OBJECTIVES: The role of anxiety symptoms in the development of functional somatic symptoms (FSS) is unknown. Somatic symptoms may be triggered by or give rise to anxiety symptoms. This study aimed to 1) explore interrelationships among within-day worrying, feeling anxious, and somatic symptoms, and 2) investigate the association between these interrelationships and overall level of FSS.
METHODS: This study included 767 participants (83% females, mean age 39 years), who were recruited through an online crowdsourcing study in the Dutch general population. Somatic, and anxiety symptoms were reported thrice daily (6-h intervals) for 30 days using electronic diaries. FSS were assessed at baseline (PHQ-15). Temporal relationships among worrying, feeling anxious, and somatic symptoms were modeled using a multilevel vector autoregressive model.
RESULTS: We observed large heterogeneity in the within-person interrelationships among worrying, feeling anxious and somatic symptoms. Averaged over participants, higher-than-usual somatic symptoms were associated with increases in levels of worrying six hours later (B = 0.017, 95% CI [0.006, 0.027]). At the between-person level, FSS levels predicted the persistence of feeling anxious (B = 0.230 95% CI [0.105, 0.350]) and the carry-over of worrying to feeling anxious over six-hours (B = 0.159, 95% CI [0.031, 0.283]).
CONCLUSIONS: In contrast to what we expected, higher levels of somatic symptoms over multiple weeks were associated with the persistence and carry-over of within-day anxiety-related symptoms. One within-person association between psychological and somatic symptoms during the day was observed, suggesting that, over a time span of 6-h, anxiety symptoms relate to somatic symptoms only in a minority of people from the general population.