A woman with her hand on her head, grimacing. Text reads: 24 surprising physical symptoms of anxiety

24 Surprising Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

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We may think we know what anxiety looks like (shaking hands, shallow breaths) and what it sounds like (“I can’t do this. What if I can’t do it. What if?…What if?…), but what does anxiety feel like? Often, we focus so much on the racing thoughts and emotions that come with anxiety, we forget to recognize how physical anxiety can be. In fact, you can feel physical effects of anxiety without even realizing it’s anxiety that’s causing it.

To learn some of the ways anxiety not only affects your mind — but your body — we asked people in our mental health community to describe what physical symptoms of anxiety they deal with, and what they feel like.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “When I get into high anxiety, sometimes out of nowhere, I get GI [gastrointestinal] symptoms. Constantly going to the bathroom. I have cramps and abdominal pain. It’s tough because there is nothing I can do but just try to wait it out.” — Michele P.

2. “Does anyone else find themselves antsy after a big panic attack where you can barely sit still and then for the next couple days, you’re completely mentally/physically exhausted? I feel like everything is just too much and I can’t move.” — Kristen G.

3. “It starts with my heart racing… so fast I can hardly breathe. Then the nausea. It is unrelenting. The nausea makes my anxiety worse which makes my heart race, which makes me more nauseous. It’s all a vicious cycle, and it is so hard to escape.” — Rachael J.

4. “In the aftermath of a panic attack, I often feel bone-chillingly cold. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, and no jacket or blanket helps. I just have to ride it out until it goes away.” — Monica M.

5. “My back is in tremendous pain, and every time I have attacks, I suddenly feel my back harden and new knots appear. I have been trying to go to massage therapy and other treatments, but nothing really seems to work.” — Alexandra C.

6. “Heart palpitations. Every night for over a year my heart wouldn’t let me sleep. As soon as I lay down and my body was relaxed, my heart would start pounding hard enough to shake my whole body. I was convinced I had a horrible fatal heart condition, but after a few tests, my doctor told me it was only a symptom of my anxiety disorder.” — Heather D.

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7. “I start itching, picking at my scalp or under my finger nails. I sometimes look pale (more so than normal, that is) and seem slightly dazed. Of course nausea and sweating, as well. Sometimes it also feels like my tongue is swollen and I can barely speak.” — Alexa K.

8. “When my anxiety is triggered, my diaphragm turns to iron — I can’t relax it to take deep breaths, and sometimes I can’t even breathe at all. I end up taking shallow breaths and unconsciously holding them for as long as I can.” — Amber W.

9. “Sometimes, when under an extreme amount of stress/anxiety I get physically sick because my body is overdosing me with adrenaline. It’s happened in public a few times for me, and it’s humiliating. I heard someone call me a ‘hungover wreck’ before when actually I was just severely over-stressed.” — Conor L.

10. “I have constant heart palpitations. My resting heart rate is always in the 90s because I’m on constant high alert, even if I’m laying in bed. Then there’s the stomach aches, the headaches, constant muscle tension. Any wrong movement, I pull a muscle in my neck or back.” — Amber B.

11. “Chest pains that feel like I’m having a heart attack. My anxiety causes so much pain throughout my body, people think I constantly have the flu. I can’t believe how speechless I get and start mumbling. What surprises me is how much ice cream and a cold compress helps; it slows down my heart rate and calms me down.” — Christina P/

12. “Tense muscles in the back of my neck, stomach issues and feeling nauseous a lot, gritting my teeth subconsciously, feeling ‘heavy’ and tired, my heart beats fast and I partially dissociate when I’m extremely nervous. Also, I feel very shaky whenever I’m worked up, and I feel as if I can’t see straight (probably sensory overload).” — Elizabeth E.

13. “When I begin having an attack I get light headed and dizzy. I almost pass out. My breathing increases and my heart rate jumps up. It sucks. A lot. Especially when I’m in like the grocery store.” — Hannah Y.

14. “Depends on the type of anxiety for me. Usually starts with my body temperature rising, then I start to sweat. Heart starts beating faster and harder. It’s just racing,feels like it’s going to alien out of chest. My vision starts to get blurry. Turns into tunnel vision. Sounds all around me seem to be swallowing me up. I can’t focus on anything, especially my own thoughts. My hands start to shake and I want to scream at everyone.” — Kit K.

