Anxiety and the Dangers of Stress Hormones to Our Health

Updated on June 23, 2020
louiseelcross profile image

I'm not an expert on anxiety, but I am a long time sufferer. I have found techniques that will help calm and manage your anxiety.

Anxiety: My Experience

Anxiety is dangerous for your health and more than ever we are sat silently worrying. I am writing about the dangers of ongoing anxiety and the effects of stress hormones on our bodies to bring awareness to readers of their own anxieties. Bringing awareness enables us to address what we are worrying about and do something about it before the stress hormones do damage to our physical and mental health.

I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder over fifty years ago so I have some understanding and knowledge of anxiety and how it feels. I have developed ways of dealing with anxiety, often intense anxiety, in quick and easy ways that I will share with you in the hopes that you too find relief from anxiety.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is the feeling of fear we feel when we are not certain about something that is happening in our lives. We feel doubtful about ourselves and we are constantly worrying about, and fearing the future and what and might or might not happen. These feelings of anxiety and stress are caused by stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that are released into the body when we start feeling anxious and afraid. The feelings are our body's survival instincts automatically reacting to our fearful thoughts. We frighten ourselves with the thoughts that we entertain and when we do that we experience anxiety. The problem is when we do not know what we are silently saying to ourselves all day long and are unaware of how our worried thinking is causing us to feel anxious

Feelings or symptoms of anxiety can range from mild anxiety which leaves us to feel a bit uncomfortable or, severe anxiety which can make you feel like you are going insane. Intense anxiety and panic attacks can also make you feel hysterical inside.

We all have experienced anxiety at some level in our lives and mild anxiety is okay and perfectly normal. We might feel worried and anxious about going on a date for the first time, sitting an exam, going for a job interview or having a medical test and these are normal and healthy feelings of anxiety. These kinds of anxieties usually pass quickly when the challenge is dealt with. But, If we continue to worry and feel anxious on a long term level then it is time to learn to control that anxiety, to try and reduce the long term damage that anxiety-producing stress hormones can cause to our bodies.

How to Recognize Anxiety in Yourself and Others
How to Recognize Anxiety in Yourself and Others | Source

Effects of Stress Hormone's on Health

Cortisol is one 'fight or flight' chemical, a stress hormone naturally produced by the adrenal glands and triggered to assist us in dealing with life challenges. Too much of this and other stress hormones can cause damage to our physical and mental health. For example, when we perceive something as a threat, either a real or imagined threat, cortisol is released into the body. It causes our blood vessels to constrict, our heart to beat faster and muscles to tense in response to the perceived threat. Cortisol, along with adrenaline, another stress hormone, acts as a stimulant to help us with extra energy when it is triggered by a stressful event. Those who suffer from anxiety need to find a way to reduce their cortisol levels. Why?

Although cortisol is in fact a good chemical that gives the body extra energy and focus to overcome life challenges, too much cortisol can be damaging and cause havoc to our health and immune system. When cortisol is triggered through fear and panic the immune system shuts down as the body prepares to flee. Repeated triggering of cortisol through anxious thinking causes more anxiety and possible panic attacks, and, excessive cortisol exacerbates existing anxiety disorders. The cycle of worry and triggering of stress hormones like cortisol needs to be managed to protect our body from further damage.

Cortisol is also an anti-inflammatory hormone, and its dysfunction or imbalance through the experience of anxiety can result in widespread inflammation for those suffering from anxiety and Immune disorders or conditions like Fibromyalgia and Raynauds syndrome.

How do you control cortisol?
How do you control cortisol? | Source

My Experience of Anxiety

In my experience anxiety feel a sense of dread and impending doom and the worst possible scenario outcome thoughts and images running around in my head. My first physical symptom of an anxiety attack is that I feel like there is a tight band around my throat. It feels like I am being strangled and it's hard for me to swallow. Then I become aware of my stomach that feels bad with a horrible sensation of lurching with fear and I feel sick. My stomach feels as if it is screaming hysterically and my breathing becomes faster and more shallow while my heartbeat increases. Often during an anxiety attack, the pain in my chest would leave me feeling anxious and scared that I was having a heart attack. Costochondritis is a pain in the chest that can accompany anxiety and mimic the pain of a heart attack. I was in constant pain because my stress levels affected my other conditions causing raised inflammation levels.

