18 Common Physical Symptoms Of Anxiety
Updated February 08, 2020
Reviewer Rashonda Douthit , LCSW
Many people do not realize that anxiety comes with many physical symptoms. Those who suffer from untreated anxiety, who have never sought help for their condition, often worry that there is something medically wrong with them. This can add to the stress and anxiety that they feel.
Being able to recognize the physical symptoms of anxiety is important. There are physical symptoms that can manifest when you are feeling anxious. There are physical manifestations of anxiety that you may notice when you are in the midst of an anxiety attack or situational anxiety. There are physical signs of anxiety that can occur even when you don't think you have a reason to be anxious. And there can be lasting physical effects of anxiety on your overall health.
If you experience physical symptoms of anxiety, you may have an anxiety disorder. It is important to seek treatment to prevent further effects on your physical health. Understanding how anxiety affects your body can help you make choices as to your treatment and how you address potential medical conditions.
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
There are a few common physical symptoms of anxiety that you may experience over time. When you have anxiety frequently, or you frequently feel anxious or nervous, these physical symptoms can manifest even when you are not in a situation that makes you anxious.
It is quite common for people with anxiety to experience frequent headaches. The headaches may come on when you are in a situation that is causing you severe anxiety. However, they may also come on simply as a result of the stress your body is going through due to the constant feeling of anxiety. You can treat headaches with over the counter medications, but some people find little relief with these medications if the anxiety is still in full swing.
Many people experience nausea when they experience a lot of anxiety. You may feel nauseous right after eating, or whenever you are in a nervous situation. Nausea that persists and is worse with spicy or acidic foods and beverages can be cause for concern. The stress of your anxiety can cause a buildup of acid in the stomach, and over time this can cause lasting digestive issues.
Frequent Urination or Diarrhea
Some people experience frequent urination or diarrhea when they have a lot of anxiety. This is your body's reaction to the stress that it is being put under because of the anxiety. Stress causes a build-up of cortisol, which can cause urination or bowel irregularities. Drinking less caffeine can help alleviate some of these symptoms in some cases.
Physical Manifestations of Anxiety
When you are in the midst of an anxiety attack or you are having situational anxiety, you may experience some immediate physical symptoms. Physical manifestations of anxiety can occur even if you can maintain control and appear calm on the surface. Controlling your emotions and outward appearance to others will not affect how severe these physical manifestations of anxiety can be.
In the midst of an anxiety attack or increased situational anxiety, you may experience a rapid heart rate or feel as though your heart is pounding in your chest. This can frequently happen if you often feel anxious. An increased heart rate frequently happening for a long period may increase your risk for heart disease and certain heart conditions.
Some people experience chest pain when they have an anxiety or 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.
Shortness of Breath
Many people with anxiety discover that they have a hard time breathing when faced with high anxiety situations. Your breathing may come short and rapid, and you may hyperventilate. If this occurs, it is important that you make a conscious effort to take deep breaths as much as possible to slow your breathing.
Dizziness or Lightheadedness
Due to the rapid heart rate and the shortness of breath, many people also experience dizziness or lightheadedness when they are having an anxiety attack or are in high anxiety situations. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, 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.
Physical Signs of Anxiety
There are physical signs of anxiety that are frequently present in an anxious person, even if they are not faced with a particularly stressful situation. These physical symptoms of anxiety may be present even when you are trying to relax or can think of nothing that is making you severely anxious at the time.
Tremors or Twitches
Tremors or twitches are common in people with high anxiety. Your hands may shake, 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 all the time.
Many people experience excessive sweating frequently when they have anxiety. Excessive sweating can happen even if you are trying to remain calm. Your body is reacting to the stress and fear that you are feeling, and therefore you will feel hot or cold and break out in a sweat.
Many people who have anxiety are frequently restless. They are unable to sit still for any length of time and must always be doing something. If sitting and listening to someone in a class, for example, they will be moving their feet or drumming their fingers on the table. They are likely to find sitting still without fidgeting difficult and they may pace often.
Physical Effects of Anxiety
There are many physical effects of anxiety that can occur over time when you suffer from anxiety for long periods. If you have high anxiety for weeks, months or years, you may notice some significant physical changes. The longer you have high anxiety that is left untreated or unaddressed, the more likely you will be to suffer from these physical effects of anxiety.
Many people who have high anxiety have problems with insomnia. The mind is so focused on things that happened throughout the day, or things that might happen tomorrow or in some point in the future that the person is unable to quiet their mind to go to sleep. The higher your anxiety, the more likely you will have trouble sleeping. Insomnia is especially bad for people with anxiety because the less sleep you get, the worse your symptoms of anxiety will be, and it becomes a vicious cycle.
Some people who have high anxiety frequently will experience fatigue. The fatigue could be caused by a lack of sleep due to insomnia. However, fatigue can also occur simply because the body is exerting vast amounts of energy when you are anxious. You aren't able to sit. Still, you may be twitching, or having some of the other physical symptoms of anxiety already discussed. All of this expended energy can make you feel as though you just don't have anything left to give.
Likewise, weakness can be a physical effect of anxiety. As you experience a lack of sleep and increased energy output, your body becomes weak. You may constantly shake your foot when you sit because you cannot sit still with your anxiety, but then later feel incapable of walking through the parking lot of the grocery store because your legs feel weak from all of the movement.
Painful Physical Symptoms
Some studies have found that there are painful physical symptoms that can be associated with anxiety. Some people have unexplained pain that has no medical cause that can be found. One study found that in a vast number of patients with unexplained painful physical symptoms, many of them had high anxiety. Approximately 45 percent of anxiety patients report experiencing unexplained pain.
The Increase of Menopausal Symptoms
Studies have also shown that anxiety can worsen menopausal symptoms in women who are in per- or post-menopause. The most common symptom that was reported was hot flashes. In a group of over 1000 women, 10 percent of them had increased hot flashes with anxiety.
Impaired Immune System
Studies have also found that many people who suffer from anxiety have weakened immune systems. They are unable to fight off illnesses such as colds and flu, as well as other communicable diseases. When they contract these illnesses, it is much harder for them to recover.
Digestive issues can abound when you have high anxiety for a long period. Increased stomach acid for an extended period can lead to acid reflux or stomach ulcers. The build-up of cortisol combined with extreme stress can also cause medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Some people who have high anxiety for a long period discover that they have a decreased libido. You may simply never feel the desire to have sex. This can put a strain on your marriage or intimate relationships.
If you recognize these physical symptoms of anxiety, you should seek out the help of a therapist right away. Addressing your anxiety and treating it with medications and cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as learning coping skills, can help prevent the anxiety from causing long-term health effects.