15. “Getting extremely hyper while having muscle spasms and joint pain. Then getting hit with a migraine and it’s hard to hear anything over my heartbeat, then finally getting cardiac symptoms(crushing feeling on my chest, inability to breath properly, arms going numb) that make everyone around me think I’m having a heart attack. Also major jaw pain due to clenching the majority of the time and grinding my teeth in my sleep.” — Cait L.

16. “Apart from the elevating heartbeat and the sick feeling in my stomach, I stammer. I am no longer in control of my speech pattern, I speak so fast I can’t catch my breath, my tongue somehow feels like it’s being twisted. What comes out of my mouth during anxiety is mostly a combination of gibberish and unintelligible sounds.” — Phượng N.

 

17. “My voice goes very raspy and strained… It’s a very odd symptom but happens nearly every single time I leave the house or talk to people on the phone, etc.” — Sarah G.

18. “Horrible and very vivid nightmares. Once my anxiety was under control I finally stopped having them. Plus nail biting, scalp picking, twitches, shaking, not being able to breathe, etc. It’s hell.” — Emily B.

19. “Dizziness, nausea, headaches, racing heart, upset stomach but recently I’ve noticed when I’m in full blown panic mode my gums bleed…very recent new symptom to add to the really crappy list…” — Claire A.

20.My boyfriend and I both have anxiety (him newly diagnosed and I’ve had it for my whole life), and when I get really anxious and hot my whole body breaks out in a red and incredibly itchy/painful rash that can only be remedied by trying to cool myself down and wait it out. He on the other hand gets these patches of what looks like dragon skin when he has high anxiety that he says is very itchy.” — Malia R.

21. “Full-body rage. High blood pressure followed by a sense of being completely drained. The feeling that your body is going to explode from inside out. And the feeling of hopelessness from not being able to ‘check’ myself/yourself.” — Courtney B.

22.Back pain, I tense my back without realizing I’m doing it and I can’t stop it when I start cause I don’t know how I do it in the first place. The pains there ’til the anxiety has subsided.” — Samantha S.

23. “I shut down. I can’t think. I forget where I’m going or what I’m doing. I just fall asleep. I had myself tested for narcolepsy simply because I wasn’t putting anxiety and my sudden urge to sleep together.” — Candice L.

24. “Nausea, uncontrollable shaking, rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, hot/cold flashes, muscle tension, jaw clenching, and I startle very easy. These symptoms, combined with an onslaught of detrimental thoughts, create a perpetual cycle of uselessness, fear and panic. It’s exhausting.” — Persephone A.

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The Text Message You Sent That Really Helped With My Anxiety

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It was one of those days where the anxiety takes control — the days when I can barely breathe at all; where I feel dizzy and nauseous; where every muscle is tensed to almost breaking point, and I’m fighting all of them to prevent visible shaking. But it’s not just physical. I’m fighting my own mind, simultaneously telling myself I can’t do this, I’m not worthy, nobody likes me, I’m in everybody’s way, and that I have to do this, I have to make it through the day, do my job. I can’t let everyone down.

Ordinarily, I keep these days to myself. I hate the idea of burdening someone with the insignificant struggles in my life. People have more important things going on in their lives, more pressing issues, their own challenges. But this day, I really needed you. I needed to reach out. I needed someone to know what was going on, just in case I couldn’t make it through the day. So, I did something I’d never done before. I sent you a text and told you how I was feeling and where I’d be if I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I also asked you not to read the message unless something like that did happen. You ignored that and, honestly, I’m glad you did.

I paced around the room in every class I taught that day. I rocked myself in every meeting and took copious notes as a way of channeling the anxiety. When I wasn’t typing, I fidgeted with the hairband on my wrist or a pen. I could hardly think; hardly breathe; hardly be.

But, you were there and you helped me through it. More than you realize, you got me through this day, and you help me through countless others. You quietly checked in with me, asked if I was OK, and asked again when I said that I was, but you could tell I wasn’t. You looked at me with support and belief, never pity or disdain. Later, you messaged me to check I was OK.