Why Do We Feel Anxious?

Anxiety for many of us is a physical and emotional response to fearful thinking. Worrying causes us to feel stressed and have physical and psychological symptoms. Once stress hormones are released into our body causing butterflies in the stomach or some other symptom of stress, our immune system begins to shut down.

Whether we are aware or not, anxiety is caused by negative thinking, either consciously or subconsciously which leads to the feeling of fear. When we worry and create negative images in our mind about things that may or may not happen in the future, we experience fear within us. Our emotions are just feedback from the thoughts we are having on a conscious or subconscious level. If we are feeling bad, uncomfortable and scared it is because some inner thought has scared us and we have triggered stress hormones.

Health Risks of Anxiety

There are many risks to our health as a result of anxiety and this is why it is important to take control of anxiety. Whenever we become anxious and do not manage our anxieties, we get closer to a more serious health concern.

Our central nervous system becomes imbalanced when cortisol and other stress hormones are surging through our body, flooding the brain. The body gets overwhelmed and then there is a knock-on effect with our body chemicals equilibrium. When this happens we might develop dizziness or headaches.

It has been found that the stress hormone cortisol can cause weight gain.

If you repeatedly feel anxious and stressed or anxiety lasts a long time and is not managed, your body never gets the signal to return to normal functioning. This can weaken your body's natural immune system, leaving you feeling fatigued more vulnerable to viral infections and frequent illnesses. Also, your regular vaccines and other medicines may not work as well if you have anxiety because your internal chemistry is out of balance due to the stress hormones surging through our body.

Anxiety causes a rapid heart rate, palpitations, and chest pain. More stress is put on our heart and body functioning when we experience anxiety and this could result in an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. If you already have a heart condition the effects of anxiety put you at risk of a heart attack.

Anxiety affects the stomach and the digestive system and can cause nausea, diarrhoea, ulcers, stomach pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammation and other problems of the stomach.

Too much anxiety is bad for our immune system which can trigger symptoms of another illness, leaving you feeling exhausted. This is because your body is not in a state of equilibrium.

As anxiety can leave you feeling breathless, if you are suffering from chronic obstructive disorder, (COD) or asthma, an anxiety or panic attack can put you at risk of needing hospitalisation to help with breathing.

Physical and Emotional Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Increase in heart rate
  • Heart problems
  • Tense muscles
  • Headaches
  • Constant internal negative dialogue (self-talk)
  • Feeling tense, nervous and on edge
  • Feeling powerless and scared
  • Being extremely self critical
  • Sweating and trembling
  • Negative and racing thoughts,
  • Insomnia (sleep problems)
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Feeling a sense of dread, or fearing the worst
  • Feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down
  • Feeling like other people can see you’re anxious and are looking at you
  • Feeling your mind is really busy with thoughts which can be intrusive
  • Dwelling on negative experiences and reliving them, or thinking over a situation over and over.
  • Feeling restless and not being able to concentrate
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling light headed or dizzy
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Sensations of pins and needles
  • Hot flushes
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Increased widespread pain
  • Needing the toilet more
  • Adrenal fatigue
  • Constant uncomfortable churning of the stomach

Become Aware of Your Thoughts

Becoming aware of what you are thinking about all day long is a life-changing experience for many especially when they become aware of their inner thoughts. Until I sat and really listened to myself and the negative, critical and painful dialogue that was going on within me, I could not change my anxiety. Words and phrases in my own head like, 'You are stupid, backward, pointless, ugly', and other negative stuff led me to believe and feel worthless and anxious. Once I am aware of the source of my anxiety I can take steps to manage my thoughts and anxiety triggers.

It is truly important to listen to yourself. Give yourself fifteen minutes a day to sit quietly and hear how you speak to yourself. When you listen to your inner voice, do you hear loving and supportive words making you feel good inside speaking to you from within yourself? Or, do you hear and feel not so loving thoughts and feelings, you should feel afraid and anxious. Become conscious of what you are thinking. Consciously use kind words when you speak to yourself.

Effects of Cortisol on the Body
Effects of Cortisol on the Body

Identifying Anxiety

Anxiety can be managed through a number of techniques, however, the first step is to identify the specific situations or people that ignite the feeling of anxiety. Identify how you feel anxiety and where you feel it in your body so that you become aware of your anxiety and are able to identify it.

One method to help in identifying what is causing the anxiety is by keeping a diary or a note of your symptoms and what was happening when you became aware of feeling different and feeling anxious. Ask yourself questions such as;

  • What am I afraid of?
  • What triggered my anxiety?
  • What am I scared of?
  • What was I doing when I started to feel bad?
  • What was I thinking about just now when I felt anxious?
  • What memories was I experiencing that made me feel anxious?

Write down your answers. Put your anxieties into words so that you can see them clearly. It is also beneficial to identify and document any specifically worrying thoughts as these can help to identify the specific problem that is at the cause of the anxiety. Once you have identified the cause of your anxiety there are a few things you can do to help you manage your anxiety and your triggers of anxiety.

Reduce And Manage Anxiety Naturally

There are a number of ways that we can reduce the feeling of anxiety once we understand what is causing the anxiety. However, the first step to reducing anxiety is to identify the specific situations that trigger the symptoms of anxiety and the feeling of fear. Study yourself until you find and recognise your triggers. Once you identify the triggers that make you feel uncomfortable you can address them.

  1. In an emergency when you are feeling all the feelings of an anxiety attack, stop what you are doing immediately, take a deep breath and as you slowly breathe out say to yourself, out loud or under your breath, STOP! Be aware that you have been having bad thoughts; whatever they were about does not matter. in your mind repeat over and over breathe! Take a few more deep breathes, focusing on your breath as you breathe in and out and repeat to yourself, I Am Ok! This technique is quick and easy to do but it needs to be done often until it becomes skill where you can nip anxieties or worries in the bud before they cause a full blown panic.
  2. Relaxation techniques are a must for the management of anxiety. The body needs to be in a relaxed state so that it can find a balance and settle into harmonising the complex internal makeup to normal functioning. All those stress hormones need to be reduced to the point we can feel the difference in our mind an body, Use relaxation videos freely available on Youtube to teach the body to relax. Start with a few deep breaths and focus on your breathing for a few breaths when you feel yourself getting tense and angry. Deep breathes and focusing on the breaths takes the focus away from whatever dreadful thoughts we were having and can prevent anxiety and the fight or flight response.
  3. Managing thoughts throughout the day is a wonderful technique that makes me feel instantly better. It took practice to write down my feelings and thoughts in the middle of a session of catastrophic thinking but it works. I feel calmer when I can see the words on paper that have previously ruled my life through me thinking them. Spend a few minutes a day sitting quietly and just listen to your thoughts. Ask yourself whether you are having loving thoughts that make you feel good and excited about life or whether your thoughts are full of fear and darkness making you feel anxious? Write down keywords that you hear. If you are experiencing negative critical thoughts then it is time to change them. Every time you hear a negative thought, say to yourself, 'I am not having that!' This will cut off the thought before it continues where it was going to go. Find and put a comfortable affirmation in the place of the negative thought. I use, 'I love myself. I am health, wealth and success'. I repeat this over and over and I have had a dramatic change in the frequency and intensity of my anxiety.
  4. Keep a diary or a journal and express yourself on paper. When I am feeling stressed and anxious, I write about my symptoms as I feel them and describe them on paper. I write about what I had been doing and what was happening when the anxiety was triggered. I write down my worrying thoughts and write about how I am feeling and why. By writing down words or sentences you are bringing your anxieties and fears to the surface for you to be aware of them.
  5. Listen to affirmations while you sleep. This sounds simplistic to listen to affirmations but it really works to relax the anxiety by reprogramming our brains with healthier, more loving thoughts. Affirmations help by us focusing on more positive words that bring nicer feelings. Be aware of your inner critic or inner voice that can be cruel and make you feel more anxious. My inner critic was cruel, called me names and made me feel afraid. Now I know they are just thoughts and negative beliefs from the past. They are thoughts that are not always the truth and they are thoughts that you can change. Learn about your thoughts and about how they affect your life. If you suffer from frequent distressing thoughts that make you feel dreadful, you need to purposely distract yourself from your thoughts by thinking of something pleasant, something that makes you feel good. Find a better feeling thought. As soon as you can feel the sensations of anxiety or fear creeping in realise that you are having thoughts that have scared you. Consciously think of something, someone or somewhere that you love and that makes you smile. Continue to think pleasant thoughts and create images in your mind until you can actually feel the better feeling you are searching for. You have to focus hard but after a while, this consciously choosing what to think will get easier
  6. Reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake because they can make us feel more anxious. Take care of your body and feed it well with a balanced healthy diet.
  7. Increase your exercise and trigger the natural body chemicals of serotonin which is often called the happy feeling chemical which makes us feel good. Getting out for a walk even if it is just for a few minutes is great for reducing anxiety.
  8. Change your focus and set some goals that you can focus on. Find your purpose and worry no more. Work on changing the way you think.

