As reports of an increase in cases and deaths from COVID-19 are reported on a daily basis and the need to continue to socially-distance drags on this winter, more and more people are noticing physical responses that could be signs and symptoms of anxiety. It is important to note that any physical symptoms should be evaluated by a medical professional. In the absence of a medical cause, it can be assumed that the physical symptoms may be the result of emotional distress. What are some of these physical indicators of anxiety? Here are few:
Shortness of breath and chest pain – It is important to note that shortness of breath and chest pain associated with anxiety will be different than similar symptoms from COVID-19. The symptoms will last for a shorter time, more like ten to thirty minutes and will not be accompanied by other symptoms of illness. Why do people experience these symptoms when anxious or nervous? Our brain is wired to respond to fearful situations with the fight or flight response. The heart rate increases to pump blood to the organs faster, which readies the muscles for action. It also causes a person to breathe more quickly to provide more oxygen to the muscles. The physical result can be shortness of breath. Readying the muscles for action can lead to increased muscle tension, and in your chest this tension may become painful. When your heart beats faster and stronger, that combined with tightened chest muscles, can cause you to feel this unusual and frightening pain.
Gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, diarrhea, and nausea – The gut has hundreds of millions of neurons which can function fairly independently and are in constant communication with the brain, explaining the ability to feel “butterflies” in the stomach. Stress can affect this brain-gut communication, and may trigger pain, bloating and other gut discomfort to be felt more easily. The gut is also inhabited by millions of bacteria which can influence its health and the brain’s health which can impact the ability to think and affect emotions. Stress is associated with changes in gut bacteria which in turn can influence mood. Thus, the gut’s nerves and bacteria strongly influence the brain and vice versa. Early life stress or trauma can change the development of the nervous system as well as how the body reacts to stress. These changes can increase the risk for later gut diseases or dysfunction.
Sleep disturbance and fatigue – Sleep disturbance has long been recognized as a common symptom of anxiety. People who are experiencing worry often ruminate about their concerns in bed, and this anxiety at night can keep them from falling and remaining asleep. In fact, a state of mental hyperarousal, frequently marked by chronic worry, has been identified as a key factor causing sleep problems.