Anxiety is becoming an increasingly common issue among many people today. If you are experiencing anxiety, it is essential to know that you are not alone in feeling this way.
You might have been able to link certain situations or thoughts to your anxiety episodes. However, did you know that the chemicals in your body also play a role?
A broader understanding of anxiety might enable you to gain some control over recurring anxiety in the future. Knowing how your body responds to anxiety can help.
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A little bit of anxiety in life is to be expected. Life, in general, is full of anxiety-provoking moments, like taking an exam or having to speak in public.
However, excessive amounts of anxiety can lead to anxiety disorders. At this point, you are no longer in control, and it can interfere with your daily life.
Common anxiety disorders include:
A person will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder if their anxiety persists for several months and affects several aspects of their life, like their personal relationships, work, or social interactions. Additionally, someone can also be diagnosed when their anxiety is based around a circumstance or threat that is not likely to cause them any harm.
Anxiety can be mild, moderate, or severe. There are different causes and ways of coping with it, and treatment for each person will vary.
Here are some common symptoms of anxiety:
Excessive worry or stress
Feeling on edge, irritated, or restless
Tiredness and fatigue
Inability to concentrate
Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
Avoiding certain situations
Other symptoms that may not be as common include:
Many people can link their feelings of anxiety to a stressful event, circumstance, or phobia. For instance, someone might be feeling anxious over a recurring work-related problem, a health issue, or a social event.
However, anxiety is not always linked to something in the present moment. In some cases, anxiety stems from something that happened in the past or they think may happen in the future.
These causes are known as external factors of anxiety because they are related to something outside your body. These can influence the way you think, making you feel anxious.
Internal factors, such as the chemicals within your body, also play a role. One chemical, in particular, is epinephrine, more commonly known as adrenaline.
When an external circumstance or worrying thoughts trigger your anxiety, chemicals within your body will respond, making you feel some of the symptoms mentioned above.
Epinephrine is just one chemical involved in your body’s response to anxiety. Other chemicals may also play a role. For example, a serotonin imbalance¹ may contribute to anxiety, as can high cortisol levels.
However, epinephrine is the primary chemical because it is directly involved in your anxiety symptoms. When you experience an anxious moment, the amount of epinephrine circulating in your body will instantly increase in response to whatever has triggered your anxiety.
Here are some of the effects epinephrine has on your body when you are feeling anxious:
Increased heart rate
Increased blood pressure
Increased blood flow to your muscles
Decreased blood flow to your digestive tract
Initiation of the fight or flight response
Compare the effects of epinephrine to your symptoms of anxiety. You will notice some of your symptoms are related to epinephrine.
When an external factor triggers your anxiety, epinephrine increases. From this increase, you will experience certain effects that contribute to your overall anxiety.
Epinephrine and stress
More epinephrine can also be released when you are feeling stressed. However, it is important to note that stress and anxiety are pretty similar. Because of this, what starts as stress can also lead to anxiety.
Stress occurs when you are under pressure to meet a deadline, expectation, or struggle to deal with a particular issue. Stress will typically go away once the source is eliminated.
However, anxiety occurs when you have worrying thoughts that persist and do not go away even when the source of the stress is gone.
As mentioned, what starts as stress can turn into anxiety. Initially, a stressful event or circumstance could have been present, but you continued to worry about it after it stopped.
Because of this, it can be tricky to distinguish stress from anxiety. Nevertheless, both can increase the amount of epinephrine circulating in your body and cause you to experience similar symptoms.
Is it possible to overcome or counteract the effects of epinephrine when you feel anxious? Yes, there are certainly some techniques you can do to deal with your body’s response to anxiety. Here are some of them.
If you experience anxiety often, exercise can be a good outlet for the excess epinephrine you have circulating through your body.
Experts² say the exact relationship between exercise and anxiety remains unclear. However, evidence suggests that physical activity can dampen your body’s response to stress and anxiety.
Another aspect of exercise is that physical activity and movement can relieve muscle tension caused by anxiety and improve blood pressure.
The best type of exercise to try is aerobic exercises; any will do. These include swimming, walking, running, cycling, rowing, or sports.
If aerobic exercises are not for you, there are other methods you can try, like yoga. Yoga is a combination of relaxation exercises and meditation.
The best thing about yoga is that you can do it at home if you do not want to leave the house or be part of a group.
Yoga can also be good for counteracting muscle tension, and it will help you clear your mind of worrying thoughts. If you can control your thoughts, you might be able to stop your body from responding to them.
Mindfulness and meditation
Since worrying thoughts are often the primary source of anxiety, finding ways to control these can prevent your body from responding to them.
While there are various mindfulness and meditation practices, the take-home message is that you use these techniques to achieve a state of calmness through “detached observation.” This means taking a step back from everything to feel more grounded in the present.
You can try mindfulness and meditation practices anywhere. While there are groups that offer classes around these practices, there are also a lot of resources online that offer guidance.
Take a break
When you are feeling anxious, you must remember to take better care of yourself during these moments. Taking a break³ from whatever is causing your anxiety might help.
To get the most out of these breaks, you need to prioritize them and dedicate this time to yourself. Some people find spending time in nature, reading, or doing a hobby is an excellent way to take a break.
However, you may find other ways better suited to you. Essentially, your breaks should be spent doing something enjoyable and relaxing.
Caffeine is a stimulant known to elevate epinephrine. However, if you feel that you cannot go without any caffeine, experts recommend that you limit the amount you have.
If you want to limit your caffeine intake, you can try beverages that contain less caffeine. For example, you could switch your cup of coffee to a cup of tea instead.
When you feel that you no longer have reasonable control over your anxiety, you should see a doctor. Anxiety can easily disrupt your life if you do not seek help for it sooner rather than later.
When anxiety gets worse, it can impact your sleep, health, concentration, relationships, or work. You might also start avoiding certain situations because of it.
If you notice anything like this or have any other concerns regarding your anxiety, you should not hesitate to see a doctor. No matter how small your problems may feel, it is essential that you address any concerns that you have.
If your doctor thinks it is necessary, they might prescribe you an anti-anxiety medication or refer you to a counselor.
Many people suffer from anxiety, and you are not alone in feeling this way. Anxiety is a condition that is not all in your head; the chemicals circulating in your body when you feel anxious also play a role.
Understanding this process might enable you to regain some control over your anxiety. However, if your anxiety is still concerning you, it would be wise to bring this up with your doctor.
Exercise and anxiety (2020)
Psychologists explore the type and frequency of breaks we need to refuel our energy and enhance our well-being | American Psychological Association