma, lung disease, or other conditions. 

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Heart

If it sticks around long enough, something as small as a nagging concern in the back of your mind can affect your heart. It can make you more likely to have high blood pressure, a heart attack, or a stroke. Higher levels of anxiety can trigger those stress hormones that make your heart beat faster and harder. If that happens over and over, your blood vessels may get inflamed, which can lead to hardened artery walls, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and other problems. 

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Blood Sugar

When you’re worried about something, stress hormones also give you a burst of fuel (in the form of blood sugar). This can be a good thing if you need to run from danger, but what happens if you don’t use that fuel? Your body normally stores it to use later. But sometimes, if you’re overweight or have diabetes, for example, your blood sugar can stay too high for too long. This can lead to heart disease, strokes, or kidney disease.

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sick woman using computer
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Immune System

If your body is affected by the physical effects of worry, it may not fight germs as well. Just thinking about things that made you angry or depressed in the past can take a toll. It can make it harder for you to fend off the flu, herpes, shingles, and other viruses. 

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man on couch stomach ache
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Stomach

You may feel “butterflies” in your stomach when you’re nervous -- in more serious times, you may feel nauseous or even vomit. If this happens often, it can lead to stomach pain and sores in your stomach lining (ulcers). And if you eat a lot of foods high in fat and sugar, your stomach has to work harder to digest them, and that makes more acid. This can cause acid reflux -- when acid flows up into your throat.

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Intestines

Constant fretting can affect your bowel habits -- you could have diarrhea or find it hard to go to the bathroom. Diet, exercise, and over-the-counter medicines can often help, but you might be able to keep these problems from happening if you find ways to calm your anxiety.

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Sexual Health

Worry can tire you out and distract you so you’re less interested in sex. Over the long term, it can lower a man’s levels of the sex hormone testosterone. That can affect sperm development and slow or stop his body’s normal response when he wants to have sex. For women who have gone through menopause, it can make hot flashes and sleep issues worse.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 7/17/2017 Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on July 17, 2017

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SOURCES:

American Psychological Association: “Stress Weakens the Immune System,” “How Stress Affects The Body.”

Anxiety And Depression Association Of America: “Managing Anxiety.”

Clujul Medical: “Anxiety and IBS revisited: ten years later.”

Gastroenterology and Hepatology From Bed to Bench: “Psychological disorders in patients with chronic constipation.”

Harvard Health Publications: “Why stress causes people to overeat,” “The gut-brain connection.”

Medscape: “Severe Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Symptoms in Relation to Anxiety, Depression and Coping in a Population-Based Study.”

NIH Health and Human Services Manuscript: “Anxiety and Depression: Linkages with Viral Diseases.”

Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity: “High anxiety:

Recognizing stress as the stressor.”

Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on July 17, 2017

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.