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Anxiety, a pervasive and often underestimated concern, extends its reach far beyond mental distress, intricately entwining with our physical health. It’s crucial to recognise that anxiety isn’t just a state of mind; it’s a palpable force influencing the very systems that govern our body’s responses to stress.

Polyvagal theory is a relatively new concept in the field of neuroscience. According to this theory, the autonomic nervous system is responsible for three different physiological states. The “ventral vagal” state is a relaxed state where our body is in a state of rest and digest. The “dorsal vagal” state is a state of fear where our body is in a state of freeze. The “sympathetic” state is a state of fight or flight and is activated during moments of stress.

In moments of heightened anxiety, this delicate balance within the autonomic nervous system can tip towards the dorsal vagal or sympathetic states. The consequences are tangible physical symptoms: heart palpitations, breathlessness, chest pain—echoes of the body’s response to stress. The gastrointestinal system, too, bears the weight of anxiety, often leading to upset stomachs or irritable bowel syndrome during anxious episodes.

Anxiety’s reach extends further. It can encroach upon our sleep, disrupting its natural rhythm. Heightened anxiety spikes cortisol levels, inhibiting restful sleep and creating a vicious cycle where sleeplessness exacerbates anxiety, fueling a perpetual loop of unrest.

This intricate web of connections between anxiety and physical health underscores the urgency of proactive management. Anxiety doesn’t just affect our immediate wellbeing; it infiltrates the body’s defense mechanisms, weakening our immune system. The constant release of cortisol, the stress hormone, takes a toll on our body’s ability to fend off infections.

Cortisol, elevated during anxious periods, plays a dual role: initially aiding in the body’s fight-or-flight response, but prolonged elevation suppresses immune cell production. This suppression compromises our immune system’s efficacy, leaving us more susceptible to common illnesses like colds or the flu. Moreover, prolonged anxiety reduces the body’s ability to produce important antibodies, further compromising our immune defenses.

This immune system vulnerability underscores the far-reaching impact of anxiety on our physical health. It’s not merely a mental strain but a genuine threat to our body’s ability to protect itself.

This intricate web of connections between anxiety and physical health underscores the importance of proactive management. Psychological therapy, rooted in this understanding of the mind-body connection, can help with navigating the complexities of anxiety. Techniques aligned with polyvagal theory guide us towards recalibrating our autonomic nervous system responses, gently steering away from fear-based reactions towards states of calm and safety.

Understanding and addressing anxiety isn’t merely about mental wellness—it’s about nurturing a healthier, more resilient body and mind. By embracing therapeutic approaches rooted in polyvagal theory, you can embark on a transformative journey towards not just managing anxiety but also fostering robust physical health. Remember, the mind-body connection is profound; caring for one inherently nurtures the other.

If you would like to read more about polyvagal theory or about the impact anxiety has on our physical health, here are some suggested texts:

You can also embark on a journey towards holistic wellness by reaching out to our team of psychologists to explore how we can support you in managing anxiety, fostering resilience, and nurturing both mental and physical well-being.

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