Surprising Manifestations of Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated March 27, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In addition to possible feelings of dread, excessive worry, and difficulty concentrating, anxiety can also bring with it a range of unpleasant physical symptoms. These symptoms can include an increased heart rate, sweating, weakness, difficulty sleeping, and more. Those who live with anxiety may experience some of these symptoms and worry about their causes, so understanding these symptoms of anxiety can be helpful. It can be wise to see a medical doctor to ensure there is no physical cause for these symptoms, and a licensed therapist can provide additional insight and suggest strategies for managing anxiety.

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Physical symptoms of anxiety

Physical symptoms can manifest when you are feeling anxious. Some can occur even when you don't think you have a reason to be anxious, and there can also be lasting physical effects of anxiety on your overall health. If you frequently experience symptoms of anxiety, you may have an anxiety disorder, and it may be worth considering seeking treatment. 

Below, we’ll dive into 14 common physical symptoms of anxiety:

1. Headaches

It can be common for people with anxiety to experience frequent headaches. The onset of the headaches may occur when you are in a situation that is causing you severe anxiety. However, they may also develop even when there is not an apparent situation causing additional strain, simply due to underlying levels of anxiety. 

2. Nausea 

Many people experience nausea when they experience a lot of anxiety. You may feel nausea or stomach pain after eating or whenever you are in a particularly anxiety-inducing situation. 

3. Frequent urination or digestive issues

Some people have frequent urination or diarrhea when they experience anxiety. This can be your body's physical reaction to high-stress levels. Stress often causes a buildup of cortisol, which can cause urination or bowel irregularities. 

4. Rapid heartbeat

Individuals with anxiety may experience a rapid heart rate, especially during a panic attack. In some cases, they may also feel a pounding heart, as if their heart is beating uncontrollably. This can happen frequently if you often feel anxious. 

Getty/Daniel Allan

5. Chest pain

Some people experience chest pain when they have a panic attack. Chest pain will likely be centered, and you may feel as though you are having a heart attack. With a heart attack, however, the pain is more likely to radiate down your arm or into your shoulder. Chest pain can also be a sign of heart disease, feeling like a heavy pressure on your chest. Please seek medical attention if you experience chest pain.

6. Shortness of breath

Many people with anxiety discover that they have a hard time breathing when faced with anxiety-inducing situations. Your breathing may become short and rapid, and you may even hyperventilate. If this occurs, try to make a conscious effort to take slow, deep breaths as much as possible to get your breathing under control.

7. Dizziness or lightheadedness

Due to rapid heart rate and shortness of breath, many people also experience dizziness or lightheadedness when they are experiencing high levels of anxiety. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, it’s generally best to sit down immediately and remain seated until you regain your equilibrium. Trying to fight your way through the anxiety attack on your feet could cause you to faint or fall, putting you at risk for injury.

8. Tremors or twitches

Tremors or twitches can also be common in people with high anxiety. Your hands may shake, your eyes may twitch, or your feet may twitch. You may have twitching fingers or numbness and tingling in your hands and feet. These symptoms may only occur when you are anxious, or they may occur more often.

9. Excessive sweating

Many people experience excessive sweating when they are anxious. Excessive sweating can happen even if you are trying to remain calm. Your body is likely reacting to stress and fear, and therefore, you may feel hot or cold and break out in a sweat.

10. Restlessness

Many people who have anxiety may also find themselves feeling restless. They may be unable to sit still for any length of time and feel like they must always be doing something. While sitting and listening to someone in a class, for example, they may be moving their feet or drumming their fingers on the table. They may find sitting still without fidgeting difficult, and they may pace often.

11. Insomnia

Many people who have high anxiety experience insomnia. The mind can be so focused on things that happened throughout the day or that might happen tomorrow or some point in the future that the person may be unable to quiet their mind to sleep. Insomnia can be especially difficult for people with anxiety because the less sleep you get, the worse your symptoms of anxiety may be, potentially creating a vicious cycle.

12. Fatigue

Some people who have high anxiety also experience fatigue. Fatigue can be caused by a lack of sleep due to insomnia, but fatigue can also occur because the body tends to exert vast amounts of energy when you are anxious. All this expended energy can make you feel depleted.

13. Weakness

Similarly, weakness can be another physical effect of anxiety. As you experience a lack of sleep and increased energy output, your body can become weak. You may constantly shake your foot when you sit because you cannot sit still due to anxiety, but later, you find it difficult to walk through the parking lot of the grocery store because your legs feel weak from all of the earlier restless movement.

14. Unexplained pain

Some studies have found that there can also be painful physical symptoms associated with anxiety. Some people may have unexplained pain with no other medical cause. 

Need help managing anxiety and its physical symptoms?
Is it an anxiety disorder or a physical condition?

Anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder, are mental health conditions characterized by intense anxiety that is disproportionate to the actual danger present. These disorders can lead to symptoms that often mimic those of physical illnesses, sometimes making it difficult to tell the difference between an anxiety disorder and a medical condition. 

For example, panic disorder might cause heart palpitations or chest pain, similar to symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Other anxiety disorders, such as specific phobias, may cause symptoms similar to thyroid problems, including nervousness or irregular heartbeat. However, anxiety disorders are often rooted in the brain's response to perceived threats, stress, or a traumatic event. A person with social phobia might experience nervousness and extreme self-consciousness as a result of intense anxiety in social situations rather than a physical medical illness. 

While occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, persistent anxiety that interferes with daily functioning may indicate an anxiety disorder. In addition, mental disorders like anxiety and depression can coexist, complicating the clinical picture. 

Getting help for anxiety symptoms

If you recognize or regularly experience the physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder listed in this article, you may consider seeking the help of a therapist or other mental health professional. In many cases, healthcare providers may recommend anti-anxiety medications in addition to therapy. It can also be helpful to see a medical doctor to rule out any physical causes of your symptoms.

Working with a therapist to address your anxiety, treat it, and learn coping skills can help you find relief from your anxiety and its effects. They may also be able to recommend lifestyle changes, such as exercising and avoiding alcohol, and various resources, like support groups and meditation programs.

Online therapy may be useful for individuals experiencing anxiety because the potential challenges of scheduling, new environments, and getting to and from the appointment may generate even more anxiety. For some people, being able to connect with a licensed mental health professional from the comfort of home can feel easier. 

Research suggests that online therapy can be just as effective as traditional therapy for anxiety. For instance, one research study examined the effectiveness of internet-delivered cognitive behavior therapy (ICBT) as compared to face-to-face cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). The findings of the research showed that “both internet-based and face-to-face CBT are equally effective in treating five different anxiety disorders.”

Counselor reviews

Read below to see what people with similar concerns have said about their experiences with BetterHelp counselors.

“Monje is by far my favorite therapist I’ve worked with. She has taught me many different and effective coping mechanisms for my anxiety. I felt comfortable with her right away and never felt judged. She is extremely patient, caring and kind. I highly recommend Monje!”

“I was skeptical of counseling before I started, Brianna was the first counselor I was paired with. After only 2 months of sessions once a week for an hour, I have already seen improvement with my overall mental health, as well as how I handle stressful/anxiety situations. She is friendly and understands my concerns. She keeps a structured session (as requested). She lets me choose the topic and keeps me on track. She helps me on my bad days and makes my better days feel like great days.”


In addition to symptoms like excessive worry, difficulty concentrating, and persistent dread, anxiety can also bring with it a range of physical symptoms such as insomnia, shortness of breath, sweating, restlessness, and more. If this is something you’re experiencing, help is available. You can connect with an online therapist for support with anxiety. You may also wish to see a medical doctor to rule out any potential physical causes of these symptoms.
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