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Most people will experience anxiety at some point in their life. For example, someone’s palms might get sweaty before they meet a famous person they admire, or their heart might race when they sit down to take an important exam.
But anxiety can manifest in a wide variety of different ways. These can look different to everyone, with some people being more affected emotionally, while others feel their anxiousness physically instead. Or a combination of the two.
So, what are some common physical symptoms of anxiety?
You may be surprised to discover that there are many, and different people can experience a wide variety of them depending on the individual. Some may only experience a few of these symptoms, while others will be able to mark “yes” all the way down the list.
1. Trembling or shaking.
This might manifest in a bit of a hand tremble, or a full-body shaking experience depending on how severe the anxiety is.
If you’re dealing with chronic anxiety, you may find yourself trembling on and off over the course of the day. In contrast, if you only feel anxiety in certain situations, you may feel a slight tremble in the moment that eases off after that moment has passed.
You may feel waves of chilliness run over your back or through your core. This is often a sign of adrenal fatigue, from your adrenal glands working on overdrive because of your fight-or-flight response. Some describe this feeling like standing next to a window that was opened suddenly.
Depending on the hormonal responses a person is experiencing, they might feel overheated or feverish rather than chilled. This kind of feverish feeling is often accompanied by other, related symptoms on this list, including trembling, heart palpitations, hyperventilation, and dizziness.
4. Hypersensitivity to sound and/or light.
Those prone to anxiety are often quite sensitive to light and sound. Much like people who experience migraines, they might find bright lights and loud, sharp noises to be particularly jarring or bothersome.
Being in a place that has blinky overhead lights or banging noises can make their anxiety far worse and can trigger many of the other symptoms on this list.
5. Voice shaking/difficulty speaking.
Similar to the trembling mentioned earlier, you may find that your voice will shake or crack when you’re feeling anxious. Some people even find that their throats “close up” on them when anxiety hits, so they either have to clear their throats repeatedly or cough to be able to speak.
In extreme cases, people can actually lose their voices completely, temporarily at least. They’re rendered mute by their own anxiety or panic!
Some people feel waves of disorientation associated with their anxiety. They may have difficulty concentrating and feel like their vision is “swimming.” Everything around them might lose focus, and they’ll feel lightheaded or dizzy. This can even be accompanied by fainting if the anxiety is intense enough.
You may have heard of people throwing up from anxiety, such as yarfing before a stage performance or a major life event like getting married. This may be a low-level feeling of general queasiness that comes and goes in waves. Alternatively, you may go from 0 to 100 and have to run for a rubbish bin so you can be sick into it.
8. Stomach pain.
One of the first signs of anxiety (especially in children) is the ubiquitous “tummy ache.” This tends to be a low-level generalized discomfort rather than the kind of sharp, stabbing pain that can indicate appendicitis or gall stones.
For example, a child who experiences anxiety about going to school might tell his parents that he’s not feeling well because his guts are lurching all over the place. He’s experiencing real discomfort since elevated cortisol levels can indeed damage one’s intestinal tract over time. Between that and clenched belly muscles, bracing against the yuck feelings of stress and anxiety, he really is feeling awful.
This can, of course, happen to people of all ages, but if your little one is experiencing tummy problems on a regular basis, especially when it comes to attending school or other functions, it’s important to get to the bottom of it.
No pun intended.
Did you know that burping or belching a lot is a sign of anxiety? Between stomach acid roiling around and hormonal fluctuations causing imbalances in the microbiome, a whole lot more gas can be created than usual. This needs to escape somehow, and quite often flows upwards to be released in mighty belches.
Many healthcare workers develop various ulcers throughout their digestive tracts. While some of them might be esophageal (in the lower throat), most of them are gastric or duodenal (in the stomach lining or upper intestine).
Anxiety and stress can cause a variety of hormone imbalances. Since our hormones regulate pretty much all our body’s systems, these imbalances can throw off stomach acidity levels.
When stomach acidity is too high, it can spit up into the esophagus, or leak through the stomach lining and into the upper intestine, burning (ulcerating) the tissues there.
11. Heartburn/acid reflux.
Heartburn goes along with the ulcers mentioned above. As stomach acid goes travelling into areas it’s not supposed to be in, it can cause heartburn or acid reflux issues. This can feel like a burning sensation in your chest or upper back and can also move up into your throat. Antacids can alleviate the discomfort, as can mucilaginous herbal teas like slippery elm or marshmallow.
12. Increased appetite/weight gain.
A lot of people with anxiety turn to comfort eating to allay the feelings they’re experiencing. When your stomach feels like it’s gnawing at you, and you’re dizzy and feverish, a belly full of delicious food can be immensely comforting and soothing.
The problem with this, of course, is that it can cause obesity and the various health issues associated with that condition. Furthermore, people who are severely overweight then also tend to struggle with anxiety and depression, creating a vicious circle.
