Anxiety is a very confusing and chaotic illness. It doesn’t have a list of symptoms that are set in stone and definite. Each person’s experience with anxiety is different and the symptoms that come along with it can present themselves in strange ways. I always assumed that some of the bizarre feelings and sensations I had were either normal or caused by some undiagnosed medical condition. (I’m a hypochondriac if you couldn’t tell). Once I began psychiatric treatment, I was told that A LOT of my symptoms were due to anxiety, which surprised me.
Most people are aware of the normal anxiety symptoms:
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid heart rate
And many, many more.
What most people aren’t aware of, however, is just how unusual many symptoms of anxiety can be. I’m planning on writing a post about the common symptoms of anxiety and their causes, but today we’re going to talk about the strangest symptoms; things you may not have even realized were anxiety or panic. I’ll do my best to list the biological causes of each symptom.
Just to note, I am not a doctor or professional. If you feel the need to ask your healthcare provider about any unusual symptoms, please do!
Strange Symptoms of Anxiety
1. Long Headaches
For a while, I’ve dealt with persistent headaches. It wasn’t until recently that I did some research and found that headaches and migraines are common in people who suffer from anxiety and/or depression. Doctors aren’t entirely sure why this is the case, but they assume that these headaches are caused by the muscles around the head and eyes becoming tense when one is experiencing stress.
2. Extreme fatigue
Most people are aware that mental disorders can cause some tiredness, but in my experience, chronic fatigue is a daily struggle. I rarely have even an hour in my day when I actually have energy, which is annoying considering I had to cut out coffee! The cause of this exhaustion is pretty simple when you think about what changes your body rapidly makes when experiencing anxiety and panic attacks. Your heart rate speeds up, your blood pressure increases, your muscles tense up in preparation to run from danger, you start shaking and sweating and feel an impending sense of terror and doom. All of this happens quickly, hence the name “panic attack.” When your body gets into fight-or-flight mode, numerous changes occur in your mind and body, causing extreme fatigue.
3. High white blood cell count
This symptom was extremely surprising to me! As I mentioned in my post, “My Diagnoses, Part 1: Anxiety And Panic,” I went to my doctor last summer to get blood tests performed because I was experiencing such strange symptoms, the main one being exhaustion. The only thing that showed up in my bloodwork was a high white blood cell count, indicating a possible sinus infection for which I was put on antibiotics. When I went to my psychiatrist for the first time, I mentioned this and told her I still wasn’t feeling better. She told me it probably wasn’t a sinus infection, but yet another symptom of anxiety. She told me that I most likely had high cortisol levels. Cortisol is one of the body’s natural stress hormones, and mine was on constant overdrive. My body was treating my severe anxiety as an invader, so cortisol was being sent to fight it, thus the high white blood cell count! Crazy, right?
Do you find yourself randomly getting a spout of dizziness or lightheadedness? Well, there could be a reason for that! Scientists have concluded that the part of the brain responsible for the inner ear (the area that detects body position and causes dizziness) interacts with the area of the brain that produces anxiety! Dizziness is also a symptom of most antidepressants, so it might be difficult to distinguish between the two.
5. Digestive issues
I think we’ve all heard of an “anxious stomach.” When there’s a big event happening you’re nervous about or you’ll be speaking in public soon, you may experience “butterflies” or nausea. When you have an anxiety disorder, these feelings may be amplified. I remember when I was little and didn’t know exactly what anxiety was, and I would always just tell my mom “my tummy doesn’t feel good.” Many years later, I realize that was anxiety causing an upset tummy. Anxiety and gut health are directly related. When you become stressed, your stomach digestion may slow or halt. Your stomach may produce more acid, causing indigestion. Your muscles may contract, inducing cramps. In the long term, some people end up dealing with stress-induced IBS.
*Fun Fact: Those “butterflies” in your stomach is a sensation of your body reducing blood flow to the gut!
5. Choking sensation/inability to swallow
In my opinion, one of the scariest panic attack symptoms is the feeling of choking. I don’t experience this particular feeling every time I have a panic attack, but when I have, it truly feels like somebody has their hands around my neck and I can’t breathe. I am happy to report that, though this feels real, nobody is trying to kill you and it doesn’t last long! The reason you may feel like you’re choking or can’t swallow, also called the globus sensation, is most likely due to hypersensitivity. Anxiety disorders cause those suffering to be hypersensitive to every sensation in the body and this is heightened during panic attacks.
6. Hair pulling
Hair pulling, also called trichotillomania, is usually a manifestation of OCD. Trichotillomania is the compulsive urge to pull out one’s hair. This could be from the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, etc. Kind of sounds weird, doesn’t it? Well, it’s actually common. It can be severe to the point of going bald, or it can be mild like mine. I don’t pull my hair out of my scalp, but I tug on it mindlessly. The cause of Trichotillomania is usually due to chemical imbalances in the brain or neurotransmitters not working as they should.
Losing feeling in the limbs or face is a peculiar but common sensation when in the middle of a panic attack. I remember when I was younger and lost feeling in my extremities for the first time while having a panic attack. It’s a very unusual feeling that starts with tingling and quickly turns into numbness. Tingling and numbness in the limbs can be the cause of hyperventilation- taking in too much oxygen. Another cause is when you enter fight-or-flight, your body sends blood to important parts of the body, getting you ready to either fight or flee the non-existant danger.
8. Rhythmic teeth movements
Okay, I realize this sounds confusing. Everyone is aware that anxiety can cause teeth grinding, but I like to jazz it up by tapping and grinding my teeth in rhythmic movements that I subconsciously create, or in beat with music if I’m listening. I don’t mean to, it just sort of happens; I read that other people mindlessly do this, too! Teeth grinding is mainly due to stress and being tense.
9. Hot and cold flashes
It’s common knowledge that anxiety can cause you to get hot and flushed. Trust me, I have plenty of experience with that! What I didn’t realize, though, is that you can get cold flashes, as well! I’ve always been a cold-natured person. I wear sweatshirts during the Summer and I got a portable heater for Christmas. (I’ve been tested for anemia a couple of times now). But how much of this coldness is caused by anxiety? A panic attack results in getting hot, flushed, and sweaty, because of the adrenaline released into your body. Once its over, that sweat dries, resulting in feeling a little chilly. Some people feel cold because of the fear before a panic attack. Other people may just be hypersensitive to the cold sensations. Or you could just be cold-natured or anemic. Who knows?
Most teenagers deal with acne one time or another. But, what about acne that isn’t caused by pre-teen hormones or oily skin? Stress and anxiety can be major factors in worsening acne! I had problems with acne for years; I’d have breakouts just like any other teen. But, last year when my anxiety got worse and I went through the grief and stress of getting my childhood dog put down, I noticed my acne got significantly worse. This is because my levels of cortisol (remember the stress hormone we talked about?) were rising! Cortisol causes oil glands to work extra hard, which in turn worsens acne. I got to the point where I had to go to the dermatologist for cystic acne. I highly recommend seeing a proffessional- I rarely deal with acne anymore after the treatment my dermatologist prescribed!
Thanks for reading!
I really enjoyed writing this post and I hope you enjoyed reading it! It fascinates me that some people still believe mental disorders are “all in your head” when there is so much biological evidence proving that you’re physically affected by it, too! I hope you learned something new today. All the sensations you feel when anxious have explanations- you’re not crazy! I’ll write the post about common anxiety symptoms soon!