Anxiety disorders, caused by many factors, such as stress, trauma, and more, are the most common mental health concern nationally. Over 40 million adults that live in the United States have an anxiety disorder1. While there’s a lot of different kinds of anxiety forms out there, there are many questions that come with the subject of anxiety.
Does anxiety make you tired? What does anxiety do to your body? Let’s dive further into the topic.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is different from anxiety disorders. Anxiety is the familiar feeling of fear, dread, and uneasiness—a normal reaction to a stressful event or difficult times. A specific stressor usually triggers the feeling of anxiety—a response to toxic situations with a start and ending point.
On the other hand, anxiety disorders are different from general anxiety—a subcategory of stress. Anxiety disorders are mental illnesses that cause the human body to experience anxious events more often and abnormally than those without anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders often come out of nowhere, and they’re ongoing, lasting for weeks or months at a time3.
While anxiety has many causes and effects, some are more common than others. Different anxiety disorders types include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Selective mutism
- Social anxiety disorder
- Separation anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Because of the many different anxiety disorders, symptoms may be difficult to spot and lead to various anxiety disorders. General signs and symptoms for anxiety disorders include:
- Feeling restless
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Having a rough time controlling feelings of worry
- Sleeping issues (insomnia)3
Temporary or chronic anxiety can result in a buildup of stress, trauma, personality disorder, genetic anxiety disorders, drug or alcohol abuse, or other mental health issues, such as depression.
What Does Anxiety Do to Your Body?
Anxiety is categorized as a mental illness—a disorder/phenomenon occurring in the brain. Many think that anxiety only affects the brain, but since the brain controls every aspect of your body, anxiety can also affect your body4.
Memory is one of the most vital functions of the human body. Anxiety causes stress in different parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus—an area of the brain which represents the highest level of response to stress—and the amygdala—a part of the brain responsible for assessing the emotional experiences of memories5.
Anxiety and stress cause functional and structural changes in the hippocampus and the amygdala by increasing the concentration of stress hormones, which directly causes declarative memory disorders, both short-term and long-term.
Cognition deals with the reception and perception of perceived stimuli, and it’s also responsible for the interpretation, including qualities like learning, decision-making, attention, and judgment6.
Stress and anxiety affect cognition depending on the intensity, duration, origin, and magnitude. Pressure within the brain can cause decision-making skills to be disrupted. Stress and anxiety can also cause a person’s attention span to decrease, faulting their judgment and decision-making skills overall significantly.
Because of anxiety’s impact on the hippocampus, frontal lobe, and amygdala, a person’s learning ability can be disabled. With short-term memory problems and a decreased attention span, the traditional classroom setting is often inappropriate for someone with severe anxiety problems. Generally, additional steps need to be taken by someone with anxiety to successfully learn a topic or an idea7.
The prevailing attitude between anxiety/stress and the immune system response is that people under stress and anxiety are more likely to have an impaired immune system and suffer from illnesses more frequently. This is due to pressure modulating the processes within the central nervous system and the neuroendocrine system8.
Because the immune system can alter other hormones, one of those hormones is related to the growth hormone. During the teenage years (puberty), long-term administration of stress and anxiety can cause a person’s growth to be altered or disrupted.
An extended amount of stress causes an increase in heart rate, strength of contraction, vasodilation in the arteries of skeletal muscles, a narrowing of the veins, contraction of the arteries in the spleen and kidneys, and a decreased sodium excretion by the kidneys. All of these effects can have other impacts that branch out further9.
Most often, anxiety causes an unusual heart rate. Depending on the direction of the shift in the response, the heartbeat can either increase or decrease at times; both of those are abnormal and can be dangerous. This can lead to a sudden increase in blood pressure and blood lipids, disorders in blood clotting, vascular changes, atherogenesis, which can cause problems such as cardiac arrhythmias.
Stress and anxiety significantly impact appetite. Because of abnormal nutrition patterns, your body may demand lacking nutrition and vitamins depending on the process. The gastrointestinal complications could arise from eating foods that don’t provide good nutritional value to the body, causing many other issues within the body to occur10.
Combining gastrointestinal issues with memory issues can have their problems. For example, a person forgetting to drink water, eat a specific type of food, or take their vitamin supplements on time could hinder their overall health over the long run.
There isn't a direct relationship between the endocrine system and anxiety, but it’s worth mentioning. Stress and anxiety can activate or change endocrine processes associated with the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands, adrenergic systems, gonads, thyroid, and pancreas11.
The impact mainly stems from stress and anxiety affecting other systems within the body that later affect the endocrine system.
Anxiety and Fatigue
Fatigue is generally a topic that deserves its section due to the effects that anxiety has on fatigue.
Results from multiple tests, studies, and analyses have shown that anxiety symptoms were significantly associated with fatigue, controlling for sex, education, and general health indices. Additionally, there was a considerable overlap for the genetic risk factors that arise from anxiety symptoms12.
Anxiety may also cause you to become restless. With stress comes feelings of overthinking, worries about life events, day events, or even sleeping that night. Because of this phenomenon, sleep isn’t usually completed to the full extent—an individual may get only a few hours of sleep if that. That’s another way that anxiety can cause fatigue to occur.
Often, with severe anxiety, insomnia may be developed and diagnosed in an individual. Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep or cause you to wake up too early. Insomnia is the most significant contributor to daytime fatigue.
In general, there are many different types of fatigue that an individual can experience. Correlating anxiety and the different kinds of fatigue can be difficult for researchers due to the many factors involved with both anxiety and fatigue.
There are six types of fatigue:
- Chronic illness
While anxiety may not directly link with all six types of fatigue, there is a connection with almost every one of the six types of fatigue. Social fatigue can result from social anxiety, emotional and mental fatigue stems from anxiety, stress, and depression, and chronic illness fatigue occurs from the tension generated from chronic anxiety.
Sleep anxiety is another form of fatigue. In definition, sleep anxiety is the feeling of stress or fear about going to sleep. Individuals with sleep anxiety may be apprehensive about not falling asleep, not staying asleep, or trauma from sleeping. Sleep and psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety, go hand-in-hand13.
If you have anxiety, you’ll often find yourself not being able to fall asleep properly or stay sleeping at night. This could stem from anxiety, insomnia, or somniphobia (fear of falling/staying asleep).
Long-Term Effects of Anxiety
There are many short-term effects of anxiety that many researchers have analyzed over the last several decades. With long-term effects of anxiety, research is still being done on the topic, but research and studies have shown that some of these possible long-term effects of anxiety on the body include:
- Heart/cardiovascular issues
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Various illnesses from a decreased immune system
- Gastrointestinal disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Long-term memory issues
- Chronic migraines14
While an individual may be more focused on short-term anxiety issues on the body, they shouldn’t ignore the long-term effects of anxiety on the body.