13. Decreased appetite/weight loss.
In contrast to the symptom mentioned above, some people suffer from decreased food intake rather than eating for comfort.
These people will lose their appetites when anxiety strikes. They tend to feel chilled and trembly rather than overheated and may have heart palpitations too. Their throats can tighten and they’ll feel nausea at the mere thought of eating anything.
This can lead to significant weight loss over time which can contribute to feeling fatigued and overwhelmed.
14. An intense need to eliminate waste.
Anxiety often manifests in more frequent urination or diarrhea. These can also come on quickly, so you might feel fine one moment but have to go RIGHT NOW when a wave of anxiety hits you.
This is why irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is strongly associated with anxiety and panic: when stress levels increase, so does the need to run to the washroom.
This is often due to the cortisol buildup that stress can induce. It’s exacerbated by caffeine and heat, so try laying off the coffee and increasing herbal tea if this is a common symptom for you.
15. Acne and rosacea.
Those hormone imbalances we mentioned can also manifest in skin breakouts. After all, skin is our largest organ and is extremely sensitive to hormonal fluctuations. Rosacea, which is a reddening of the skin, can be both caused and exacerbated by hormone imbalances.
There’s also a catch-22 here, in that anxiety and stress can cause acne and rosacea, but those skin conditions can also make people feel depressed, anxious, and stressed out.
16. Eczema or psoriasis.
These skin issues are also both caused and exacerbated by anxiety and stress. The cortisol released during times of stress or worry can mess with your skin’s sebum (oil) levels, making your skin behave as though it’s in danger all the time.
This can result in eczema or psoriasis breakouts, which are characterized by itchy, scaly red patches on the skin. These can even start “weeping,” which is both uncomfortable and unsightly (which of course increases anxiety and stress levels).
17. Chest tightness or pain.
A lot of people go to the hospital with chest pain, thinking that they’re having a heart attack when in fact they’re experiencing a symptom of severe anxiety. Mostly, they’ll feel jabbing pains throughout the ribcage, or what feels like a sharp, squeezing sensation around the breastbone.
These are common and tend to subside when the anxious moment passes.
Just a note: if your chest pain feels like it’s spreading towards your shoulders/arms, and is associated with sweating, nausea, and vomiting, then definitely get yourself to a hospital.
18. Difficulty breathing.
When dealing with a bout of anxiety, some people might feel like there’s a band tightening around their ribcage, making it difficult for them to get enough oxygen. Needless to say, feeling like they’re unable to breathe properly can certainly intensify the feeling of anxiety and panic tearing through them!
The best way to work through this is to focus on regulating breath. Breathe in to the count of four, hold the breath to the count of four, then exhale to the count of eight. Repeat this until the tightness loosens up and breathing can resume normally again.
This symptom is the opposite to the situation mentioned above. Rather than having difficulty breathing, you may find that you’re breathing more rapidly. These are going to be tight, shallow breaths rather than deep ones as your body tries to get more oxygen into you.
20. Increased heart rate.
If you get anxious about something, you might feel like your heart is beating through your chest. It’ll beat more rapidly and might beat more strongly as well. You may have heard these symptoms described as “heart palpitations” or “tachycardia” before.
Most of the time it’s nothing to be worried about. This is your body’s fight or flight response to a threatening situation and is totally normal. It’s often accompanied by the hyperventilation we just discussed.
That said, if your heartbeat won’t slow down or if you also feel chest pain, numbness, or nausea, get checked out asap.
21. Numbness or tingling in your hands, feet, or lips.
When we don’t get enough oxygen to our extremities, they can start to tingle or feel numb. Of course, we tend to freak out when that happens because it’s a weird sensation, and that intensifies anxiety and panic.
A lot of people experience severe headaches from anxiety. These are sometimes characterized as migraines because they share similar symptoms (like sensitivity to light and sound). Unlike migraines, however, they tend to fade as the anxiety waves pass. Other people may get tension headaches around their face from wincing or scrunching their features.
23. Hair loss.
You’ve heard of people going bald from stress or having their hair turn white after receiving a shock? Hair follicles are deeply affected by stress hormones. As a result, anxiety can cause hair loss in both men and women. This is usually known as telogen effluvium. It happens when anxiety-related stress hormones make your hair follicles jump from the “growing phase” to “resting phase.” So they don’t continue growing, and will fall out easily.
Are your teeth aching, but you don’t have any cavities? Then you might be subconsciously clenching or grinding your teeth, even when you’re not aware of it. Some people do this when they’re anxious in an attempt to literally “bite back” the emotions they’re feeling, only to later feel like their teeth and jaws are aching because of it.
25. Dry mouth.
People who get stage fright or other types of performance anxiety sometimes talk about experiencing “dry mouth.” Much like when the throat closes up, they might find that they stop producing saliva when anxious and need to gulp water in order to be able to speak properly.
