anxiety and panic attack effects

The Various Effects of Anxiety

Written by: Melissa Hart

Anxiety Serves a Useful Purpose
Anxiety, which is technically referred to as a "fight or flight" response, serves a useful purpose for all living organisms. Anxiety and its many effects acts as a type of safety mechanism to provide protection from harm, if necessary. However, in excess, or because of unrealistic or unfounded fears, the effects of anxiety may actually do more harm than good.

The Effects of Anxiety on the Nervous System
When the brain anticipates some type of danger, whether real or imagined, messages are sent out to what is known as the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Both are smaller subsections of the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic portion is responsible for the aforementioned fight or flight reaction and readies the body for danger, while the parasympathetic section takes over afterward to restore the body to its normal, relaxed state.

The Cardiovascular Effects of Anxiety
To prepare for activity in reaction to anxiety or a perceived danger, the muscles will also need more blood to function, and the heart will have to compensate. During an anxiety attack, the heart races or palpitates as activity within the sympathetic nervous system causes it to increase the flow of blood to all of the extremities.

The Respiratory Effects of Anxiety
The effects of anxiety on the respiratory system include an increase in the depth and speed of breathing. This much needed response provides the body's tissues and cells with more oxygen, and also affects changes in the flow of blood. Increased oxygen is necessary for the body to prepare for action, but in some cases, breathing becomes so rapid that hyperventilation may be a concern.

Other respiratory effects of anxiety may include pains or tightness in the chest, as well as a choking or smothering sensation. In more severe cases, blurred vision, dizziness, hot flushes, and confusion may also result from increased breathing.

The Behavioral Effects of Anxiety
The human behavioral system is often affected by anxiety, manifesting itself through a series of certain behaviors. These may include pacing, tapping one's foot, being irritable or short tempered with others, and frequent feelings of being trapped or unable to escape.

The Physical Effects of Anxiety
Some of the physical effects of anxiety attacks include excessive sweating, a decrease in salivation, and changes in the digestive system causing symptoms such as nausea. During an anxiety attack, muscles tighten and may eventually become sore or tender, causing actual physical aches and pains. The body may also tremble or shake, at times uncontrollably, in preparation for the impending event.

The Mental Effects of Anxiety
Besides the many effects of anxiety on all of the body's major systems, there are also mental changes that take place. One of the most noticeable being an increased difficulty concentrating or focusing on the simplest of tasks. During or just before an anxiety attack, the brain actively shifts its attention to evaluating the situation, seeking out the potential threat and preparing the rest of the body to act if needed.

So many changes occur before, during, and after a panic or anxiety attack, but by understanding the effects that anxiety has on the body, it's far easier to respond to methods of alleviating or eliminating those changes.


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