Set Goals and Focus

Are you working towards your goals? Do you have goals? When we have a goal to aim for we feel less anxious about life. When we know what we want from life, when we can imagine and feel our goal as if we had achieved them, we will achieve them because that's the law of attraction at work. Set some goals and you can start working towards that future you want. Take action towards the life you deserve not the one you think you should live. Make a list of steps towards your goal and work through the list.

Be in control of your own life and set goals you can focus on. Write down your goals and then look at them daily. Focus on one goal a day and think of one action a day you can take towards that goal and do it. Maybe it is a call you have me needing to make or a letter to write or something else that has been bothering you, whatever the goal, big or small, focus and do it.

Plan your day by having a todo list, a mini-goal plan. Get things done.

If you are feeling anxious, you need a vision in life, a vision that will make you smile. Your vision is the focus you need and direction in life you are aiming for. Spend some time quietly each day and close your eyes and take some deep breaths to calm your mind. Now imagine living the life you want and how you want to live it. Imagine that you are living the life you want and you can actually feel as if you are there. Think and imagine until you feel good and can feel a smile on your own face. Do not give thought to what you imagine as being impossible for you to achieve, just enjoy the nice feelings and rest from anxiety-producing thoughts. Now write down a goal to achieve the life you just imagined and aim to achieve those goals.

Find a way to serve others, service is our purpose. By serving others with love in our hearts we help to make ourselves and others feel better.

Has Your Anxiety Increased Lately?

If your anxiety levels have gone up lately I feel for you and want to remind you that you are not alone. I hope you find some relief from what I have written here and that you find ways of managing your anxiety.

Not sure if you are anxious or not, take a free online anxiety test today.

Please feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Comments

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    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      2 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

      I think all the efects of stress you listed are so unhealthy, Louise. I appreciate all the information about dealing with stress that you wrote about in this article. I knew stress was not good for us but not eveything you listed. I think this is an excellent article and it is good for all of us to look at things that cause us stress.

    • louiseelcross profile imageAUTHOR

      Louise Elcross 

      2 weeks ago from Preston

      Thank you Anupam.

    • Anupam Mitu profile image

      Anupam Mitu 

      2 weeks ago from MUMBAI

      Great job Louise

      Stay blessed!

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