Many people think of anxiety as being something experienced in our minds: incessant worrying, debilitating fears, second guessing ourselves. But the reality is that anxiety is usually a systemic experience. This is because our brain (thoughts) and our body are a holistic unit. What happens in one will affect the other.
Knowing the most common physical symptoms can help you put the pieces together.
Causes of Physical Symptoms
Our bodies are designed to react when we feel threatened or unsafe. This is called the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response. This reaction served an important purpose when physical safety from animal predators was an everyday reality. It was designed to spur us to action and increase blood flow and adrenaline to support that action. While we rarely face these dangers in modern times, our bodies still react to fear in the same way.
Because of this, anxiety brings with it a wide range of physical symptoms. People may not always realize that these symptoms are anxiety-driven, however. This is especially common if anxiety is a relatively new occurrence in your life. Many people who have chronic anxiety, however, may still not realize their physical symptoms are tied to their anxiety issues.
If you’ve suddenly experienced diarrhea, stomach cramping, or nausea when you felt fearful about something, you already know the connection here. It’s believed that this happens because the body wants to circumvent using its resources on digestion so it can instead use that energy to respond to threats.
Increased Heart Rate and Breathing
The fight-or-flight response causes your heart rate to speed up, pumping more blood to your limbs. Likewise, the lungs are triggered to take in more oxygen.
The combination of a faster heartbeat and shallower, more frequent breaths often cause people with anxiety to feel chest pain. They may believe they’re experienced a heart attack. This is often the first time that people realize they have an anxiety disorder.
Flushing and Sweating
As your heart rate and breathing speed up, your skin will react in kind by flushing and sweating. This can be mild, such as a slight blush when you’re a little embarrassed, or the intense sweating you may feel before boarding an airplane if you have a flight phobia.
It’s easy to see how anxiety can contribute to sleep issues and insomnia. When you’re anxious about something, you often can’t turn off your thoughts. They race through your head and keep your body on high alert. This tension makes it impossible for your body to relax enough to fall asleep.
And if you’re experiencing intense physical symptoms, such as a pounding heart and physical trembling, it will be even harder to fall asleep. Insomnia is frequent among anxiety sufferers.
Fortunately, putting relaxation exercises and other anxiety-management techniques into practice can help you get more sleep.
Muscle Trembling and Aches
As with other physical symptoms of anxiety, your brain prepares your body to react to threats by priming muscles to spring to action if needed. Increased heartbeat and breathing rates also contribute to muscle trembling. You may notice your hands, arms, and even legs trembling during a panic attack.
Even if you don’t suffer such strong responses, you may still notice lingering aches and pains throughout your body when you have anxiety. This happens because the muscles are tensed without you usually even realizing it. Neck aches, shoulder aches, and backaches are common.
If these symptoms sound familiar to you, it’s important to know that it is possible to address them. Living with anxiety is painful, both emotionally and physically. But with therapy and learning coping skills, you can step away from the fear and step into a calmer, more confident life. If you’re ready to learn more, please call our office.