In our modern world a certain amount of stress and anxiety has come to be expected. However, excess, or chronic stress can have serious health implications. Unfortunately, many of us do not recognize that our anxiety may point to something deeper. To best protect our mental and physical wellness it is essential that we be familiar with the signs and symptoms of underlying health issues that may be contributing to feelings of anxiety and physiological stress.
Is Your Anxiety the Sign of Something More?
Stress and anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways depending on the source. If your anxiety stems from an underlying health condition, it is important that it be recognized and attended to as soon as possible. If left untreated, such conditions can have long-lasting ramifications on your health. Below is a collection of the most common and impactful instigators of physiological stress along with their identifying symptoms.
Thyroid Hormone Imbalance:
Hormones are chemical messengers that deliver information throughout the body. The thyroid is responsible for producing multiple hormones, most notably triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), which nave a high degree of influence on numerous bodily processes.
When working as intended, the thyroid maintains an appropriate balance of thyroid hormones. However, increased thyroid activity, hyperthyroidism, or a decline in thyroid function, hypothyroidism, can result in thyroid hormone imbalance bringing with it changes in mood like anxiety or depression. Additionally, thyroid dysfunction and hormone imbalance is associated with psychiatric comorbidities that can be hugely detrimental to quality of life. So, what should we look for to spot these conditions?
Hyperthyroidism is a thyroid disorder that increases thyroid hormone production. This results in excess thyroid hormones circulating in the bloodstream, which accelerates various bodily functions and triggers symptoms such as:
- Muscle Weakness
- Shaking or jitteriness
In contrast, hypothyroidism is a condition that causes a decrease in thyroid function thereby reducing the amount of circulating thyroid hormone. This results in a slowing of bodily function and symptoms including as:
- Difficulty thinking clearly
At first glance, symptoms of thyroid dysfunction can be easily attributed to common everyday stressors such as work, family, or school. However, if these symptoms persist or continue to worsen, it is likely that you are suffering from an underlying case of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Other more specific indicators of these conditions include:
- Changes in bowel movements
- Changes in weight
- Intolerance to cold or heat
- Menstrual irregularities
Fortunately, both conditions are treatable once correctly identified. Experts recommend that patients seeking care for depression or anxiety should be tested for thyroid dysfunction if they are not responding well to standard medications or require elevated dosages of psychotropic drugs.
Underlying infections can also imitate commonplace anxiety and stress. For example, chronic infections such as Lyme disease, known as the great imitator, produces a wide range of non-specific symptoms that are frequently misattributed to general anxiety.
Lyme disease is an autoimmune condition caused by an infection of Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete transmitted to humans primarily via tick bite. There are numerous symptoms that may stem from Lyme disease. Many of which are shared with psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, and even bipolar disorder. The more specific identifiers of Lyme include:
- Changes to cognitive function, i.e sight, touch, and hearing
- Chronic muscle and joint pain
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Irregular or shifting neurological pain
- Trouble with memory
Because Lyme disease can emulate so many different conditions it is exceptionally difficult to diagnose. If you recognize that you are experiencing a wide range of seemingly unassociated symptoms along with sensations of stress, anxiety, or depression, you should consider getting tested for Lyme or other underlying chronic infections.
Adrenal fatigue is an often overlooked condition that can lead to seemingly constant fatigue and psychological symptoms. The condition is most often caused by depletion of the hormone cortisol due to exhaustion of the adrenal glands.
Cortisol, commonly referred to as the stress hormone, is the primary regulator of the body’s stress response. When the body is faced with a stressor, be it physical or mental, the adrenals release cortisol to keep the body active, focused, and prepared. This works exceptionally well when we encounter periodic or infrequent stress. However, chronic activation of the adrenal glands, an increasingly common issue for our society, can lead to adrenal fatigue and subsequent depletion of cortisol.
When the adrenals are fatigued it is unable to produce the minimum amount of cortisol required to maintain healthy bodily function. This can induce a variety of symptoms including:
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Fatigue from even minor exertion like standing
- Inability to handle stress
- Loss of libido
- Poor mood regulation
- Weight gain
Most of these symptoms can be misattributed to heightened stress levels. However, in the case of adrenal fatigue, these issues can remain long after the instigating stress event has passed or been resolved. Resolution of adrenal fatigue requires that stress be reduced to a minimum for an extended period thus allowing the adrenals to normalize themselves and reestablish healthy cortisol values. Experts also recommend lifestyle changes such as limiting sugar and caffeine intake, maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, and resolving any nutrient gaps that may be present in your diet.
If you are experiencing adrenal fatigue it is essential that you do not try to simply push through the pain as this will only make the condition worse. If you notice that your anxiety and other stress-related symptoms do not improve in a reasonable period, you should consider speaking with your doctor about adrenal fatigue and testing your cortisol values.
Digging Deeper to Identify the Source of Your Anxiety
Mental health is of critical importance for our overall wellness. One of the best ways of safeguarding it is by recognizing the source of your stress-related symptoms. There are several underlying conditions such as hormone imbalance, chronic infection, and adrenal dysfunction that can mimic anxiety and other psychological symptoms yet have an even greater impact on your health. Being aware of these conditions and their various indicators can help you better identify them and get the care you need to protect your mental and physical wellness.
At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to provide you with cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to properly diagnose and treat your condition, optimize your health, and improve your quality of life. Contact us today to see how we can help you!