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27 Surprising Physical Symptoms of Social Anxiety

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Dealing with unfamiliar situations and unfamiliar people can be difficult for anyone, but for someone struggling with social anxiety, that difficulty can increase ten-fold. Often, others don’t recognize you’re in the midst of struggle. You may have developed coping mechanisms to hide the mental and emotional symptoms you’re experiencing when you’re social anxiety kicks in. But when your body decides to take control and you begin experiencing physical symptoms, social anxiety can become increasingly noticeable.

That is why we asked people in our Mighty mental health community who struggle with social anxiety what surprising physical symptoms they experience because of their social anxiety. Because by talking about these physical symptoms, we can become more aware of our own bodily responses — and we can get better at comforting ourselves and others in the midst of struggle.

Here is what they had to say:

1. “The horrible embarrassing red flush all over my neck, chest, face and arms. As if I don’t feel bad enough, people then point it out, ‘Oh my gosh have you been burnt,’ or ‘You’re bright red.’” — Julie R.

2. “I start talking incredibly fast and too much while laughing a lot. I’m too petrified of the awkward silence I feel like I have to fill it. All the while experiencing lightheadedness, my heart racing and my brain shouting at me how awkward I really am. My social anxiety has gotten to the point that I can’t even order food in public on my own, run errands alone or talk on the phone.” — Keri Lynn Z.

3. “My ticks start to become more prominent. By ticks, I mean if I’m sitting down, my right leg will start bouncing seemingly uncontrollably. I almost don’t even notice it. Or I’m constantly looking around. I try to tell myself that it’s me just keeping ‘my head on a swivel’ since I battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but I really don’t even know what I’m looking around for. Sitting still just makes social settings feel a million times more awkward for me.” — Josh K.

4. “Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the worst physical symptom for me. It affects my life negatively on a daily basis, in some capacity. You almost become a ‘slave’ to it, in a way. Because it’s something that basically controls what you do, where you go and when. And, when I do feel like going out and socializing, it’s pretty much always a factor in deterring me from doing so. The IBS is worsened by my anxiety, and my anxiety makes the IBS worse. It’s a vicious cycle. To be honest, it is impacting my life quite significantly, and not in a good way.” — Laura M.

5. “Extreme sweating and my face will turn bright red and be hot to the touch no matter the weather. My heartbeat will increase and I will start hyperventilating. It will feel like there is electricity going down my arms.” — Caitlan B.

6. “Jaw clenching. Often I don’t even realize I do it until I’m in a lot of pain and wonder why. It’s a terrible physical reaction to anxiety because on top of the immediate discomfort, it adds to neck and shoulder pain, tooth problems and causes unbearable headaches.” — Gabby F.

7. “Dizziness is the worst symptom, I constantly feel like I need to hold on to something (usually my boyfriends hand for support) and I worry I will fall over or faint.” — Casey H.

8. “Apart from major heart palpitations, I lose feeling of my limbs. My fingers start aggressively tingling and I can’t hold things in my hands; I can’t catch my breath and eventually start crying because that’s the only outlet that works.” — Andrea K.

9. “Disassociation. Disappear somewhere into my head where there is nothing. More than numbness because you can feel when you are numb. In this part of my mind there is nothing. I feel nothing physically and emotionally I am absent from existence. This happens when anxiety and panic is so intense, my brain goes into self-preservation mode. I did not know what this was and could never figure out how to explain it until a therapist put a name on it for me.” — Brady I.

10. “When I’m in a crowd I tend to duck around people and apologize a lot. I automatically try to shrink myself so I’m not an inconvenience. I literally can’t help it and people tend to get more annoyed with me constantly ducking and moving around people to get out of their way which makes it so much worse.” — Paytn R.

11. “Chewing and biting the inside of my mouth. Biting my lips until I have cuts, picking at my finger nails and cuticles until they bleed. Grinding my teeth to the point of needing dental work for wearing them down.” — Jenni G.

12. “I shake uncontrollably, my throat tightens up making it difficult to breath and my stomach will hurt. Usually these symptoms last all day for me.” — Haley K.