The way you respond to my anxiety simultaneously confuses me and has me in awe. Every time I’m breaking down, you tell me it’s OK — that I don’t need to apologize for being human, for having struggles. You tell me you’re here, that you care, that my anxiety isn’t all that I am — that I’m making a difference for others in the work we do. You call out my anxiety in exactly the right way when I’m giving in to its darkness and mentally attacking myself.

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You’ve said a million things which I try to cling to in my most difficult moments, even though my anxiety tries to tell me you can’t possibly mean them. But this day, in particular, you sent me a message that I really needed to hear.

You told me you think I’m strong.

The constant mental battles, fighting the physical symptoms, the lack of sleep and resultant exhaustion, spending every day scared of everything, the always present and uncomfortably fast heart rate pounding in my ears … It makes me feel weak. And I’ve heard it from other people, too. They think I’m being weak or pathetic or overdramatic, or a million other things I’m not trying to be.

But not you. And, as grateful as I was, I couldn’t understand how you weren’t making me feel that way, too. Then you said you thought I was strong, and I don’t think you’d lie to me. I don’t always feel strong, but it matters to me that you think I am, especially when I’m sharing my weakest moments with you. So, in my darkest moments, I’m learning to cling to your voice, to the things you say to me, to the way you see me. I’m using your messages to try to battle the voice in my mind that tells me I’m weak, that I’m irritating everyone, that nobody cares.

Thank you for helping me find a way to light the darkness in this daily battle.

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When Anxiety Tells Me I'm Not a Good Spouse

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I’ve been anxious my entire life. But I’ve been a wife for almost a year. Even before I got married, I had this feeling of not being enough. Because in my mind, anxiety told me he would only stay by my side if I were more beautiful, smarter and sexier, and that above all, I should be happier or at least pretend to be. Because no one likes sad and insecure people, right? But I recognize my luck, more than before, for still having him loving and caring and supporting me all the time. So why do I still hear what my anxiety says and all the bad things it makes me feel?

The answer is simple but tough to accept. Because deep down I know I am not like my anxiety and the lies it tells me. I know this, mainly, because this anxiety is not mine. All that is mine is this perception, this consciousness of truth. It is important to be able to separate what is mine and what generates from anxiety.

Even when I know what matters, I keep hearing those voices and believing them sometimes. There are several nights when I wake up thinking I am not a good wife and do not have what it takes to keep my marriage stable — also that I am not enough to satisfy my husband. So, I feel weak, nervous and powerless to do anything, thus leaving a void in our relationship. I end up fulfilling all my fears, and in this way, I fail not only as a woman to him but as a person to me. All I do at these times is apologize and cry.

But I am a human being, like everyone. I have many faults, and I am far from perfect. I’m a good wife and friend. I worry about what he needs, what he feels, what he wants, and I try to provide everything necessary for him to feel happy. I hear his fears and longings even when I am distressed and my soul is hurt. I often put him on top of everything when I need to be the priority. If this is not being a good wife, then I do not know what is necessary for me to be one. Everything in relationships needs to remain in reciprocal values. When things are in constant balance we get a taste of perfection.

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At this point, I try to believe in myself, even though it seems impossible sometimes. I pray every day that this mental disorder won’t be my ruin and that I can always try to overcome myself day after day. May the tears disappear, and if it is not so simple, may I may be strong enough to accept my condition and let the tears fall without guilt. That “I’m sorry” won’t be the only thing I can say. My husband accepts me as I am, and he always says it’s OK not to be OK. So, there is no reason for me to think differently and prefer to isolate myself from the world when I have someone who values me and wants to help me. The secret is to look within ourselves, listen to our hearts and know that what is in our mind is not always the absolute truth.

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Why I Believe I Have an Anxiety Disorder

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Growing up, I always thought I was just a shy person. I was afraid to talk to strangers, or any kind of adult figure. Teachers, cashiers, even older relatives who I didn’t see often. But in reality, “shy” truly wasn’t the word for it.