If this becomes chronic, they might feel like they’re tasting food differently, or they might develop painful, dry cracks in the corners of their mouths.
26. Muscle cramps and spasms.
These are usually due to clenching muscles in response to feeling scared. Later on, even though you may no longer be actively tensing those muscles in the moment, they’ll likely cramp up or start twitching on their own because of the sudden tightness they experienced earlier.
It’s no surprise that people who experience anxiety on a regular basis end up feeling weak. After all, dealing with waves of anxiety over the course of the day, every day, for weeks or months at a time is basically the emotional equivalent of hitting the gym for the same amount of time. We only have so much energy to spread around, and if it’s all being used to fend off panic, then we’ll be left feeling as weak as kittens.
28. Generalized, unexplainable pain.
Have you ever just felt like you hurt everywhere? Anxiety can cause feelings of discomfort or pain all over the body. These can hit your joints and muscles, or you might just feel like you’re in pain on every inch of your body.
Between hormones going haywire and clenching muscles against the waves of emotion you’re feeling, it’s not surprising that everything hurts.
One of the best ways to deal with this type of pain is to take regular hot baths. If you like the scent of lavender, add some essential oil to your bathwater. It’s known to ease anxiety and tension and relax aching muscles.
29. Increased PMS or menopausal symptoms.
Women who experience frequent anxiety often get worse cramps and irritability before their menstrual cycles. Additionally, those who are going through menopause often have increased hot flashes and dizzy spells than those who aren’t normally prone to anxious moments.
30. Decreased libido.
A lot of people find that they lose their sex drive during periods of high anxiety. After all, it’s hard to get in the mood when you’re trembling, your chest feels tight, and you just don’t feel quite right.
This is unfortunate insomuch as the happy hormones released during sex can alleviate anxiety and depression, so trying despite a low libido might actually be quite helpful.
Additionally, men might experience erectile dysfunction of premature ejaculation. Needless to say, this can make anxiety much worse. Anxiety may have caused that inability to rise to the occasion once, but worrying about it happening again can certainly cause exactly that in the future.
Remember how anxiety causes that fight or flight response? This is adrenaline kicking into high gear and encouraging us to either kick our threats in the face or run away from them at top speed.
If we don’t have a physical altercation and the anxiety just dies down a bit, those hormone bursts don’t just dissipate into the ether. They have to go somewhere, and that means they’re still sloshing around in your limbs.
This can lead to a feeling of restlessness. You might feel a pressing need to go walking or running or do several sets of press-ups just to get the overload out of your system. If you don’t work it out, then you’ll likely get something like restless leg syndrome where you’re bouncing your knee subconsciously. Or you’ll writhe around in bed all night, unable to sleep, driving your partner or spouse insane.
In addition to thrashing around like a fish on a hook, you may find that you’re having a great deal of difficulty sleeping. This can be partly due to adrenal overload, but also due to uncontrollable thought spirals.
It’s hard to sleep when your brain is in overdrive, and if you’re dealing with anxious thoughts when you’re trying to wind down for the night, you may experience heart palpitations and hyperventilation.
This will increase your oxygen levels and wake you right back up again. Then you won’t be able to wind back down for a few more hours – likely just a few minutes before your alarm goes off.
33. Night sweats.
If you do finally manage to get some sleep, you may wake up in the middle of the night soaked in sweat. Once again, this is a symptom of stress hormones making its way out of the body when and how it can.
Now, since anxiety symptoms usually come in waves and groupings, they can be absolutely exhausting to deal with. When and if you add nighttime restlessness and insomnia into the mix, the anxious person never has an opportunity to rest and replenish properly.
This can result in them feeling completely shattered, perpetually at an energetic deficit.
35. Frequent illness.
You know what happens when you get run down from lack of sleep? Your immune system takes a massive hit and you’re more likely to fall ill. Add to that the fact that anxiety weakens the immune system and not only are you more likely to get sick, you’ll take longer to recover from illness.
Chances are you’ll also seem to catch something new just as you’re getting over the last bout. Some of the more common ailments that can plague the anxious are sore throats, sinus infections, and upper respiratory issues.
If you’re experiencing a wide variety of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about them. A good therapist can help you with cognitive behavioral therapy or other coping skills that you can use to calm yourself down and ground yourself when anxiety strikes.
Alternatively, there may be medications that can benefit you by helping to reduce your anxiety or balance your hormones. These might be herbal or pharmaceutical depending on your personal preferences, as well as what your care provider recommends to you.
Ultimately, getting to the root of what’s causing your anxiety can usually offer you the best options for managing it.
Want to overcome your anxiety but not sure how? Speak to a therapist today who can walk you through the process. Simply click here to connect with one of the experienced therapists on BetterHelp.com.
You may also like:
- 10 Weird Things Your Body Does During An Anxiety Attack
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- How To Stop Mild Anticipatory Anxiety Before It Overwhelms You