Dealing With The Physical Symptoms Of Mental Health

05/09/2016 12:15 | Updated 05 September 2016

I've suffered from anxiety for the best part of my adult life, and I can tell you that by far the most unnerving aspect of it is the physical symptoms it causes.

Sure you spend the best part of the day worrying about the most nonsensical things such as whether the train will turn up on time, whether your bank account has been pillaged or how long before you get the sack at work, but for the most part you can tell yourself to shut up and stop worrying. When the physical symptoms take over, that's when anxiety really unleashes its wrath.

Your heart pounds, your muscles tense up, you feel tremors and twitches and a horrible sensation of fainting. And then you worry about the physical symptoms caused by worrying, because despite all that you know about their causes they can't just be a product of a mental health issue, it must be early symptoms of a heart attack or a stroke, something that, you know, might lead to a slow and painful death.

As batshit crazy as this may sound to non-anxiety sufferers, physical issues caused by psychological problems is a real thing. And it's frickin terrifying at times! Forget terms such as 'hypochondria', 'worry wart' or any of the fanciful terms people use to belittle those who get in a tizzy over a scrape on their leg, this is a complete and utter takeover of the mind and body. A constant, non-stop fear that within the next half a day you'll drop dead, in spite of all the things you have done to make your life as comfortable as you can within the confines of this mental scar.

Being Physically Broke For Being Mentally Unstable

The reason this comes to mind is because tomorrow I'm going for a standard health test that may drag up a few fundamental physical flaws based on issues that are fundamentally psychological. Despite being fit and active and eating well and drinking well, as a sufferer of health anxiety I regularly get hooked up to all sorts of machines because mental health shows no physical scars but can make a physical appearance guised as something else. And I should know - it's not the first time it's happened.

Let's start with white coat hypertension.

In a standard health test one of the first things they do is strap you up on a blood pressure monitor. For most people it's no biggie, but for someone like me, whose mind has been preoccupied with the thought of being strapped up all week it's a trigger for making my pulse rate go through the roof. This is known as white coat hypertension, named such because of the elevated pulse one gets when in front of healthcare professionals who traditionally wear white coats. Of course, it's not the first thing on your mind when you see the results - you're thinking diabetes, kidney failure, heart disease - nor is it the first thing on the doctors' mind who sends you straight to hospital to get checked up. But the cardiologist had seen it all before, and soon returned tests results ruling out any physical implications.

Then comes the cholesterol test, which for those suffering from long-term anxiety is probably going to return some abnormally high results! Studies have shown that stress can increase cholesterol significantly, but more potently those who manage stress in unhealthy ways (via hostility, social isolation, or self-blame, for example) tend to have lower levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Although my results have never been through the roof, just one or two marks out spells a coronary disaster in the mind of someone with health anxiety.

What's more, stress not only increases inflammation in the body but also causes poor eating habits and poor food choices - all of which affect cholesterol levels. It also impacts your Body Mass Index - which is next on up on the health check. Now I'm certainly not fat, but I think about food a lot. Mainly because it comforts me and makes me happy. As do a lot of people with mental health conditions. Studies have shown that those with Binge Eating Disorder have a greater likelihood of experiencing significant symptoms of anxiety compared with the general population, and eating is a common coping mechanism for those suffering from depression. As is a loss of appetite, so the scales pretty much tilt out of kilter either way!

And The Rest

So there it is, health test positively failed and insurance premium up through the roof. But it doesn't end there. While I'm panicking about all my essential organs packing in, I also spot the ever prominent crown on my head that is the both the cause and effect of, you guessed it, worrying! A recent study by Lloyds Pharmacy revealed that nearly 40 per cent of men are worried about losing their hair, and although it's not common for stress to be the cause of hair loss, it certainly can contribute. And it adds to the list of physical scars that are both caused by and made worse by worrying.

In the interest of brevity, I've left most of them out. No mention that I, like 54 per cent of anxiety sufferers, am regularly sleep depraved because I toss and turn my way through the night with a worried mind and racing pulse providing a friendly dose of insomnia. Research shows I'm more susceptible to infections and inflammation because stress can take a negative toll on the immune system, and long-term anxiety can also alter the body's metabolism which could lead to weight gain and possibly obesity!

Needless to say, I'm not overly psyched about tomorrow's test. Namely because I'm participating in a self-perpetuating cycle in which my anxiety contributes to physical symptoms that make me worry a whole lot more, thereby exacerbating the physical symptoms! It's almost as though you are physically broke because you are mentally unstable. And no amount of bio pots can solve that.