13. “I get dry mouth and hold my breath for a really long time, often without immediately noticing, and then my chest hurts pretty bad as a result. My head then follows and feels like extreme pressure within. I usually notice when I suddenly explode with air coming out of my mouth due to holding my breath too long. I also begin to shake all over and all my pain areas within my body all start hurting at about the same time.”— Travis C.

14. “I dig my nails in my skin when I get anxious to the point that I have imprints for over a day. I know it isn’t good though, so I’ve started moving to excessive scratching which looks a little more ‘normal.’” — Jess H.

15. “I start to act disoriented. My speech is slurred and I can’t walk straight. I can’t focus on anything. And my behavior becomes that of a scared kid. My social anxiety also caused me to stop eating at one point. I just couldn’t handle the idea of eating anywhere near people, or even looking at food.” — Aspen C.

16. “My scalp itches. If I’m nervous in any situation, I will scratch my scalp in small circular motions. It’s gotten so bad that I have to keep my fingernails ridiculously short or I will bleed.” — Tiffani B.

17. “I start fidgeting with my fingers to the point where I pull off the skin around my nails. I don’t even notice I’m doing it until a break in a conversation happens and I look down at my hands and see the blood.” — Mc H.

18. “My world will start to spin. I’ll get tunnel vision and everything will start to go dark. It feels like a slow moving earthquake just for me. I have to stop, close my eyes and re-center myself or I’ll start freaking out.” — Bree N.

19. “I feel my body getting all cold, my mind goes blank and I feel like I’m shaking but I’m never sure. I wish I was standing still, but I am pretty sure sometimes my head starts twitching. I also say stuff that sounds different than what I would like. It gets awkward, or at least for me.” — Ignacia H.

20. “If my hair is longer than shoulder length, I play with it constantly. Sometimes, I lose my appetite and won’t eat. This leads to me feeling shaky. Sometimes, when I am really anxious, my arms will feel numb along my ulnar nerve.” — Lauren S.

21. “I forgot how to walk — straight lines are impossible. Talking is also difficult because I can’t pace my breathing. I get winded very easily.” — Kel M.

22. “I shut down like someone just took my soul out of me. I can’t seem to put words together to make a simple sentence, so it feels like when Ursula took the little mermaids voice out. I also start to pick at my fingers until they bleed. All this and more within the first two minutes of it starting. I feel like someone is pulling my chest inside out through my back and my vision starts to shake. My eyes will shake really fast for a few seconds.” — Jennie L.

22. “Stuttering and the brain fog are the ones that bother me the most. Then sometimes I think I see ‘fuzzies’ in my vision, have random numbness and feel like my skin is crawling. Then there is the sensory overload which generally leaves me damn near unable to wear clothes for a couple days.” — Katie F.

23. “Shortness of breath in large crowds, even if I’m at the edge of it. It is better than if I’m in the middle of it, but it still causes me to have such a hard time to breathe. Just the people who are surrounding me, it seems like all the air is going to them, and it doesn’t help that I’m short and everyone else is a giant.” — Audra B.

24. “I;m extremely quiet, shrink myself away from the crowd and fidget with something to the point I break whatever is in my hands. I’ve broken a glass screen protector picking at it, as well as pens in my past.” — Jin L.

25. “An intense migraine that passes almost instantly when the my limits on social activity is over. It typically begins in the hours, or sometimes full day, preceding the event.” — Sabrina M.

26. “I hold my breath a lot. It’s usually when I’m trying to figure out what to say next or I’ve convinced myself my breathing is far too loud and is going to annoy someone and sometimes it’s just purely out of anxiety.” — Emma-Louise I.

27. “I have a mean face on, almost like I am thinking very hard, which I am because I am screaming on the inside. I get a lump feeling in my throat so I mess up words sometimes.  When my anxiety is really bad from a situation, when I get home I go right to sleep because it’s so draining trying to stay calm on the outside so no one sees.” — Renee S.

What would you add?

Originally published: August 17, 2017
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