Dr. Elayne Daniels

What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas; but, when it comes to anxiety and depression, there are no “secrets.” Despite their mental origins, they have far-reaching effects on the body. The physical effects of anxiety and depression provide strong evidence that your mind and body are always in communication with one another. (It may come as small consolation, but anxiety and depression are not all in your head.)

Your mind and body interconnect; so, whatever your mind thinks/feels, your body also feels.

This synergy between the mind and body allows you to fully respond to emotions, thoughts, and sensations.

It therefore makes sense that, when you feel anxious or depressed, you physically feel effects, despite their mental origin.

General information about anxiety:

Everyone knows what anxiety feels like. Because it’s the body’s natural response to stress (and everyone experiences stress), no one escapes this life “anxiety-ignorant.”

There are different forms of anxiety, including worry, fear, and nervousness.

Giving a toast at a friend’s wedding, starting a new job, or going on a first date, for example, are naturally stressful situations.  They evoke a “what will happen next?”/apprehension-type of stress.

Occasional, situational anxiousness is completely normal. It’s transient in nature and doesn’t culminate in emotional derailment.

Even in these fleeting, innocuous occurrences, however, you will experience physical signals of your anxiety. 

Think back to the last time you felt a bit of “stage fright” before facing an uncomfortable (or simply unfamiliar) situation. Did your heart speed up? Your legs tremble? Your mouth feel dry?

Perhaps you even felt a bit nauseous.

Did you connect the dots between your physical symptoms and your nervousness? Or were you too nervous to put two and two together?

It may surprise you to know that many of the world’s most revered celebrities have always struggled with performance anxiety (“stage fright”). This is an important point of reference because it attests to the connection between the mind and body, regardless of preparedness, perception, expectation…or fame.

Most forms of anxiety, including anxiety disorders, have overlapping symptoms. How, then, are you supposed to know if your anxiety is appropriate for the situation of the moment or is something more serious?

If anxiety significantly interferes with your life, it may be considered a disorder. Six examples of anxiety disorders include:

  1. phobias
  2. social anxiety
  3. post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  4. generalized anxiety disorder (GAD
  5. panic disorder
  6. obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Regardless of whether a person’s anxiety is a disorder, treatments and coping strategies are available.

Panic disorder is a form of anxiety that affects over a quarter of Americans in the form of panic attacks.

Panic attacks come on suddenly and “out of the blue.” And they have major mind and body symptoms.

The symptoms of a panic attack can be so severe that you may be convinced you’re going to die. 

You may experience overwhelming fear along with intense physical sensations – pounding heart, blurred vision, dizziness, an inability to hear. You may also start to feel hot or faint. 

Why? Because your fight-or-flight system is temporarily going bonkers.

Even though you feel super-intense emotions on the inside, they’re usually not visible from the outside.

A good example of this is the panic attack news journalist Dan Harris had on national television in the early 2000’s. In this video clip, he gives a humble, honest, step-by-step appraisal of what was happening to him…and why.

He also shares his moment of awareness and the steps he took to gain control (in part by giving up control) of his panic disorder.

Panic attack symptoms are not dangerous.

It’s important that you repeat this to yourself because what you experience on a feeling level is incongruent with the perceived danger.

In fact, to give your body the opportunity to learn to manage anxiety, general guidance advises you to experience the symptoms and not resist them.

That doesn’t mean you should allow the panic to take over and cause a downward spiral. It does mean learning techniques for recognizing and guiding yourself through the constricting symptoms of the attack.

This coping principle applies not only to panic attacks, but to the emotional and physical effects of anxiety and depression in general.

The simplest and most effective conscious response? Breeeathe. Slowly, deeply, intentionally…breeeathe.

Typically, the more you breathe into the frightening sensations, the more your fear will diminish. (Thank you, mind-body connection!)

Physical effects of anxiety include:

  • sweating
  • racing thoughts
  • lightheadedness
  • feeling like you may have diarrhea or are going crazy
  • sensation of blood pulsing through your body
  • increased heart rate
  • blurred vision
  • dry mouth
  • ringing in ears
  • hands shaking

Although the symptoms of panic disorder are not physically dangerous, you should still seek help as soon as possible for the condition. 

Learning to recognize and respond to underlying thoughts, feelings, and behaviors will help to improve anxiety in general.

In the same way that your body experiences physical effects of anxiety (and depression) that have unconscious origins, it also responds to consciously applied coping skills.

Now let’s talk specifically about depression….

General information about depression:

Depression is so much more than feeling sad. It is not the situationally appropriate feeling of sadness or deflation in response to negative experiences or loss.

Depression is like a fog that pervades your mind and makes you feel sad, hopeless, and uninterested in things you used to enjoy. 

It can also show up as irritability and crabbiness or lethargy and fatigue.

“Depression” is actually an umbrella term for many different mood issues. 

As with anxiety, symptoms associated with depressive disorders overlap, despite distinguishing differences.

Because of depression’s negative emotions and thoughts, it may seem to be just “what’s going on in your head.”

However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Depression is not “just in your head.”

Again, because of the inextricable connection between the mind and body, depression is also physical.

As with anxiety, there are different forms of depression. 

Feeling bummed or disappointed is not the same as feeling depressed. Neither is grief.

If depression interferes with daily life functioning, it may be considered a disorder. 

If that’s the case, please consult with your primary care physician. Treatments for depression abound – from pharmaceutical and/or therapeutic protocols to behavioral and lifestyle adjustments.

Forms of depression that are considered a disorder include:

  1. major depression (clinical depression)
  2. dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder)
  3. seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  4. adjustment disorder with depressed mood

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as an example of depression.

Starting in late fall or early winter, symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) start to emerge for some people. SAD occurs much more often in women than in men and is more common in the north, where winter daylight hours are shorter than further south.

The symptoms of SAD tend to begin in young adulthood and occur most often in people who have other mental health issues.

Signs and symptoms of SAD include oversleeping, overeating, and feeling very tired, emotionally drained, lethargic, and depressed during winter months.

Symptoms of SAD tend to go away in the spring and summer, when there is more daylight.

Physical effects of depression include:

  • sleep interruptions (trouble falling asleep; trouble staying asleep; waking up early and not falling back to sleep)
  • appetite problems (feeling less hungry or more hungry)
  • increased sensitivity to pain
  • lack of interest in things you used to enjoy doing
  • frequent stomach aches or headaches
  • restlessness or slowing down
  • dry mouth
  • trouble concentrating
  • headaches
  • memory problems

Mind and body automatically interconnect through the highs, lows, and stressors of life.

Taking care of your mind and mental health means you’re simultaneously doing the same for your body and physical health.

Your mental and physical health are both important. Recognizing the mind-body connection provides you with the ability to change the way your body reacts to thoughts and feelings. 

 A healthy mind and healthy body go hand in hand.

May you find peace of mind and body.

“Let go of control and find refuge in the body’s immediate present sensory field. When the mind relaxes its grip, the body models sustained attention. The body leads the way. It’s a great relief for the mind…”

—Willa Blythe Baker, “The Body Is Already Mindful”

Dr. Elayne Daniels is a private-practice psychologist, international consultant, and coach. Over the last 25 years, she has helped people manage and heal depression and anxiety. To learn more about how she might help you, contact her here.

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