Anxiety can also be expressed by physical pain that has no real organic origin: in these cases, we speak of somatized anxiety.
Anxiety somatization is somatization that normally occurs when our anxiety, prolonged over long periods of time, is expressed by physical pain that has no apparent organic causes but is rather a representation of an altered psychological condition.
Scutiform disorder and somatization
We have already seen in other articles how Scutiform disorder and somatization derive from causes related to different matrices, such as interpersonal and family problems or family trauma, but also from psychological mood disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder.
With anxiety, in particular, it is possible that different psychosomatic disorders may occur because of a state of anxiety that lasts over time and manifests itself in different forms: abdominal pain, back pain, cervical pain, or headaches. These symptoms could be a symptom of our anxiety (always and when there are no triggering causes that need to be investigated with a doctor and with appropriate clinical tests), even if we are not aware of them.
In cases of, for example, post-traumatic stress, there have been cases where the physical symptoms have occurred for a long period of time after the traumatic event, making it difficult to identify.
What is somatized anxiety?
Psychic problems are expressed through mood, behavioral, and sometimes physical disorders.
Thus, anxiety, disconnected or obsessive thoughts, stress, or other forms of psychic problems can be poured over the body, creating stomach aches, headaches, back and neck pain, joint problems, respiratory problems, and others. symptoms resulting from the connection between mind and body.
These types of disorders are precisely those that fall within the field of somatization because they do not have an organic or physical matrix, but a psychological one, and are therefore very difficult to diagnose because they have no tangible cause.
Anxiety somatization is not always pathological (it becomes pathological when its intensity and duration are very long and excessive): think of a moment of nervousness or tension, for example before an important exam or interview, which translates into a headache or a stomachache. The connection between mind and body is very strong, because often, through the body, we express our emotions and neuroses.
When these somatization becomes very painful, of very high and frequent intensity and lasting over time, we then speak of a real and genuine disorder. Normally, in order to diagnose somatization, adequate clinical tests are performed according to a referring doctor, accompanied by psychological therapy that tries to find the causes of this disorder.
Anxiety can be both a cause and a consequence of somatization: anxiety can both provoke and accompany such a disorder since normally people who suffer from it can develop a series of social-behavioral problems that can endanger various aspects of daily life.
Anxiety, mind, and body
But why does anxiety have all this power over our bodies? According to some studies, it’s all related to our autonomic nervous system.
In order to maintain the balance of many of the body’s functions, preserving it from the many stimuli and dangers that can come from the environment, the nervous system implements various strategies, which are precisely involuntary and without the individual being aware of them.
Apart from the brain, the autonomic nervous system is divided into two parts, the sympathetic and parasympathetic system, which acts through different organs of the body to respond to different stimuli from the environment, in order to preserve and maintain it in balance.
For example, the sympathetic system prepares the organs for emergencies or activities by promoting an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, blood sugar, and the activation of the body and the activation of energy. While the parasympathetic system, acting on the same organs, achieves the opposite calming effect.
The management of these two systems is carried out by the brain, which functions as a true operational center that analyzes all the functions of the body, always without our will. An important part of this control is exercised by a part of the brain called the limbic system, which is responsible for the management of emotions.
This point is very important: each of our emotions corresponds not only to the sensations but also to the responses of the organs of our body, mediated by the autonomous nervous system.
This explains why, with psychological illnesses that generate anxiety, panic, and terror, physical symptoms can also occur, which have no organic but psychological roots.
Symptoms of somatized anxiety
Symptoms of somatization can be different and can occur in different areas of the body, even separately. In addition, we also consider that people who suffer from anxiety and who have somatization problems are more likely to experience a higher than normal inflammation because anxiety and stress can bring more problems to our bodies and predispose us to the development of certain physical pathologies.
The disorders that anxiety can cause are related both to the physical sphere, such as stomachaches, but also to the neurological sphere, such as dizziness, or to the sexual sphere, such as lack of desire.
Let’s try to make a shortlist and then we’ll go deeper into some of them:
- muscular pains;
- muscle and limb coordination problems;
- short-term memory loss;
- gastritis and heartburn;
- irritable bowel;
- shortness of breath and feeling short of breath;
- chest tightness;
- the knot in the throat;
- the knot in the stomach;
- the tendency to develop autoimmune diseases (such as psoriasis or dermatitis);
- tachycardia or palpitations;
- sleep disorder;
On the psychic level, however, anxiety disorders can have these symptoms:
- obsessive thoughts;
- always feeling in danger or in a constant threatening situation.
In the following paragraphs, we will try to investigate some of the most common causes of somatized anxiety.
Stomach symptoms of somatized anxiety
Somatized anxiety in the stomach presents various symptoms, but above all the stomach is one point most affected by this disorder, precisely because there is a deep connection between the brain and the stomach. In fact, the stomach is said to be our second nervous system because it constantly communicates with our nervous system through a series of impulses.
Anxiety and stress can also indirectly affect our stomach, because in these cases we could eat badly, quickly or on the contrary, eat little, creating problems also related to our diet (gastrointestinal problems, bloating, acidity).)