I never really knew what being anxious meant; I didn’t know it was a condition you could have. I just thought it was a feeling and always associated it with being nervous. And being nervous, in my head at least, equated to being shy. The thing is though, I had a lot of friends when I was a kid. Definitely not now, though. I doubt I ever initiated the friendships I did have as a kid, but still.

As I got older and started college in the fall of 2014, I realized my symptoms were more than just shyness. For example, walking to the front of class to turn in a paper? Forget it. I could not be the first person to get up in front of the class; just thinking about it even now makes me feel like my chest is going to explode. Presentations? You’re funny. Never gonna happen, unless my entire GPA depends on it.

Living like that all through school, I looked into it and realized those were all symptoms of anxiety. Add in my nail and skin biting, how easy it is for my face to flush red when talking to anyone, being afraid to ask for anything at a restaurant, my fear of driving in new places, or even just driving at night. I also used to have a couple of compulsive behaviors that took me years to “grow out of.” For instance, if I touched something with my ring finger, I had to make sure I touched it with the same finger of my other hand. I never told anyone about it, and I didn’t realize it could mean something more serious was going on. I just thought it meant I was a bit “weird.”

I’ve also never been able to initiate conversations with anyone I don’t know without feeling like my whole world is spinning, and the entire time I just keep wondering if they’re judging me. Which also confuses me, because I’m usually the person who doesn’t care what people think. I do what I want, and I can be a very blunt person. But when it comes to strangers, I just always feel so insecure.

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Anxiety is not just constant worrying like I grew up believing it to be. It’s feeling like something bad is inevitably going to happen to you without having any reason to think that way. It’s wondering if your best friend didn’t answer your text because they’re mad at you, even though you know she probably is just busy. It’s believing you’re not good enough to chase your dreams, and you’ll never find love because everyone hates you. Or because you’re ugly and no one has the heart to tell you. It’s about feeling a weight on your chest and your shoulders and just being so tired — tired of your mind racing, tired of doubting yourself. Just being so tired.

Anxiety takes so much out of me some weeks that I just go to work, come home and chill on the couch. I won’t even really answer texts or go on social media — nothing. I just lie there, watch tv, maybe try to nap. But napping just makes me more tired, makes my mind race more with what-ifs.

I’ve never been to a doctor to see if I truly have an anxiety disorder, but I’m fairly positive I do. I want to go to a doctor to see what they say, but for some reason, I am so scared to tell my parents. I feel like I’ll just be judged, or they’ll tell me to just “suck it up.” Well, I have just been pushing on my whole life. For once, I just wanna feel OK.

I want to be able to have a conversation with a customer at work (side note: I am a cashier at a grocery store) and not feel like I might throw up at any moment. I’m tired of feeling so drained after having to interact in any kind of social environment. I just want to be me, all the time, in any situation. I want to finally, for once in my life, be free. Who knows if I’ll ever be able to truly live and let go, but hey, I’m gonna try.

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Why It’s So Hard To Trust People When You Have Anxiety

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This piece was written by Ari Eastman, a Thought Catalog contributor.

Anxiety convinces you your safety is always in jeopardy. Be it physical, emotional or mental. Doesn’t matter. You’re always worried. There’s a voice you can’t ever seem to mute.

Anxiety means you’re constantly looking for something to ruin you, to undermine any bit of happiness or stability you’ve achieved. And that makes it so hard to let your guard down. You feel like if you relax, that’ll be the moment it all goes to hell. So relaxation isn’t an option. You have to remain alert, vigilant even. You have to be ready for the inevitable.

Anxiety tells you that you’re not going to be OK. Even if you are. It’s not rational. That’s why it’s so frustrating and so hard to explain to those who don’t experience it. You don’t ever truly feel calm. Even if you’re surrounded by loving, trustworthy people. Even if you’re sitting in the comfort of your home, with four sturdy walls protecting you.

Sometimes, anxiety has nothing to do with other people. It’s your brain. It’s your brain racing through every worst case scenario on an endless loop. It’s your brain looking for problems where they don’t even exist.

See, trust requires believing in something you can’t see. And that can be so, so hard for someone with anxiety.

Trusting someone, anyone, means uncertainty and uncertainty to an anxious mind is terrible. When it’s really bad, it can be debilitating.

