I like to think I’m a healthy person.
One might even call me fit. I eat a well-balanced diet rich in whole foods, I work out, and I walk about 4 km every day. So really, I should be the epitome of health.
My body begs to differ.
I have anxiety, not just a little, A LOT. I’ve worked very hard to keep it hidden.
My mantra had always been fake it ’till you make it. This facade had been relatively effective for a while, and I’d managed to float through life on autopilot. I maintained relationships, was a satisfactory employee, and eventually became a decent mom. I didn’t excel at anything in particular and settled for mediocrity, finding it too exhausting to be anything more.
I spent all of my energy trying to appear normal and hoping that my mental health could be swept under the rug. Still, when you’ve suppressed something for so long, there are bound to be repercussions.
While I was outwardly “faking it,” my anxiety was finding creative ways to mark its territory.
I believe that by the time my physical ailments began to surface, much of the damage was done. Our body comes fully equipped with a powerful fight or flight response, and mine has always done its job, but what happens when the body is still on high alert?
Cortisol levels surge and cannot adequately come down from their high, therefore wreaking havoc on the body. So before I’d even heard of mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy, my body was hard at work looking for retribution.
Just to be clear, the health issues described below have not been proven to be a direct cause of anxiety. I am not a doctor. But I will say that I’ve concluded that these symptoms seem to be further exacerbated by periods of stress upon my research.
What does your smile say about you?
We all want that movie star smile, but stressing about it could do you more harm than good. Good oral hygiene does not necessarily promise a mouth full of pearly whites.
Anxiety disorders can wreak havoc on the digestive system, causing an increase in stomach acid, which can flow up the esophagus. To give you an idea about how bad it is, I am often asked by dentists if I am bulimic (thanks, anxiety!) My teeth have been subjected to years of acid wear, resulting in severe damage to the enamel. The process to fix the whole mess comes with a hefty price tag, one I will never afford. Basically, I would have to remortgage my house to pay for it!
A few weeks back, I finally went to get the eye exam that I’d lazily put off for years. In my 20’s I was told that I had perfect sight, so there was no rush to go back. It had become one of those insignificant things that I’d get around to eventually.
I walked into the appointment relaxed, but that all changed when the optometrist’s face fell, looking at my x-rays. He pointed to the images and explained that I had narrow, almost non-existent angles. I had no idea what this meant.
Every person has an angle behind their eyes where the anterior chamber is located. The chamber is like a vessel for fluid to drain, but if the angle to the chamber is inadequate (or too thin in my case), the fluid cannot drain, causing the iris to push forward. This creates a surplus in pressure and can ultimately lead to narrow-angle closure, which is a medical emergency. The risk for glaucoma is very high in these instances and can lead to irreversible damage.
But what does this have to do with stress?
Periods of high stress and emotional trauma can lead to increased pressure behind the eyes. The more pressure that is present, the more likely a person is to experience full angle closure. So it is not far fetched to assume that years of anxiety provided ample opportunity for this condition to manifest.
This one is more common and reasonably well known for being attributed to anxiety. Temporomandibular Joint Disorder is when the muscles surrounding the jaw become inflamed and sore. The muscle can get tight and even lock into place from continuously clenching, causing temporary lockjaw (which sucks!). Pain can be felt in the ear and radiating down the neck.
The MD was quick to write a prescription for muscle relaxants and send me on my way, but of course, like many things, this was a band-aid solution for a bigger problem.
Certain nutrient deficiencies can leave a person feeling anxious and depressed; this is especially true when the B vitamins are in a deficit. Shockingly the outcome is the same when reversed. Extended periods of acute stress and untreated anxiety can impair the bodies’ ability to absorb nutrients properly.
In my experience, trying to overcompensate by consuming extra vitamins did not work in my favor. Being in a perpetual state of flight or fight led to malabsorption of essential nutrients iron and B12. The result was nearly a decade of iron deficiency anemia.
what does it all mean?
It isn’t a new revelation that stress makes us sick. Over time it can cause organ dysfunction and lead to a handful of diseases. But what about those mysterious ailments that keep popping up? Are we mistreating them with medications and unnecessary medical intervention? Are we looking for a band-aid solution when we should be seeking the root cause?
I believe that my body has been trying to get my attention for years by exposing me to painful conditions. Conditions that could have been easily remedied had I listened sooner. What I should have been doing is digging deeper rather than focusing on the surface. I should have paid more attention.
But hindsight is 20/20.
So next time you find yourself with a chronic condition that isn’t being resolved, take a step back. Maybe the answer is to stop seeking outward solutions and to focus on digging deeper.
Again, I am not a professional, but I wholeheartedly believe that had I begun to tackle my mental health years ago, my health would be vastly better today.