anxiety causes insomnia

Why Can’t I Fall Asleep? Physical Effects of Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal response to stress in our lives. It is a feeling of apprehension or fear of what is to come. We may experience these feelings at different times in our life, such as an upcoming job interview, travel, an exam, marriage, addition to the family, or any life-changing events. The anxiety in these moments is normal and can even be considered beneficial as it keeps us vigilant and in a heightened state; a place of survival. However, intense and prolonged feelings of anxiety that trigger physical symptoms can take away from necessary functions, such as sleep, and interfere with your day-to-day life.

While feelings of anxiety can leave you feeling deflated and without end, we are here for you and ready to help you get your mental and physical health back to its best self. We believe every person deserves to take control and live their best life yet.

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What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a reaction to stress we are feeling in our lives. This stress can be triggered by an upcoming event, a traumatic situation, a hard decision, or any kind of life change. Typically, anxiety has a beginning and end as a person moves through the trigger of the stress. The anxiety will likely ease or pass with distance from the situation. However, in the case someone is experiencing an anxiety disorder, it can come out of nowhere and have intense feelings lasting for weeks or more. The good news is there are ways to mitigate anxiety in your life, and it is treatable.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety has many different triggers and symptoms associated with it, making it a different experience for each and every person. There are several kinds of treatable anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Various Phobia-Related Disorders

Cause of Anxiety

While the big question is, “what causes anxiety?” there is not one all-inclusive answer. Research has shown both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Factors such as a person’s history, chemistry, and temperament all take part in the development of anxiety. It can come on gradually and occur at any time in life.

Who Is Affected?

Anxiety is most common for middle-aged adults between 30 and 44. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that generalized anxiety affects approximately 2.7 percent of American adults and 2.2 percent of American teenagers. Women and girls nearly double the charts in being diagnosed with generalized anxiety: 3.4 percent of American women and 3.0 percent of American girls are diagnosed compared to only 1.9 percent of men and 1.5 percent of boys.  It is no doubt women are the main target of anxiety.

Effects of Anxiety on Your Physical Health

When experiencing chronic anxiety, it can be a confusing and exhausting time for your body. You may feel even more panicked as notice physical symptoms. Anxiety does not only disrupt your mind and mental health, it also takes a toll on physical health. Physical well-known symptoms from anxiety can include sweating, rapid breathing, heart palpitations, stomach pain, migraines, inflammations, and trouble sleeping. Along with these common symptoms, there are more disruptive symptoms to watch for:  

  • Breathing problems
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of libido
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness

Nervous System Response

The nervous system is a vital part of our body and a key component in helping the body’s systems communicate with one another. When a person feels anxious, the body sends blood flow to the brain to heighten and get ready for the threat that is to come. Then, the brain sends chemicals and stress hormones — adrenaline and cortisol — to the body’s nervous system in response. Long-term exposure to adrenaline and cortisol will keep the body in a constant revved-up state leaving a person wound up and uneasy.


Cortisol is a steroid hormone made in the cortex of the adrenal gland. It is released into the bloodstream and travels throughout the body, increasing blood sugar. It influences several parts of the body because every cell in the body has receptors for cortisol. The effect on each body is different as it is uniquely dependent on chemistry and other factors in one’s life.

Symptoms of prolonged heightened cortisol are:

  • Rapid weight gain (mostly face, chest, and abdomen)
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Skin changes
  • Increased thirst
  • Decreased libido
  • Menstrual cycle irregularities
  • Trouble sleeping


Like cortisol, long-term exposure to adrenaline can have harmful effects on the body. Adrenaline’s function is to trigger the body’s fight-or-flight reaction. It changes the blood vessels to constrict and move blood toward major muscle groups and increases the airway to allow in more oxygen. When there is an immediate threat, this is a helpful reaction for the body. This is the hormone responsible for seemingly unreal stories like moms lifting cars off their children. But when no present danger exists, it can be detrimental to your health.

Effects of long-term surges of adrenaline may include:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Damage to blood vessels
  • Risk of heart attack or stroke

Why Does Anxiety Affect My Sleep?

While adrenaline and cortisol are beneficial in the event of significant danger, they have no real use in everyday common stress. When your body receives the message there’s a threat, it tries to protect you by keeping your brain on and alert. This may make it hard to sleep.

Circadian Rhythm

Your body follows a 24-hour circadian rhythm which influences the production of cortisol and melatonin. For a person who is not experiencing chronic anxiety, cortisol levels are high when you wake up and then gradually drop as the day goes on. Melatonin is on an opposite schedule with levels starting to increase toward the evening and then peaking during the night when asleep. The importance of this schedule is to prompt the body to burn sugar for energy at the right time of day and to get a restful night’s sleep on a regular schedule.

When a person experiences chronic anxiety, their cortisol levels do not gradually decrease throughout the day. Instead, they are constantly elevated and override melatonin. This disrupts the body’s natural rhythm and sleep patterns, causing insomnia.

Treatments for Anxiety

Lifestyle changes

It can be fatiguing when the body doesn’t relax, recoup, and rest. But what is important is to remember there are changes in your life that can help to reduce stress and anxiety. Healthy eating is a good start to ensure your body is getting proper nutrition. Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and recreational drugs is also important as they can contribute to anxiety. Daily exercise has a multitude of benefits for your body and mind.

Professional help

When lifestyle changes don’t seem to be enough or you feel like you are stuck, professional help is a valuable tool in treating anxiety. Here at NYC Therapeutic Wellness we have counselors committed to improving your emotional wellbeing. We want to see you reach your goals and live a life you find fulfilling and rewarding. With help, you will learn tools to address your anxiety as well as changes you can put in place for reducing stress and implementing healthy boundaries to keep you on the path to successful mental health.

Ready to get on the road to a healthier you?  Make an appointment with our team today.