You turn down social invitations. Not because you don’t want to go. Not because you dislike the person inviting you. But because there’s that trust issue again. You need a meticulous list of what’s going to happen if you say yes. And no one can promise you that. No one has a crystal ball with a play-by-play of everything that’s going to occur.

It doesn’t mean you can’t get there. It doesn’t mean trust is some mythical feeling you’ll never be able to attain.

But it means work. It means trying and feeling like a failure and trying again. It means patience. It means small acts of bravery whenever you can muster up the strength.

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And if tomorrow your trust still feels shaky, that’s OK.

The people who care will take their time with you. They’ll let you get there whenever you’re ready.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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Thinkstock photo via domoyega

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To My Significant Other About What It Means to Have Anxiety

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My dearest boyfriend/girlfriend,

Thanks for taking the time to read this today. I’m sorry if it interrupted your schedule. See, part of my mental illness is to make me feel guilty and ashamed for things (I’m told) I shouldn’t. After the guilt and shame set in, anxiety creeps up. Some people get anxiety and stress confused. Anxiety isn’t stress. You can redirect stress and calm yourself relatively quick. Anxiety isn’t so easy. Let me explain.

I get tense. First in my chest, shoulders and neck. Then, it flows into my arms, hands and stomach. Next, I clench and grind my teeth without noticing. After a while, my jaw hurts so badly that I nervously adjust it back and forth, only to clench again.

I know by this point my anxiety is getting bad. With that, I get more anxious over the wait of an inevitable panic attack.

The interior monolog is the most toxic, horrendous part of it all. I would withstand my racing heart, clenched jaw and fighting tears if only the interior monolog would quit. It’s my own voice doing it to myself, and it’s overwhelming. Let me show you what five minutes inside that monolog feels like.

“Why did you say that? Now everyone is going to judge you. He’s probably angry because you aren’t being grateful enough. I’m so selfish! Why is he even with me? He’s probably thinking of how to break up with me. Stop rubbing your hands all over your body! It’s fine, just breathe. Remember who loves and is here for you. Why would they love me? I’m always dragging them down. I should cut all ties off with them so they can be happy. They aren’t really here for me. That’s why they live so far away; they don’t have to deal with me. No wonder my boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t want to spend much time with me. School is just their excuse. You’re a bad mom. You shouldn’t be allowed to be a parent.”

All these things and more flood my mind, making reality a pool of murky water in which I’m drowning.

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However, there is clarity in my muddy waters. It’s you. You, family and friends all can help me resurface again. You can help me by putting my doubts and fears to rest by answering some “obscure” questions. Questions such as, “Am I bothering you? Do you still love me? Why? Are we OK? Are you sure it’s OK?”These “obscure” questions can mean the difference between a short anxiety bout, a panic attack or a month-long session of worry and anxiety focused on one main topic.

Constant apologizing is common for me too, as you know. Unfortunately, for me, it’s not a conditioned response brought on by society. For me, when I say “I’m sorry” over even simplistic things, I say it because my mental illness makes me loathe myself for whatever just happened. So again, the interior monolog starts and if I loathe myself, then you must too — hence I need to apologize before something worse happens.

You can make those interior monologs fewer and not so horrible. Here’s some helpful tips I’ve discovered. First is physical interaction. Holding me does so much. My mental illness likes to make me feel alone and caged even when you’re right next to me. The longer you hold me, the safer I feel. Next, if you see the warning signs explained earlier, try to ask questions and reassure me. Chances are I am too nervous or anxious to start the conversation myself. If you have time, talk to me one on one.

Mental Illness is scary and overwhelming. It’s not easy, but it doesn’t need to be so bad either. The love of others makes all the difference. That being said, I have mental illnesses, I am not them. I am me. There is so much more to me and you have already seen that. I’m a mother, daughter, sister, girlfriend and friend. I’m a woman who loves animals, I love to cook and I love art. I sing and dance in the shower with the music turned up loud. These and many more things make me. I just need help remembering that sometimes.

So, my dearest, thank you for taking the time to read this. You mean the world to me and I only want to grow closer to you. Understanding me in my entirety means a lot to me. I love you.

Love,

Your Girlfriend/Boyfriend with Mental Illnesses

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