AnxietyWhat Anxiety Feels Like: Physical Symptoms Of Anxiety

What Anxiety Feels Like: Physical Symptoms Of Anxiety

More than just a psychological condition, anxiety can manifest itself in a variety of physical symptoms that affect a person’s daily life. These symptoms range from the obvious, such as rapid heartbeat and sweating, to less obvious signs, such as gastrointestinal problems or headaches. The physical manifestation of anxiety is a response to the body’s fight-or-flight system being activated, even when there is no immediate physical threat.

Understanding the physical symptoms of anxiety is important because they often affect your ability to function in different situations. They can also mimic signs of other medical conditions, making them difficult to diagnose without careful consideration. If the body continues to experience these physical symptoms of anxiety, it can lead to a cycle of increasing stress and worry, which can exacerbate the anxiety itself.

Key Takeaways

  • Anxiety can cause a range of physical symptoms, including heart palpitations and digestive problems.
  • Recognising these symptoms is important in distinguishing anxiety from other health problems.
  • Persistent physical symptoms can increase stress and worsen the experience of anxiety.

How Does Anxiety Make You Feel: Overview

Anxiety is a complex mental health condition that manifests itself through a variety of physical symptoms. When someone experiences anxiety, it is often more than just feeling worried or anxious; the body can go through a number of stress-related reactions.

Common physical symptoms of anxiety:

  • Muscle tension or discomfort, which can lead to headaches or muscle aches.
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as nausea or upset stomach are not uncommon.
  • A person may experience an increase in heart rate or palpitations.
    Respiratory changes may occur, including shortness of breath.

Mental components:

  • Racing thoughts.
  • Excessive worry, often disproportionate to the situation.
  • A sense of impending doom.

These physical and mental experiences can be incredibly distressing. If the symptoms persist and interfere with daily life, they may indicate the presence of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can be very overwhelming and affect all systems of the body, including the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems. Understanding these symptoms is crucial to managing anxiety and improving quality of life.

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What Does Anxiety Feel Like

Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. When anxiety becomes a frequent, overwhelming force, it can manifest itself powerfully through various physical symptoms.

Physical Symptoms Of Anxiety

Anxiety can cause a range of physical symptoms that affect both the body and the mind. People may experience headaches, a common complaint that can range from mild to severe. Nausea is another symptom that people with anxiety may experience, making it difficult to eat or keep food down. Anxiety often causes muscle tension, which manifests as pain or cramps in different parts of the body, including the back and neck.

In addition, some people report feelings of chest pain or experience palpitations, which is the sensation of the heart pounding or racing. This is closely linked to an increased heart rate, which is a natural response to anxiety. Trembling or shaking is also common and may be more noticeable during periods of heightened anxiety.

Anxiety often causes sweating and can lead to shortness of breath, which can feel like you are struggling to breathe or getting enough air. Each of these symptoms can be very uncomfortable and add to the overall distress that anxiety can cause. For more information, visit the National Institute of Mental Health.

What Causes Anxiety

Anxiety can be caused by a combination of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events. It’s often triggered by stress, which can build up over time or arise from specific situations. Life events such as financial problems, relationship problems or work-related stress can play a significant role in the development of anxiety disorders. An individual’s worry about possible future events, or fear that is disproportionate to the actual danger, often exacerbates anxiety symptoms.

In particular, the experience of a traumatic event can lead to the development of an anxiety disorder. In the aftermath, triggers related to the trauma can cause intense anxiety or panic. Another biological explanation is the fight-or-flight response – a primitive response that serves to protect against harm but can become erratic, producing persistent feelings of anxiety even in the absence of actual danger.

Medical conditions are also associated with increased anxiety, suggesting that anxiety can sometimes have a physical health component. Certain medical conditions can exacerbate or trigger feelings of anxiety, as suggested by research analysing the relationship between anxiety and depressive symptoms and medical conditions.

Understanding the underlying causes is important for effective anxiety management and treatment. While the specific factors that contribute to anxiety can be numerous and intertwined, identifying and addressing these root causes is key to reducing the physical symptoms that anxiety can manifest.

Getting Help For Anxiety

Getting Help For Anxiety

If a person recognises the physical symptoms of anxiety, it is important to seek professional help. Mental health professionals can provide diagnoses and tailored treatment plans. Common interventions include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps people understand and change their thought patterns, and various forms of psychotherapy.

Medications may also be prescribed to manage symptoms. Medications are often used in conjunction with therapy to maximise effectiveness. It’s important for patients to be open with their doctor about their symptoms and concerns.

Developing coping skills is another important aspect of managing anxiety. People can learn strategies to manage their anxiety in everyday life, potentially reducing its impact on their wellbeing.

For people with anxiety disorders, managing stress and anxiety is an ongoing process that often involves a combination of therapy, medication and self-care techniques.

