Flick/ Simon Kellogg

If you’re feeling anxious, chances are your body is feeling it too. 

Quick Notes

  • Anxiety overstimulates the central nervous system

  • A prolonged state of anxiety weakens the immune system

  • There is a nervous system connection between the brain and the stomach

The mind and the body are two parts of one amazing machine. Although mental and physical health are often approached separately, both concepts deal with a person’s overall health. Millions of Americans struggle with varying levels of anxiety, and anxiety has just as many physical symptoms as mental ones.

Mentally, anxiety can present itself in a variety of ways. Sometimes a person has a constant, inexplicable sense of impending doom. Situations that are routine to other people can cause severe emotional discomfort for a person with anxiety. For example, a usually pleasurable circumstance, such as going to a party, can be extremely stressful, even physically sickening, to a person who has social anxiety.

Although anxiety is usually viewed as a mental disorder, the problem has a big impact on the nervous system, which affects the whole body.  What are some of the physical signs of anxiety?

Anxiety weakens the immune system

The mental symptoms of anxiety can be hard to detect if a person has suffered from an anxiety disorder for a long period of time. Humans only have access to their own thoughts. While constantly worrying about a certain perceived threat may seem irrational to the average person, these anxious thoughts may seem completely normal to a person who has anxiety.

Whether anxious thoughts seem out of the ordinary or not, they have a very real impact on the body. Anxiety is tied to the body’s fight-or-flight system. When the body mentally prepares for intense situations, the body also prepares physically by activating certain parts of the nervous system.


For a short period of time, this activation of the nervous system is a normal healthy process that helps a person properly approach a challenging situation. When a person stays in this heightened state for a long period of time, the body can grow weary. For example, a sports car may be able to reach a speed of 120 miles per hour, but a car that goes at such high speeds every time it is driven will quickly suffer mechanical problems.

One “mechanical problem” that humans face from prolonged anxiety is a weakened immune system. Bodily systems devote too much energy towards sustaining the fight-or-flight response to effectively attack pathogens that enter the body. If a person starts to get sick more often, anxiety could be the culprit.

Plenty Of Stomach Problems

The body is a machine made of several moving parts that all work together. There is a direct link between the brain and the stomach. This link is called the gut-brain axis. The central nervous system, where the brain is, and the enteric nervous system, where the stomach is, have been proven to interact with each other in very unique ways.

Since there is a direct connection between the nerves of the stomach and the nerves of the brain, a person who is unwell mentally will likely feel sick on the stomach. On a smaller scale, this is why people get butterflies in the stomach. Extreme nervousness or fear can cause a person to vomit or have a sudden need to defecate. Anxiety is often a chronic problem, so it can lead to chronic gastrointestinal problems.

Pixabay/ derneneuman

Irritable bowel syndrome can be a direct result of prolonged anxiety. The stress of anxiety also leads to an increased risk of developing chronic ulcers. Common stomach problems like indigestion, diarrhea, and nausea can also become chronic issues in the presence of chronic anxiety. These physical symptoms of anxiety are painful and have the potential to cause embarrassment, which launches a vicious cycle. Instead of being anxious about something else, the person develops anxiety over their stomach problems.

Since there is a connection between the stomach and the brain, more anxiety leads to more stomach problems. Anxiety is more than an annoyance. In some people, it can be a chronic mental disorder, and it is capable of causing havoc throughout the body. When anxiety starts to impact a person’s routine, it may be time to seek the guidance of a medical professional.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101: