Symptoms Of Anxiety: Loss Of Appetite And Physical Changes
Updated June 17, 2020
Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault
Anxiety is one of the most common mood disorders in existence today. Coverage regarding anxiety is regularly found in magazines, newspapers, and online news sources, most of them focusing primarily on the condition itself, the statistics behind it, and the most common ways that it affects people. What fewer news sources cover, however, are the myriad ways that anxiety can show its face, including the seemingly unrelated, physical impacts of the condition.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is many things: a diagnosed disorder, a state of being, and a descriptor of a temporary feeling. Each of these things can intersect with the others but does not necessarily do so. Someone can feel a great deal of anxiety, for instance, without having a diagnosed anxiety disorder, and someone who has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder might not feel their symptoms daily. People who live in a perpetual state of anxiety, too, differ from someone with an anxiety disorder, and someone who experiences temporary bouts of anxiety.
Temporary feelings of anxiety are usually brought about by a catalyst, such as a stressful event, or an emotional upheaval. The loss of a loved one, for instance, can trigger a period of anxiety. A promotion at work can also trigger feelings of anxiety. As the memory of your loved one grows more and more settled; however, or you become more accustomed to the demands of your new job, the feelings of anxiety begin to dissipate. This is the most effective means of determining which form of anxiety you are experiencing: duration and intensity. A temporary spike of anxiety typically leaves within a few hours or weeks, or after the event that caused the spike.
If anxiety is a constant state, it does not necessarily indicate an anxiety disorder; persistent anxiety can be a sign of persistent stressors. If you have an extremely demanding, high-stakes job, for instance, you might find yourself constantly stressed. If your home life is tumultuous, at best, you may have anxiety as a constant companion. If there is an identifiable, verifiable reason for chronic anxiety, it is unlikely to warrant a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders differ from the examples above primarily due to cause: anxiety spikes and stress-borne anxiety both have causes, while a defining trait of an anxiety disorder is the presence of anxiety, in the absence of a distinct cause. This means that anxiety is not a reaction to a stressor, a life event, or an emotional upset, but is instead a nagging, persistent force within your body or brain, without being able to identify the trigger, to soothe the proverbial beast.
Common Signs Of Anxiety
The most common sign of anxiety is feeling stressed. This can manifest as feeling irritable, on edge, or constantly uncomfortable, as though something bad is just around the corner. Anxiety can also come in the form of fear. You might fear losing your job, losing a loved one, or saying the wrong thing. You could fear to get into a car accident, or hurting someone else without meaning to. Anxiety comes in countless shapes and sizes and affects everyone differently.
Only acknowledging the mental symptoms of anxiety is to do anyone struggling with anxiety a disservice; the symptoms of anxiety are far-reaching and can be extremely intense. Just as depression can often manifest in actual physical alterations to your body, anxiety can have profound and lasting impacts on your physical body and can lead to chronic physical conditions, in addition to the mental effects.
Loss Of Appetite And Physical Anxiety Symptoms
The physical symptoms of anxiety are frequently whittled down to the same effects as general nervousness: sweating, trembling, a racing heart, and feeling hot. More than simple nervousness, though, anxiety can also manifest in the form of headaches, stomachaches, muscle aches, perpetual exhaustion, muscle tension, difficulty breathing, and hot or cold flashes.
Anxiety can also affect your appetite; some people with anxiety might find that their appetite either increases or decreases, which can lead to several other health problems, ranging from losing enough weight to become underweight, all the way to developing an actual eating disorder that will also require treatment to overcome. Anxiety can become so overwhelming that the desire to eat, bathe, or take other basic steps to care for yourself in as full and healthy a way as possible is greatly reduced, or disappears entirely, which can cause additional anxiety to emerge.
Dizziness, nausea, and fainting can also be physical indications of an anxiety disorder, and many people with anxiety or anxiety disorders discover their anxiety after seeking medical attention for their physical symptoms, rather than seeking help for perceived mental deficiencies or issues. While anxiety is usually attributed to the brain and cognitive function, it is a whole-body process that is ruled by and connected to your physical body and physical health just as much as your mental health.
Standard Anxiety Treatment
Anxiety treatment can be used to treat all three kinds of anxiety, though the methods for each will differ. Psychotherapy is the most common means of dispersing anxiety, whether that means easing fear for a single instance of anxiety or treating a chronic, years-long anxiety disorder. Within psychotherapy, there are specific treatment methods, the most commonly used method being some form of exposure therapy, wherein therapists expose their clients to their stressors or fears, in a careful, controlled environment, and gradually eliminate or reduce fear and anxiety. This form of therapy can be delivered in person or online, but both delivery methods should be completed with a qualified healthcare professional, such as those found on ReGain.us.
Some anxiety is best treated through antidepressants or other pharmaceutical drugs, as anxiety can reach a level where psychotherapy is no longer the only necessary intervention. In some cases, these medications are temporary, to curb a particularly intense flare-up, while others will use medication long-term to manage their symptoms.
Alternative Treatment Methods
Exercise can be considered a form of treatment, particularly for physical symptoms. Tension and tightness can be alleviated somewhat by regular exercise and stretching. Keeping your body in peak physical health can ease some of the physical symptoms of anxiety, and can give your body some much-needed attention and care.
Meditation and breathing exercises are also often encouraged for people experiencing all types of anxiety. Because deep breathing has consistently been associated with increased relaxation and decreased stress responses, many men and women with anxiety experience significant relief through both meditation and breathing exercises. These forms of alternative treatment can help both curb chronic anxiety symptoms, and the sudden onset of a panic attack or spike in anxiety levels.
Supplementation can also be used for some anxiety symptoms. If significant GI tract symptoms arise, some people find relief through using a daily probiotic to ease gastric distress. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies have also been linked to the onset of both anxiety and depression, so adding a daily multivitamin to your routine could soothe some of those issues.
Aromatherapy can also function as a complementary treatment for anxiety, as some scents have demonstrated the ability to ease worries and increase one's ability to handle stress. Lavender is the scent most commonly used to ease the symptoms of anxiety, but peppermint oil has also been linked to a decrease in pain caused by headaches or migraines. Aromatherapy can help limit some of the physical manifestations of anxiety.
Symptoms Of Anxiety
Although many people will acknowledge the mental symptoms of anxiety-worry, confusion, difficulty focusing, impulse control issues, and similar effects-the physical manifestations of anxiety are often overlooked or are misunderstood and identified as something else. This is unfortunate, as many people with anxiety or anxiety disorders experience significant physical changes in response to their anxiety, including appetite changes (increased or decreased appetite), headaches, low-grade nausea, muscle tension, hot flashes, and chest pain.
All of these symptoms are important to identify as symptoms of anxiety, because many people experiencing these symptoms may incorrectly identify them as symptoms of a heart attack, fibromyalgia, or another condition that warrants medical attention when a mental health professional would be a better fit. Physical symptoms of anxiety are also important to be aware of because they can create a cycle of anxiety: when physical sensations arrive, they can be downright terrifying, as is the case of someone amid an anxiety attack suspecting a heart attack. Not knowing what physical anxiety symptoms are, people can live in terror of experiencing another round of physical symptoms, which further aggravates anxiety.
Fortunately, the physical changes your body experiences in response to anxiety can be treated as readily as the mental and mood changes you experience, using most of the same tools. A large helping of physical symptoms might encourage some additional healing modalities, such as a greater focus on physical fitness or aromatherapy, but ultimately, resolving the physical symptoms of anxiety is inextricably twined with treating anxiety as a whole, and relief is usually felt with regular psychotherapy intervention.
Frequently Asked Questions FAQs
What can cause you to lose your appetite?
A persisting lack of appetite can be an indicator of a physical or mental disturbance in the body. This is especially true if your lack of appetite during or immediately after a stressful or traumatic event. If you’re suddenly struggling with a poor appetite that has been ongoing for more than a few days, it’s important to seek medical attention to rule out potential medical or mental health issues. Has something happened recently that deeply upset you?
Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event can leave an emotional scar on the mind and body that can interfere with your thinking, emotions, behavior, and everyday functions like eating and self-care activities. If you suspect that your sudden lack of appetite is related to a mental or medical issue, reach out to your primary care doctor immediately. A medical doctor can talk to you about the symptoms that may be causing your loss of appetite and provide you with healthy ways to stimulate your appetite. If your primary care physician (PCP) or other medical provider finds that your lack of appetite is related to a chronic mental health condition like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, they may recommend medication, therapy, or a combination of both as a way to help you increase your appetite.
What to do when you lose your appetite?
If you suddenly lose your appetite, the first thing you should do is take note of when you first realized the change. Since you’ve had a reduced appetite you may not be aware that your body has been missing key nutrients that it needs to support your body symptoms. Lack of appetite can have devastating effects on your mind and body.
Lack of nutrition can cause you to have cloudy thinking that can result in poor decision making that can lead to unacceptable or unusual behaviors. Dehydration and other physical symptoms may show up as lack of food also usually means there is a lack of water being delivered to critical body systems as well.
Symptoms of loss of appetite caused by chronic mental health conditions like anxiety include loss of taste, a loss of interest in food, and a loss of interest in eating. Decreased appetite occurs in people with chronic mental health issues like anxiety when mental health symptoms begin to affect the body. It’s important to address your loss of appetite as soon as it becomes an issue in order to avoid additional health complications like weight, loss, vision loss, muscle loss, and similar symptoms.
What type of cancer causes loss of appetite?
According to medical researchers, while all known forms of cancer may interfere with appetite, mood, and other body systems, the cancer types that interfere with appetite are ovarian cancer, lung cancer, or pancreatic cancer. Many people who are experiencing or have recovered from these specific types of cancer reported a decreased appetite or complete appetite loss as a side-effect of the cancer itself, a treatment designed to cure cancer like chemotherapy and radiation treatment other related factors.
Cancer patients who are chronically ill and those who are receiving high doses of medication including chemical-based radiation treatments may report a decreased appetite as one of the side effects of medication, anxiety, or other condition. Talk to your primary care provider if you’re experiencing a loss of appetite. Your primary care physician can provide you with a series of medical assessments that can include urinalysis and bloodwork that can rule out potential medical causes for your sudden lack of appetite.
A medical doctor can also administer psychological testing to determine if undiagnosed mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or another disorder are contributing to your lack of appetite. Once your doctor gives you a diagnosis, you and your provider will discuss the best treatment options including medication management, lifestyle changes, and psychotherapy as potential options for increasing your appetite in a healthy way.
Is loss of appetite dangerous?
If a diminished appetite persists over an extended period of time, medical and mental health symptoms can ensue. Negative symptoms of decreased appetite and loss of appetite often include weight loss, muscle loss, vision loss, and other physical symptoms. Weight loss happens gradually over time as your body is receiving less nourishment and energy than it needs to support your bodily functions. The effects of weight loss can cause issues in other parts of the body as your body begins to enter starvation mode.
If your body is left in starvation mode for an extended period of time, important body systems including your vision may begin to fail. Having a loss of appetite from time-to-time is a normal part of life. However, if you’re experiencing a diminished appetite for longer periods of time, chances are there is likely an undiagnosed medical or mental health issue in the mix. It’s important to take immediate action if If you’ve been struggling with a decreased appetite as a result of anxiety or other chronic mental health symptoms for an extended period of time.
If you don’t take action, your physical health may also begin to suffer. Instead of standing by and letting your mind and body deteriorate, reach out for help from a licensed medical provider or therapist. Your medical doctor will suggest ways to stimulate your appetite that include medication, therapy, and other medical interventions to increase appetite.
Why do I have a sudden loss of appetite?
Have you experienced a recent trauma, loss, or another stressful event? If you have, chances are your decreased appetite or loss of appetite may be directly related to your experience. When people are under high levels of anxiety and stress, they may also notice a decreased appetite as a result. Prolonged stress can take a mental and physical toll on the body that can eventually lead to irreversible damage if left unchecked.
Sudden loss of appetite or decreased appetite in people experiencing anxiety is due to the body’s fight-or-flight response being activated. The fight-or-flight response is a built-in defense mechanism that is triggered by the imminent danger of physical or emotional harm. When the fight-or-flight response is activated a decreased appetite occurs as a result of your body systems preparing themselves to fight or flee.
The human body isn’t intended to stay in this mode for extended periods which is what happens when we experience generalized and social anxiety. People with anxiety and mood disorders often experience high levels of stress that interfere with their body’s normal processes. If you’re suddenly experiencing a loss of appetite that has lasted for more than a day or two, reach out to a licensed medical provider for support.
What to eat when you don't feel like eating
One of the main symptoms of loss of appetite is that you don’t feel like eating. As we’ve learned, our body systems can suffer if the loss of appetite persists. It’s important to address issues with appetite loss and a persistently decreased appetite as soon as you become aware of them. Living with chronic mental health issues like anxiety and suffering from the negative symptoms of anxiety disorder like decreased appetite and loss of appetite can take a serious toll on your body systems over time.
If you’re suffering from the symptoms of loss appetite or a decreased appetite, try to eat easy-to-digest foods like soup or crackers in order to remain healthy while you combat appetite loss. Eating simple and easy to digest foods helps your body to get the nutrition it needs without overburdening your body systems. Have you been experiencing an ongoing lack of appetite or aren’t able to eat anything at all? This is a sign of a more serious medical or mental health condition. Reach out to a medical or mental health care provider immediately for support, diagnosis, and treatment options.
What does it mean if you don't feel like eating?
Sometimes you don’t feel like eating because you’re just not hungry. It’s normal to feel this way from time-to-time. This is especially true as our lives become busier and competing needs for food and sleep result in the choice of rest over nourishment. While this definitely isn’t an indicator of a healthy lifestyle, it does happen from time-to-time as we struggle to find balance and juggle the responsibilities of our daily lives.
However, when not being hungry turns into a decreased appetite or a complete loss of appetite on an extended basis, these are more serious concerns and potential indicators of a medical or mental health issue. A prolonged lack of appetite can lead to physical issues in your body. The primary reason for this is that even when you have a decreased appetite or a loss of appetite, your body still needs nutrients in order to process its daily biological functions.
Going through your life without nourishment is like trying to drive your car on an empty tank of gas -- you’re not going to get very far. This means that you have to find a healthy way to increase your appetite so your body can get the nutrients it needs. Symptoms of decreased appetite and appetite loss include loss of muscle, weight loss, and even vision loss. It’s normal for stress or anxiety-producing circumstances to temporarily reduce appetite.
It’s not normal to suffer from a decreased appetite or complete loss of appetite for days on end.
Does stress cause loss of appetite?
Stress is one of the primary concerns of Americans suffering from chronic mental health issues today. Global pandemics like the coronavirus (COVID- 19), high levels of job loss and unemployment, and large scale social unrest within the country is contributing to higher levels of stress. Chronic mental health concerns that cause high levels of stress can cause a decreased appetite or a complete loss of appetite as your body systems struggle to regulate themselves and function under high stress. When your body is under stress, one of the ways that it attempts to regulate itself is to fully devote the energy resources that would normally be dedicated to your primary body systems (including respiratory and circulatory functions) to prepare for a fight-or-flight response. Decreased appetite or loss of appetite occurs as a result of this biological process diverting blood flow and energy in preparation to stave off or escape an attack.
Symptoms of decreased appetite including eating smaller portions of food than normal or eating fewer times per day often occur before a complete loss of appetite where someone has no desire for food. If you’re under high levels of stress and you’re starting to notice that you have a diminished or decreased appetite, reach out to a medical or mental health professional to rule out potential underlying medical or mental health issues.
Can anxiety cause lack of appetite?
There are many factors that can contribute to a lack of appetite. Excitement, competing for physiological needs, medical issues, and mental health issues are all factors that can contribute to reduced appetite or a loss of interest in food. Suffering from chronic anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other chronic mental health disorders can contribute to a decreased appetite or a loss of appetite.
People who suffer from severe anxiety may require medication to combat a loss of appetite or decreased appetite. High levels of stress can cause people to lose interest in eating and other things happening around them as fear takes hold of their mind and body. In severe cases of anxiety that require medication management and result in a decreased appetite or loss of appetite, a medical doctor will also recommend psychotherapy sessions to help you increase your appetite by reducing your anxiety.
Talking to a licensed psychotherapist can help you learn healthy strategies for reducing anxiety. The licensed therapists on the ReGain online therapy platform are available to provide diagnosis, treatment, support, and advice via a secured therapy platform 24-hours a day. Therapy experts at ReGain are board-certified in the areas of psychology, licensed mental health counseling, licensed clinical social work, and more. The leading online couples therapy platform provides users with confidential access to thousands of certified therapy professionals at any time of the day or night.
What should I eat if I haven't eaten all day?
If you haven’t been able to eat all day, start with small, simple meals to nourish your mind and body and gradually increase your appetite. Simple foods like soup and crackers are easy to digest and are likely to be well-tolerated on an empty stomach as you prepare to add more complex foods back into your diet and increase your appetite. If you’re having trouble eating or keeping food down, reach out to a medical doctor immediately.
Being unable to eat or properly digest food can be a sign of a larger medical or mental health issue. If you have concerns about getting to your medical providers’ office due to COVID- 19, there are telehealth options available online that allow you to have face-to-face video visits with licensed medical doctors and therapists. There are similar options available for getting therapy online using leading therapy platforms like ReGain. Today’s medical and mental health clients can rest in the comfort of knowing that they can receive quality medical or mental health care without ever having to leave the safety and comfort of their home or office.
Can dehydration cause loss of appetite?
Dehydration may actually be a side-effect of appetite loss. Many of the foods that we eat contain vitamins, proteins, and the water that we need to keep our body systems functioning smoothly. When our bodies don’t get the amount of nutrition or water that we need from eating food and drinking liquids, dehydration can quickly ensue.
The fact that dehydration can lead to more prolonged serious medical illnesses that include foggy thinking, weight loss, and vision loss is another reason why it’s critically important to find healthy ways to increase your appetite and your nutritional intake. Being undernourished or dehydrated can aggravate the negative symptoms of mental health disorders like anxiety, and depression. Malnutrition and dehydration can also contribute to physical health issues.
If you’re experience symptoms of malnutrition, dehydration, or anxiety, or if you’re suddenly suffering from a loss of appetite, reach out to a medical professional for diagnosis, treatment, and support. Your medical provider may present you with a variety of treatment options that include lifestyle changes, medication management, and psychotherapy. If you’re interested in learning more about scheduling effective and affordable psychotherapy services online, contact a licensed therapy expert at ReGain to get started.