Everyone feels anxiety from time to time. In fact, anxiety, like anger, is one of the emotions associated with fight or flight impulses. Without these impulses, your body wouldn't know when to prepare you to defend yourself or to run from predators. Your body is well equipped to deal with these occasional surges of anxiety. However, people with chronic anxiety tend toward much more frequent and sustained bouts of anxiety, which can place considerable stress on the body.
Unhealthy levels of anxiety can be caused by both high-stress life situations and lifestyle choices. Some life problems that can increase anxiety include financial stress from a job loss, divorce, diagnosis of a serious illness or the death of a loved one. In addition, certain drugs and medications can cause problems with anxiety, including ADHD medications, amphetamines, certain asthma medications, decongestants, alcohol, caffeine and cocaine, according to MedlinePlus.
Mental health problems can also cause severe anxiety. Some mental health disorders that can trigger clinically high levels of anxiety include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and severe phobias, notes MedlinePlus. While anxiety based on stressful situations may decrease over time, the Mayo Clinic warns that anxiety disorders are chronic mental health problems that may require medical treatment.
One of the most serious adverse health effects of chronic anxiety is the dramatic increase in blood pressure that accompanies anxiety attacks. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, frequent episodes of anxiety "can cause just as much damage to your blood vessels, heart and kidneys as can chronic high blood pressure," making chronic anxiety a serious health risk.
High levels of anxiety can cause stomach upset or related symptoms of gastrointestinal distress in varying degrees of severity. When suffering from an attack of anxiety, you may feel nauseated and have difficulty swallowing, making you unable to eat, notes MedlinePlus. You may also suffer from abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Other common symptoms of anxiety can add stress to your body and affect your overall health. Some of these symptoms include trouble sleeping, fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle tension, dizziness, headache and even teeth grinding. Individuals suffering from high levels of anxiety are also more likely to abuse dangerous substances, such as alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs, notes the Mayo Clinic.