It’s no secret that anxiety is not a disorder free of symptoms. Many of these symptoms are extremely unpleasant and only spur on your anxiety’s fuel. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million Americans every year, but many don’t understand their symptoms or why they feel the way they feel. This leads to people either not getting the diagnosis and treatment they need, or simply feeling like they are “going crazy.”
Not long ago, I published an article called “11 Strangest Symptoms of Anxiety” where I listed the weirdest symptoms anxiety can cause and their biological explanations. I promised I would write a post about the more common symptoms of anxiety, and that is what I’m doing today!
From increased heart rate and hyperventilation to muscle tension and changes in body temperature, I’m covering as many symptoms as I can in one post. I hope this helps you to identify and understand the sensations you may experience while living with anxiety!
Do you ever find yourself extremely exhausted, yet you can’t relax at all? Restlessness and nervousness are caused by your body’s fight or flight system misfiring. When this happens, cortisol (your natural stress hormone) is released. You’re more susceptible to a misfiring fight or flight system when you have an anxiety disorder, which is usually due to an unbalanced chemical in the brain called serotonin.
2. Increased Heart Rate
When your body becomes stressed, your brain produces two chemicals, adrenaline and nonadrenaline. These two neurotransmitters work together to increase your heart rate and blood pressure, getting your body ready to fight or flee dangers that usually aren’t there.
If you’ve ever experienced panic attacks, there’s a good chance you have also experienced hyperventilation, one of the most frightening symptoms of anxiety. When we begin to become anxious, our breathing pattern is disrupted, sometimes from that increased heart rate we talked about. It becomes shallow and quick, which turns into deep and quick. when we are breathing in that much air that quickly, our CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels become unbalanced, causing other symptoms, such as dizziness, chest pain, and tingling in the extremities and face.You can stop this cycle by taking slow, deep breaths until your breathing is normal again.
Trembling or shaking is a common and frustrating problem that many anxiety sufferers deal with, including me. Trembling is caused again by the fight or flight response. Your body is preparing for danger and feels it must stay alert. Believe it or not, when you become anxious, your body goes through quick changes and adjustments, mentally, physically and chemically. All of these quick changes causes trembling. Keep in mind, too, that antidepressants are known to cause shakiness.
5. Chest Pain
Chest pain can be an extremely frightening symptom of panic attacks. When one feels a sudden, sharp pain in their chest, the most likely thought to come to mind is “I’m having a heart attack!” This is a reaction that sends many people to the emergency room who truly believe their heart is malfunctioning, when in reality, they are simply having a panic attack. Chest pain with panic attacks is caused not usually by the heart itself, but by the muscles in the chest wall. When we panic, these muscles contract, causing pain in the chest similar to heart attack pain.
I mentioned dizziness and lightheadedness in “11 Strangest Symptoms of Anxiety.” Here is an excerpt from that article explaining the dizziness that often accompanies anxiety:
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….
Nausea caused by anxiety is something that I experience more often than I care for. Actually, a constant “tummy ache” when I was little was one of the first signs of an anxiety disorder that my parents noticed. The cause of an “anxious stomach” is very interesting. Your stomach is full of nerves, and scientists have discovered that the brain and gut are directly related. When you experience anxiety, some of those stress hormones and chemicals enter your stomach, disrupting your natural balance of microorganisms. This can cause nausea and many other GI tract issues.
8. Muscle Tension
I don’t think I have been free of knots in my shoulders since I was 11. I can massage my shoulder with my hand and automatically feel the muscle tension caused by a mix of anxiety and algebra. The reason for muscle tension caused by stress is fairly self-explanatory. When stress and panic set in, your muscles contract, just like your chest wall muscles. When this happens, it obviously will cause those tense, knotted muscles.
9. Changes in Body Temperature
I don’t know about you, but when I have a panic attack, I get really hot and really sweaty. There is a reason for this (besides all the changes your body makes during fight or flight and your rapid heart rate). Vasoconstriction is the name of the narrowing of the blood vessels in response to the fight or flight mechanism. This can cause rapid heating leading to sweating, which leads to coldness. Your body sweats to cool you down. So within just a few moments, you can go from normal, to hot, to cold. And all of this with your hypersensitivity! Our bodies can be so confusing, huh?
Cold hands and feet can also be caused by anxiety. During moments of anxiety and panic, blood rushes from other parts of the body to your main organs to keep you alive. This is also your body’s way to keep you safe from being cut and bleeding to death. If only our brains would comprehend that there isn’t any real danger around!
10. Dry Mouth
Simply put, dry mouth from anxiety can be caused by a couple of things.
(1) Mouth breathing causes dry mouth. Remember how we talked about hyperventilation?
(2) GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) can cause dry mouth. GERD is more common in people with anxiety.
(3) Some antidepressants and antianxiety drugs have dry mouth as a side effect.
Tiredness, or rather exhaustion, is a natural thing to feel when your body is doing so many things at once. I wrote about this chronic fatigue, and I’ll put insert a paragraph below:
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.
12. Choking Sensation
Our last symptom to talk about today is the choking sensation or inability to swallow many people experience when having a panic attack. I’ve mentioned this before, too, so I’ll put that below.
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.
Thanks for Reading!
I’m so grateful for this platform and for everyone following along on my mental health journey. That sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I hope you found this post helpful! Let me know any suggestions you have for the blog, and please reach out if you need to talk or need support! I’ll leave contact info and the link for “11 Strangest Symptoms of Anxiety” below.
11 Strangest Symptoms of Anxiety: https://theanxiousteensofamerica.com/2020/02/10/11-strangest-symptoms-of-anxiety/