In particular, the most frequent symptoms are:
- Problems related to the digestive tract which can vary from one person to another (e.g. constipation, diarrhea, or slow digestion).
- Damage to the gastric mucosa, which can affect both appetite and stomach pain.
- Difficulty absorbing nutrients because of lower permeability of the intestinal walls, which reduces protection against toxins or pathogens.
- Problems related to the regeneration of the intestinal walls and blood circulation in the walls of the digestive tract
- Reduction of the bacterial flora in the stomach with consequent destabilization of the intestinal balance.
- Increase in the production of gastric juices, which can cause bloating, acidity and gastritis Nausea, and vomiting, because of the alteration of digestive processes, caused by the activity of signals between the brain and the stomach.
Psychosomatic sore throat and anxiety
Psychosomatic sore throats can be linked to anxiety and can mask problems related to the expressive sphere and the ability to communicate thoughts.
It usually occurs with what is called a lump in the throat, or with nausea and vomiting and a feeling of constriction.
A common psychosomatic sensation in the throat is related to the fear of choking, which leads to difficulty swallowing.
In these cases, anxiety or a panic attack can cause a narrowing of the pharynx, creating these different sensations that can lead to the appearance of vomiting (which is useful in trying to release muscle tension and bring the pharynx back to a normal state).
Neck pain, headaches, and anxiety
The head and cervix are other critical points for those suffering from anxiety.
Regarding headaches and stiffness of the neck, therefore also the muscles of the cervix, there is a tendency to derive the cause of somatization at this stage in excessive rationality and the need for control.
A lifestyle marked by rationality and celebrity can lead to a constant rumination of thoughts, a continuous attempt to control oneself and people, which is normally released by tensions that lead to headaches, tensions, and cervical muscle headaches.
Some symptoms of anxiety headaches are:
- pain in the eyes and eyelids (especially in the nerves);
- ringing in the ears and dizziness;
- mucous membrane inflammation of the nose and mouth.
These types of headaches are mainly because of muscle tension: in the following paragraphs, we will see how to cure or ease these symptoms.
Burns in the chest and body
Chest pain and body burns can have a variety of causes, including cardiovascular disorders, osteoarticular problems, muscle injuries, tumors, prolonged heart overload over time, and somatic anxiety.
Prolonged experimentation with negative or positive emotions normally leads to feelings in the chest: when you feel great joy, you feel your chest bursting with happiness, but also a negative feeling or anxiety can cause chest pain and soreness. It is difficult to understand when a pinch in the chest is the consequence of a prolonged period of anxiety or is because of other reasons. For this reason, it is always best to consult the doctor to suggest the best therapy.
We have already seen that one of the main effects of somatized anxiety is to induce the body into a state of “tension” and energy, with a view to activity or escape (which in reality will never come: it is therefore only an instinct). Here, living in a prolonged state of anxiety can lead to problems in different muscles of the body, from the back to the cervix and lumbar region.
Specifically, regarding joint pain, it could be related to these muscle tensions, which could also spread to other parts of the body.
In order to talk about somatization, adequate clinical tests should be carried out beforehand to exclude organic causes. For this reason, when faced with pain or doubts, it is always best to consult a doctor for in-depth tests.
Psychosomatic back pain
The back is one point that can suffer from both somatized anxiety and the habits of our time.
Weakness already linked to a sedentary lifestyle and bad habits (poor physical activity, excessive weight carrying, etc.), stress, and anxiety only increase weakness and pain in this part of the body.
Normally, the first symptoms are manifested by tension in the neck and shoulders, which then spreads in the form of indefinite pain throughout the back, which can also be accompanied by sleep disturbances and fatigue. These symptoms may also mask problems related to the ortho sympathetic nervous system (part of the autonomic nervous system we discussed at the beginning of this article): its main center comprises two rows of neurons (called ganglia) that are on the spine and from which the nerve fibers of muscles and glands branch off.
Another part of the ortho sympathetic system that easily becomes inflamed and can cause head and neck pain is the vagus nerve, which starts at the base of the brain and innervates most organs.
This system is activated in situations of danger or discomfort: in situations of prolonged stress, the tension we exert on this part of the body can cause pain.
How to treat somatized anxiety?
As we have repeated several times in this article, the first step in treating somatized anxiety, setiform disorder, and somatization disorders it is important to contact a doctor so he or she can perform the examinations of the case and exclude the organic causes and suggest psychological therapy to trace the roots of the problem.
The diagnosis of a psychosomatic disorder is not always easy, as the causes are not always obvious or recent, but can also be traced back to childhood or past trauma. The therapy followed by the psychologist will help to get to the root of the problem, trying to work on behaviors, emotions, and thoughts, to untie the mental (and physical) knot that is created because of these problems.
Relaxation and meditation exercises
Simultaneously to the therapy and to improve yourself immediately, you can try different exercises and techniques of relaxation and meditation, to relax the muscles and calm the mind.
These exercises help to calm anxiety and relax the muscles, bringing benefits from both points of view of somatized anxiety. Among all this, mindfulness is a very successful type of meditation that helps to live in the present by calming anxiety.
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