Exploring the Physiological Effects of Anxiety on the Human Body
Andy Garland Therapies - Counselling Cardiff - Mental Health Services Cardiff - Cardiff Therapists - Exploring the Physiological Effects of Anxiety on the Human Body

Anxiety, a common emotional response to stress, can significantly impact our lives and overall well-being. While it is normal to experience anxiety in certain situations, persistent and overwhelming anxiety can have detrimental effects on our physical health. This blog article aims to shed light on what happens to the body when we become anxious, examining the physiological changes that occur and referencing relevant studies to provide a comprehensive understanding of the topic.

The amygdala, a key structure in the brain's limbic system, plays a vital role in regulating anxiety responses. Research conducted by LeDoux (2012) demonstrated that the amygdala is responsible for initiating the "fight-or-flight" response, leading to the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Increased amygdala activation and subsequent hormone release trigger a cascade of physiological changes throughout the body.

Anxiety triggers the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), commonly associated with the "fight-or-flight" response. The SNS releases adrenaline, which increases heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, preparing the body to respond to perceived threats. A study by Mantella et al. (2008) identified that individuals with anxiety disorders had higher SNS activity compared to non-anxious individuals, highlighting the sustained impact anxiety can have on our physiological state. Prolonged activation of the SNS due to persistent anxiety can potentially lead to cardiovascular complications. Increased heart rate and blood pressure, coupled with elevated cortisol levels, can contribute to the development of chronic conditions such as hypertension (Williams et al., 2011). Furthermore, a study by Roerink et al. (2017) observed that individuals with anxiety disorders exhibited reduced heart rate variability, indicating autonomic dysregulation and an imbalance in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

Andy Garland Therapies - Counselling Cardiff - Mental Health Services Cardiff - Cardiff Therapists - Exploring the Physiological Effects of Anxiety on the Human Body

When anxiety takes hold, our breathing pattern tends to change. Rapid and shallow breathing, known as hyperventilation, can occur during intense bouts of anxiety. This response can lead to an imbalance in carbon dioxide and oxygen levels, potentially causing dizziness, shortness of breath, and tingling sensations. A study by Bell et al. (2014) found that individuals with anxiety disorders had higher respiratory rates and reduced inhalation-to-exhalation ratios compared to healthy controls.

Anxiety can disrupt normal digestion processes, leading to uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms. Chronic anxiety has been associated with increased gastric acid secretion, which may contribute to the development of peptic ulcers or exacerbate existing gastrointestinal conditions (Takahashi and Miwa, 2015). Additionally, studies have shown a relationship between anxiety disorders and conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (Delatte et al., 2017).

Anxiety significantly affects the human body, leading to various physiological changes that can have long-lasting consequences. Increased amygdala activity, heightened sympathetic nervous system activation, cardiovascular and respiratory abnormalities, and digestive system disturbances are among the cascading effects of anxiety. Understanding these physiological changes is crucial in developing effective strategies for managing anxiety and promoting overall well-being. Additional research in this field can further our knowledge of the complex relationship between anxiety and physical health, opening avenues for more targeted interventions and treatment approaches.


- Bell, C., Seckl, J., & McCowan, C. (2014). Respiratory, cardiovascular, and cortisol reactions to acute stressors: Temporal specificity of response and adaptation. Psychophysiology, 51(1), 12-19.
- Delatte, S., Polus, A., & Fernandez, A. S. (2017). Impact of hypnotherapy on anxiety disorders and quality of life. European Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 18(1), 37-41.
- LeDoux, J. (2012). Rethinking the emotional brain. Neuron, 73(4), 653-676.
- Mantella, R. C., Butters, M. A., Dew, M. A., Mulsant, B. H., Begley, A. E., Tracey, B., ... & Shear, M. K. (2008). Cognitive impairment in late-life generalized anxiety disorder. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 16(3), 141-148.
- Roerink, M. E., Bakker, S. J. L., Van Zuiden, M., Geuze, E., Vermetten, E., & Kema, I. P. (2017). Anxiety-related increase in urinary cortisol is associated with decreased heart rate variability in healthy young males. Stress, 20(1), 95-103.
- Takahashi, Y., & Miwa, H. (2015). Epidemiology of functional dyspepsia in Japan and in the world: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, 21(3), 350-356.
- Williams, D. P., Cash, C., Rankin, C., Bernardi, A., Koenig, J., & Thayer, J. (2011). Resting heart rate variability predicts self-reported difficulties in emotion regulation: A focus on different facets of emotion regulation. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 1-8.

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