A certain level of anxiety is normal, and even healthy, in helping us avoid danger and stay safe. However, when the symptoms become persistent or intrusive, it is not only exhausting, but anxiety can impact your weight and overall health. The impact of anxiety on weight has been well-documented, but how do you know if your anxiety is “normal” or if you should seek treatment? 

Leah Mandley, CoreLife’s vice president of behavioral health explains what qualifies someone as having an anxiety disorder, and how you can identify your symptoms and get the support you need. 

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of worry, tension, and fear.  You are probably familiar with some for the most common symptoms, such as worry, nervousness, sleep problems, muscle tension, poor concentration, increased heart rate, upset stomach, restlessness, fatigue, and irritability. 

Experiencing these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder, but you may be wondering “how do I know if my anxiety is impacting my weight?” 

If you have been experiencing one or more of these symptoms for two weeks or more, and the symptoms cause a disturbance in your daily life, it might be time to seek care. A licensed behavioral health specialist will perform a diagnostic assessment to determine if/what type of anxiety you may be experiencing and help you find solutions to prevent anxiety from impacting your weight management goals. 

Types of Anxiety Disorders 

Common anxiety diagnoses are generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder (previously known as social phobia), panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People with generalized anxiety display an excessive amount of worry and fear, for more days than not for at least 6 months. This excessive amount of anxiety will cause significant impairment in their daily living. 

Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms include many of the symptoms listed above, especially restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge, becoming easily annoyed, difficulty concentrating or mind going blank, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances.

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is the irrational fear someone may experience in one or more social situations. That person may also believe people are negatively judging them because they have anxiety. Social anxiety almost always provokes fear, and as a result, avoidance of social situations. Symptoms last for 6 months or more and cause significant impairment in someone’s daily living. Social anxiety disorder is extremely common for people who may be struggling with their weight.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder causes panic attacks, which occur suddenly and last several minutes. During these attacks four or more of the following symptoms may occur: 

  • Palpitations
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or smothering
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Chills or heat sensation
  • Paresthesia (abnormal sensations, such as “pins and needles”)
  • Derealization or depersonalization
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying

After the attack for at least one month, someone may experience a persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks and/or significant maladaptive change in behavior related to the attack. At times the attacks have predictive triggers and agoraphobia can develop due to fear of the next attack. 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) causes uncontrollable recurring thoughts (obsession), and/or behaviors (compulsions). Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are intrusive and unwanted and can cause anxiety or distress. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that someone completes in an attempt to resolve the obsession. The purpose of the behavior is an attempt to reduce symptoms of fear, distress and are often not realistic coping methods for that obsession.

A diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder requires that the obsessions and compulsions are time-consuming (they require over 1 hour every day) and cause significant impairment in someone’s daily life.

The Anxiety and Weight Connection

But how does anxiety impact weight?  When you are so preoccupied with symptoms of anxiety or depression, you are no longer able to focus on healthy habits. You may feel like you are in survival mode, with all your energy going to combating or avoiding the anxiety.

Alternatively, anxiety could cause you to hyper focus on weight and health in an effort to avoid dealing with the symptoms of anxiety.  While this might sound like a good plan, and while one of the most healthy coping mechanisms is healthy eating and exercise, it is not healthy when done in excess. If your anxiety is consuming your thoughts and inhibits you from managing healthy habits, then it is time to seek the help of a professional.

If you are experiencing a significant amount of anxiety and would like to receive a diagnostic screening, reach out to your CoreLife care team for a referral to a behavioral health professional. Licensed clinical social workers are on-site at many CoreLife clinics, so help may be more convenient than you realize!

Looking a a quick and easy way to combat daily anxiety? Learn more about the practice of mindfulness.

Learn More about Anxiety

CoreLife incorporates behavioral health into our comprehensive care model. Learn more: https://corelifemd.com/behavioral-health/