How Anxiety Affects Your Health

By Temma Ehrenfeld  @temmaehrenfeld
July 21, 2023
How Anxiety Affects Your Health

Fear, stress, and anxiety can aggravate stomach, heart, and respiratory problems. You may also see effects on your relationships and job performance. 

Many people know that an anxiety attack can make you feel nauseated or tired. Did you know that it’s tied to diarrhea, frequent urination, muscle pain, and headaches as well? 

When you are afraid, your heart rate and breathing quicken, and your muscles tense, a useful response if you need to run from danger. But if your fear is vague or you can’t take any immediate action, your bodily response to fear can go on and on, with no clear end-point. You may see effects on your health, relationships, or job performance — and you may develop more fears.  


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To avoid that spiral, develop and consistently practice ways to calm yourself. Don’t let fear get the upper hand. It’s tempting to:

  • Bow out of a date or party
  • Avoid new assignments at the office
  • Put off paying taxes, budgeting, or investing
  • Skip an appointment with the dentist or have a mammogram

Not surprisingly, if you’re afraid of a dental exam you are more likely to end up with poor dental health. You might overeat or turn to alcohol or another drug to calm you down, bringing on other health problems. 

How anxiety affects your health

Anxiety aggravates many chronic illnesses. You may not realize how much anxiety is contributing to the illness, while trying very hard to treat it. 

People with digestive problems are more anxious than the general population, and the worse your stomach issues are, the more anxious you’re likely to be. Worrying about what you can eat and when you’ll need a bathroom isn’t fun. 

Anxiety can aggravate asthma, when your airway becomes inflamed, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), when your airways become less elastic and can’t fill or expel air completely. In one large study, 26 percent of people with a new diagnosis of COPD, or who were judged to be at risk, also suffered from depression or anxiety.

Heart disease is strongly linked to anxiety as well. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD — a form of ongoing fear — increases your risk of heart disease and dying of heart disease by more than 50 percent.  

If you have a heart attack and become anxious that you’ll have another one, you are more likely to die of heart disease. People with hypertension may be more likely than the general population to be anxious about social relationships or avoid them.

Women with phobias and panic attacks are more likely to have strokes and heart attacks. (In a panic attack, your bodily sensations run wild: All at once, your heart is racing, you’re sweating, and you’re dizzy or weak.)

Don’t blame yourself, which will only increase your fear. Anxiety seems to run in families. It can be triggered by traumatic effects, such as a rape or natural disaster, and women may become anxious because of hormonal changes. 

Anxiety disorders include phobias — fear of bugs or heights are among the most common. 

People with social anxiety become so self-conscious and afraid of rejection or embarrassment that ordinary social situations feel like dates or job interviews. They may start to hide in their house.

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder develop exaggerated fears that they try to relieve with repetitive actions — washing their hands several times to escape contamination or turning a doorknob over and over to make sure the door is locked. 

About 20 percent of Americans develop an anxiety disorder. If you recognize any symptoms in yourself or anyone under your care, get help from a mental health professional. 

What you can do

A mental health professional will help you choose among remedies and keep up good habits. You might try cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches you to think differently about situations in your life, or psychotherapy to explore how your situation or history may be influencing your mindset.

Medications are designed to fight anxiety, such as clonazepam (Klonopin), alprazolam (Xanax), and buspirone (BuSpar). Antidepressants can also fight anxiety or panic disorders. Exercise, relaxation techniques, changes in diet, and keeping to a sleep routine can make a big difference, too. 


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July 21, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA