Anxiety is a the excitement of nerves within the body. When stimulated, the nerves, send off a series of synapses activating the sympathetic nervous system charging the bodies respiratory, muscular, cardiovascular, endocrine, system. The sympathetic nervous system is governed by neurotransmitters. When a person perceives a threat their heart rate and breathing rates increase, muscles tense, and blood flow is diverted from the abdominal region to the brain, sugar metabolism increases and oxygen saturated increases. Though this physical response is important for sustaining human life, living in this state for long periods can be damaging to the physical and psychological health of a person. Anxiety is thought to develop in the amygdala of the brain. The amygdala gets overstimulated and this causes a cascading effect of chemical factors to initiate the sympathetic nervous system responsive sequence. Chronic anxiety has been associated with many physical ailments; irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headaches, heart disease, respiratory disease, gastrointenstinal disease, brain disorders. For some people anxiety rules their life and often fall into the Somatoform disorder category.
Somatoform disorders include, hypochondriasis, body dysmorphic disorder, pain disorder, and conversion disorder. It is believed by many medical professionals that fibromyalgia is a somatoform disorder. These disorders show a pain variable but no actual neurologicial or physiological disease or dysfunction. It is believed that chronic anxiety has shifted the homeostatic balance of the systems of the body causing the sympathetic nervous system to work over- time. Poor respiratory function, low oxygen saturation, poor nutrient uptake, are related to chronic anxiety. Over time these physical problems will begin to manifest into other chronic problems; i.e, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness.
Anxiety and Exercise.
Chronic anxiety will weaken the immune system and will disrupt muscle metabolism. During high anxiety, sugar is dumped into the blood stream to help fuel the sympathetic reaction. This reaction should normally only take a few seconds to cycle through in a threatening situation. For example, if you were walking down the street and a car suddenly swerved and came at you, you would immediately react and jump out of the way or get hit by the car. The sympathetic nervous system would save your life. This event would only take a few seconds. After you jumped away from the car you would suddenly feel your heart beat going really fast and your breathing would be increased and you would be overcome with a feeling of weakness. Some people will feel really weak after an event like this, because the body is in a depleted state, sugar is being cleared out from insulin, adrenalin is pumped into the stomach, and blood vessels vasoconstrict reducing oxygen flow. Chronic anxiety weakens the body. During exercise the sympathetic nervous is activated. I consider weight training a self induced anxiety attack. In essence, we are going from a parasympathetic (relaxed) state to creating an acute state of excitability (sympathetic nervous system activation). The ability of controlling the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems is what exercise is all about. In fact, exercise is the number one remedy for resolving anxiety disorders. Exercise provides the ability to establish greater sympathetic tone which will help reduce chronic anxiety.
The more efficient a person becomes with exercise the more responsive they are at controlling the parasympathetic /sympathetic transition. However, if a person is chronically anxious and can’t seem to get control of their emotional state they may notice a weakness when they exercise. This is because they are already in a depleted state and have decreased their bodies threshold factors. What this means is that they are not able to perform at their peak ability and will have to limit their workload. One day a person could bench press 300 pounds, then next time they can lift only 100 pounds after they just found out some bad news they received. The bad news caused an anxiety reaction and began to deplete the body’s systems before they even started exercising. So when the person tried to lift they couldn’t lift their normal weight and had to sacrifice dropping the weight down to accomodate for the weakened immune system. When I have been under tremendous stress I notice a depletion in my energy. I can feel my sympathetic nervous system charging up and I begin to feel weak. I would see a dramatic loss of strength when I exercised. Knowing my body well enough, I would reduce my work load and train smarter. I realized that I would be doing more harm than good if I tried to lift the same weight that I normally could lift when I wasn’t stressed.
Worries will Destroy You
Owning a small business these days produces a lot of anxiety and stress. The uncertain of the economy places a lot of worry in many small business owners, including myself. Having a family, paying bills, and running a business has its share of anxiety. The constant worry of making ends meet can produce anxiety. I know this first hand, there have been months when 3 or 4 major life stressors would happen. These stressors would consume my thoughts day and night. My training would suffer tremendously. My immune system would be depleted and I would get run down and sick. It wouldn’t take much to peak lactate threshold and sympathetic tone. During times like this I have to go into a protective survival mode. I would reduce my training level to stay below threshold. It would be sanity training. I knew that the stress and anxiety that I was going through wouldn’t last forever, but I had to deal with when it was apparent. Training smarter helped me reduce the harmful stress reaction and helped me resolve my mental state. I had a professor tell me one time that “Daryl all of your worrying will destroy you.” He said this to me after I was distraught about making a 98 on a test and I thought I should have made a 100. I worried about one question worth 2 points—which looking back at it today is ridiculous, but to me at that time it was a big deal. When people are anxious and worry all the time, the immune system is compromised and this over time will destroy the systems of the body which could ultimately cause disease. Get control of your anxiety and find ways to reduce stress and build the immune system. Exercise, when performed correctly is the best way to resolve chronic anxiety. Stop worrying, take a deep breath and get back into the parasympathetic nervous where peace and tranquility reside.