5 Unique Physical Symptoms You Might Not Recognize as Anxiety
When you’re anxious, your body does all kinds of things to prepare you to face whatever the perceived threat is. It sends signals to your brain to get ready for either the flight or fight response, so you can neutralize the threat and stay safe. When living with a generalized anxiety disorder though, these bodily preparations and experiences become part of your daily life, so you might not be aware that your body is trying to tell you there’s a threat you need to address. Being in tune with these signals that may slip through the cracks can help you be more aware of your environment and prompt you to use coping skills to move through the anxiety, which means you can lead a more productive life without anxiety escalating and debilitating you. That being said, here are five unique symptoms of anxiety you might not recognize. Check in with your body and environment the next time you feel these things.
1. Temperature Spike/Fever.
When you’re anxious, your brain thinks there is a threat to your physical body, which is very distressing for your brain, Since your brain stem helps with temperature regulation, distress provoked by anxiety can lead to temperature spikes and/or fever. This is called a psychogenic fever, because it’s a fever with a psychological cause instead of a physical one. For me, my anxious fevers manifests as feeling like I’m very physically hot: think sitting outside at a cookout in July. Sweat rolls down my chests and back, and I can’t cool down fast enough. Turning up the air conditioning, an ice cube dropped down my shirt, a cold shower or removing extra clothing can help keep a fever at bay, allowing time to process what’s going in the environment that might be making me anxious.
2. A Runny Nose.
When anxiety develops, your brain releases a flood of chemicals to try to stabilize your body and get you ready to neutralize the threat. One of these chemicals is histamine, the same chemical the body produces in response to environmental allergens like pollen or animal dander. This means that anxiety and allergies can have the same symptoms in some people, and if you’re experiencing a spontaneous runny nose with no allergens in sight, it might be a clue to stop and check in with yourself regarding anxiety. I’m not allergic to anything, so a random runny nose is always an indicator that something is going on and I may need to use a coping skill. I always keep tissues within reach, and even keep travel tissues in my purse, so I can always take care of my nose if this comes up.
Similarly, histamine release can also cause hives and itchiness, which is an allergy symptom for some people as well. As hard as this may be, try not to scratch because this can prolong and escalate the symptoms. The hives and itchiness can originate anywhere on the body, though for me they usually start on my neck and chest. Benadryl, an ice pack held to the affected area, visual or tactile grounding, or anxiety medication can help provide relief without having to scratch and making symptoms worse.
4. Loose Stool.
Have you ever noticed your pulse escalating when you’re anxious? Well, your heartbeat isn’t the only bodily function that quickens and intensifies during anxiety; your digestive tract does as well. This combined with stress relief hormones, which are released in response to anxiety, irritating your gut can lead to loose stool. More frequent bowel movements and changes in stool consistency can be an indicator of anxiety, even if you don’t realize it. Engaging in a favorite coping skill, eating thick bland foods, staying hydrated and anti-diarrheal medication can help get your digestive system back to normal.
5. Sensitivity to Environmental Stimuli.
When your brain perceives a threat, it sends your body into a state of hyper-alertness, so you can be aware of where the threat is coming from and be more prepared to get away or fight it off. This can lead to stimuli becoming more noticeable and intense than it would normally be. Lights can suddenly seem brighter, sounds can get louder and more repetitive and tactile sensations can feel more intense.
I tend to notice this symptom the most when I’m anxious in public. Florescent lights seem excruciatingly bright. I can hear every tick of a wall clock. If more than one person is talking around me, I can hear all the participants with extraordinary clarity, and doing so can feel overwhelming. I notice things I normally wouldn’t pay attention to, like the weave of the industrial carpet, or the feel of a sticky vinyl seat under me in a waiting room. If stimuli and sensations are particularly intrusive and irritating, it can be a sign that you’re anxious. To de-escalate this, minimize stimuli around you as much as possible. Close your eyes, put on headphones, or consider leaving the room and coming back once you’re calm. Often once extra stimuli is removed, you’re less distracted and can find the source of the anxiety, and be able to cope with it.
When you view these symptoms as possible indicators of anxiety, you can move through them more effectively, and anxiety will have a less significant impact on your life.
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