Early intervention by a professional can significantly improve quality of life. Seeking help is a powerful and commendable step towards regaining control and establishing a more peaceful mindset.

Treatment For Physical Symptoms Of Anxiety

Treating the physical symptoms of anxiety can involve a multifaceted approach aimed at relieving these symptoms directly.

Medication: Doctors may prescribe anxiolytic drugs to reduce the intensity of physical reactions to anxiety.

Exercise: Regular physical activity is beneficial, with some studies suggesting that it may help improve anxiety symptoms, although the intensity of exercise required may vary.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): CBT is an effective psychological treatment that helps patients understand and change their thinking patterns, leading to improvements in physical symptoms.

Breathing techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing can help control physical responses to anxiety. Incorporating relaxation techniques into daily practice can be helpful in managing symptoms.

Mindfulness and lifestyle changes: Mindfulness meditation and other lifestyle changes, including improved sleep and stress management, can improve physical symptoms.

Diet: There is some evidence that dietary changes, such as reducing caffeine intake, can help with anxiety symptoms, although more research is needed in this area.

Combining these methods can help people manage the physical discomfort associated with anxiety and improve overall well-being.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Anxiety can take many physical forms, sometimes in surprising ways. Understanding these symptoms can help people manage their anxiety more effectively.

What are some unusual physical signs of anxiety?

Some less commonly recognised physical indicators of anxiety include stomach aches, dizziness and tingling in the extremities. People may also experience a sense of detachment from reality, known as derealisation, or from themselves, known as depersonalisation.

How can you tell the difference between an anxiety attack and other medical problems?

To distinguish an anxiety attack from other medical problems, look for the rapid onset of overwhelming fear or discomfort, heart palpitations and shortness of breath, which are all signs of an anxiety attack. Unlike certain medical conditions, these symptoms usually peak within minutes.

What strategies can help relieve physical symptoms of anxiety?

Strategies to reduce physical symptoms of anxiety include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and aerobic exercise. Regular mindfulness meditation has also been shown to reduce anxiety levels.

Can severe stress cause physical symptoms of anxiety, and how does this differ from general anxiety?

Severe stress can cause physical symptoms similar to those of general anxiety, such as headaches, muscle tension and difficulty sleeping. The main difference is that stress is usually a response to an external trigger, whereas general anxiety may not have a clear cause.

How can anxiety and depression manifest themselves physically?

Both anxiety and depression can cause physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches and changes in appetite. It’s not uncommon for people with depression to experience increased physical pain, a symptom that’s not as strongly associated with anxiety.


Anxiety manifests itself in a variety of physical symptoms that can significantly affect a person’s daily life and overall wellbeing. Treatment options are available and can be highly effective, including both medication and psychotherapy approaches. Patients are encouraged to seek professional advice and take an active role in their treatment plan, as strategies may vary from person to person.

Awareness and education about anxiety is crucial; understanding the condition promotes better self-care and supports recovery. To manage symptoms, patients may find relaxation techniques, regular exercise and mindfulness practices beneficial. In addition, a supportive network – whether through professional help or loved ones – often plays an important role in managing anxiety.

Given the unique nature of each case, tailoring treatment to the individual has the potential to improve outcomes and enhance the quality of life for those living with anxiety.


  1. National Institute of Mental Health. “Anxiety Disorders.” Link.

  2. ScienceDirect. “Anxiety and depressive symptoms and medical illness among adults with anxiety disorders”. Journal of Psychiatric Research, Volume 58, Pages 1-9, December 2014. Link.

  3. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Managing Stress and Anxiety.” Link.

  4. National Center for Biotechnology Information. “Exercise in the treatment of clinical anxiety in general practice – a systematic review and meta-analysis” BMC Psychiatry, PMC6048763. Link.

  5. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Relaxation Techniques: What You Need To Know.” Link.

Mark Willson, holding a Ph.D., functions as a psychotherapist in Washington, D.C. His specialized fields encompass addiction, anxiety, depression, as well as sexuality and interpersonal connections. Dr. Willson holds the distinction of being a diplomat for the American Board of Addiction and Anxiety, further serving as a certified counselor and addiction specialist.

Aside from his personal professional endeavors, Dr. Wilson has engaged in roles as an author, journalist, and creator within substantial medical documentary projects.

Isabella Clark, Ph.D., held the position of a professor within Emory University’s School of Medicine, working in the Department of Mental Health and Nutrition Science. Alongside this role, she served as a research associate affiliated with the National Research Center. Dr. Clark’s primary area of research centers on comprehending the mechanisms through which adverse social encounters, encompassing prolonged stress and traumatic exposure, contribute to a spectrum of detrimental mental health consequences and coexisting physical ailments like obesity. Her specific focus lies in unraveling the reasons behind the varying elevated susceptibility to stress-linked disorders between different genders.


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