Biological Explanations for Common Anxiety Symptoms

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!

1. Nervousness/Restlessness

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.

3. Hyperventilation

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.

4. Trembling

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.

6. Dizziness

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….

7. Nausea

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.

11. Tiredness

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. 



Instagram: @theanxiousteensofamerica


11 Strangest Symptoms of Anxiety:

3 thoughts on “Biological Explanations for Common Anxiety Symptoms

  1. BellaDharma'ss LadyMew says:

    Fabulous & interesting post Kylee!! I am the Queen of Hyperventilating…it has gotten worse in the past 10 years. That goes hand-in-hand with a situation in my building with a ‘stalker’ who has assaulted me on a few occasions. I have alot of Anxiety in general & seeing this person can send me into the ozone!
    And you are correct about anxiety & GERD. I was diagnosed with GERD in 1992. I;ve lived in a state of High Anxiety much of my Life so it is no surprise I have Gerd….I take a Reflux medication to keep it under control.
    I have learned thru the latest round of Counselling how to deal with my Anxiety better. It is a constant job working on improving my mental state. Learning new ways to calm myself down. And to know & respect my own limits. And like you I sweat profusely when I;m in an Anxiety attack….not a pleasant feeling…. I hope that you will find ways to deal with your Anxiety so you can have a more enjoyable Life.
    Sincerely, Sherri-Ellen from Canada

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kylee Stewart says:

      Thank you! I’m so sorry you have to deal with hyperventilation and GERD. And the stalker situation! Goodness gracious, I can’t imagine! Im happy to hear you’re making progress in counseling, though! Make sure to keep me updated!


      1. BellaDharma'ss LadyMew says:

        For the most part with medication the GERD is under control. I know what I can & can not eat. IF I get break thru Reflux I chew some Gavison chewables & they ease the discomfort.
        The Hyperventilating is more a problem…I seem more sensitive now than I was 10 or 20 year ago. I do not want to be one of those little old dears who everyone feels sorry for…. …
        Oh I was released from Counselling Feb. 19th. Not 100% done but there are cutbacks here.. I;d say I am 95% better….so I am happy with that. I made ALOT of progress this time around. And the EMDR was amazing. I feel much better within myself now…..
        I hope things are going well for you Kylee. You are an inspiration to me!

        Liked by 1 person

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