How Depression and Anxiety Impact Your Physical Health


Almost everyone experiences periods in which they feel sad or anxious. These emotions are normal, as they help us navigate through emotionally distressing situations. 

However, when these emotions persist in the absence of a threat, they can put the body in a permanent “flight or fight” state. 

This stress response is helpful during stressful situations, such as when you’re in danger and need a rush of adrenaline to get to a safe spot, but if the stress response is prolonged, it can take a toll on your body. 

Below, we asked our experts at Washington Center for Women’s and Children’s Wellness to explain how depression and anxiety can increase your risk for other conditions. 

Anxiety may increase your risk for digestive issues and heart attacks

The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion, both positive and negative, and has a direct link to the brain. For example, only thinking about the meal you’re about to have can prompt the stomach to secrete gastric juices that break down food. 

Prolonged feelings of anxiety are often associated with abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and constipation. Scientists aren’t certain whether irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes anxiety or anxiety causes IBS, but these two conditions are often correlated. One study found that 60% of patients with IBS had generalized anxiety disorder. 

When you’re anxious, your heart rate and blood pressure increase. If the anxiety persists, elevated heart rate and blood pressure can weaken your blood vessels and lead to a sudden heart attack. 

Depression may increase your risk for chronic headaches 

Depression and chronic headaches are often linked. Patients with headaches are more likely to develop depression, and patients with depression are more likely to develop headaches. One way depression can increase the risk of getting a headache is by making it difficult to sleep, as sleep deprivation can cause headaches

Some people may experience headaches as a side effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a common type of drug used to manage depression. 

Learn more about managing your depression and anxiety 

Over 40 million adults suffer from anxiety in the United States, and about 17 million suffer from depression

Fortunately, there are many ways in which these conditions can be treated, including psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, meditation, and medications.

If you or a loved one suffers from emotional distress, contact us to schedule an appointment. You can get help and prevent physical health problems that may arise due to untreated anxiety and depression. 

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