The Actions of Anxiety

Updated: Nov 8, 2019

Do you ever find yourself feeling overly worried about events that are out of your control? Pressures or expectations at work, school within the home, performance or achievements in sports, being in social settings or maintaining a presence on social media can all evoke feelings of dread, angst and anxiety in today’s society. It a common finding that those who live and work in stressful environments have a higher risk of being affected by negative health conditions.

In a clinical setting, it is common to see patients that are presenting with symptoms of anxiety.

These include




Poor concentration

Muscle tension

Poor sleep

Racing thoughts

Tightness in the chest

and changes in breathing patterns.

It is important to note that the signs of anxiety are different in each individual case depending on our resilience. This resilience can be pre-determined by things like our genetics, childhood upbringing, diet, and lifestyle choices and vary widely on the person – there is no ‘clear cut’ anxiety picture.

Generalised Anxiety disorder (GAD) is usually experienced before the progression into Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) where both conditions share similar biological behaviours. For this reason, early treatment of anxiety is important in managing both conditions; as in treatment studies, over 50% of patients will have anxiety and depression simultaneously.

We all experience stress, it’s normal. In short, and controlled experiences, stress is natural and is even beneficial for development of some body systems.

It is when there are repetitive and chronic responses to stress such that our body begins to react in a negative way altering our hormones, neurotransmitters, autonomic nervous system and behaviour. The sustained stress response starts off with elevations in stress hormones, the major being cortisol. Higher and longer circulating cortisol results in a “pause” in other hormones that encourage digestion, reproduction, immunity and sleep, among others.


Nervous system:

Chronic stress, like anxiety, has the ability to cause structural changes in the brain, cause reduction in size and changes in brain chemistry altering cognition, memory, learning and behaviour. Sleep is also commonly affected together with daily motivation, mood and mindset.

Immune system:

It is common knowledge that repetitive and ongoing stress impairs the body’s ability to resolve infection. Stress hormones, released during anxiety, pass throughout the body and interact with our immune cells influencing the activity of our immune system resulting in reoccurring or chronic illness. The suppression of our immune ‘army’ not only increases our chance of infection from the outside world but reduces our ability to detect and eradicate our internal abnormalities like tumour cells.

Here, it is common to see low grade fever, reoccurring viral, fungal or bacterial infections (colds, vaginal thrush, slow wound healing) hypersensitivity and fatigue.

Cardiovascular system:

It’s evident in the signs and symptoms of anxiety that it has a direct effect on your cardiovascular system. Due to the contraction of the muscles that line your arteries and veins, those common symptoms include increased heart rate, changes in breathing and elevations in blood pressure.

Gastrointestinal system:

The gut-brain connection, the chicken or the egg? It’s well known there is a bi-directional link between our mood and our digestive system. Anxiety will affect this system by lowering digestive capacity thus lowering nutrient absorption, reduced protective mucous production and change intestinal movement. This is why we experience Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, ulcers and leaky gut.


Naturopaths spend the time to listen to you, to delve into the origin of your stress, and pinpoint where these stressors are coming from and hi-light how your body is reacting to them. Working with your nervous system, there are a range of herbal remedies to manage the stress hormones and support the body’s natural mechanisms.

With anxiety, poor digestive capacity means it is common that nutrients essential for nourishing our hormones and neurotransmitters are lacking, due to their inability to be absorbed. Adjusting deficiencies is essential for allowing the body to work how it is intended. May I add, that the gut-brain axis is a Naturopath’s bread and butter – this bi-directional link is so crucial in so many aspects of our body and getting this system working correctly can give so many benefits throughout the whole body.

Symptomatic care is necessary in cases of anxiety. Providing that short-term relief from your symptoms will get your out of discomfort sooner, and allow your body to relax and start managing stress appropriately.