Although it is a mental health issue, anxiety can often have
surprising physical symptoms. These symptoms can appear even when you are not
feeling overly anxious.
Anxiety changes the way you think, your hormones and your
perceptions, says Micah Abraham, editor of Calm Clinic. It changes the
neurochemicals in your brain that tell you how to think and act. It can both
cause physical sensations and make you hyperaware of them, which can lead to a
huge variety of symptoms.
When Calm Clinic asked its Facebook followers if they had
any unusual anxiety symptoms, they received hundreds of responses, ranging from
“forgetting how to swallow” to a “loud pop, like a firecracker, in their ear.”
“An individual suffering from an anxiety disorder perceives
a wide range of feelings and sensations, which are unique, complex, and often
difficult to explain,” says Abraham.
In fact, it’s possible to experience anxiety only as
physical symptoms – your mind may feel completely relaxed and clear.
Here are five common anxiety symptoms which you might not
realise are anxiety:
A sudden pain in your hip. A stomach ache. Chest pain with
accompanying sweating so severe you think it must surely be a heart attack.
Anxiety can create sensations of pain that have no physical cause.
Chest pain is one of the most common types of pain created
by anxiety. Research in 2018 published in BMC Medicine found that
Emergency Department providers believe approximately 30 per cent of patients seeking
emergency care for chest pain are actually experiencing anxiety.
This kind of chest pain is caused by a stress response. Your
heart starts to beat faster to prepare for fight or flight, which causes rapid
breathing. This can lead to hypoventilation, which can cause shortness of
breath as well as a contraction of blood vessels, which may result in chest
Other times, you might notice random pain anywhere in your
body that can stay for weeks, and then disappear. Similarly, you might
experience muscle aches, spasms, and twitching.
These pains could be caused by rapid breathing, or by
holding your muscles tensely for long period of time, or by hypervigilance.
Abraham explains: “Someone without anxiety may have a knee
pain so mild that they don’t even notice it, but a person with anxiety feels
that knee pain severely because their mind has been altered, making it
hypersensitive to the way the body feels.”
2. Numbness and tingling
You notice pins and needles in your feet or hands. You
Google it, and become convinced you have a neurological disease. Or it’s a sign
of a heart attack. But could it be… anxiety?
Anxiety Centre says numbness and tingling are common signs
of anxiety. It can also feel like part of your skin or body has lost all
feeling, or you might even feel a crawly sensation. You might notice it in your
arms, hands, fingers, toes, legs, feet, head, face, or it might shift around
all over your body.
It can even strike when you are not noticing any other
mental anxiety symptoms, for example when you are relaxing watching TV.
The numbness and tingling are caused by your fight or flight
response: your body moves blood away from your extremities such as hands, feet
and skin, and redirects it to your heart and muscles.
Frequent and excessive yawning doesn’t necessarily mean you
need more sleep. It could mean you are experiencing anxiety.
The need to yawn often – even in important meetings – can
sometimes be accompanied by a feeling that you can’t breathe deeply enough, or
becoming very aware of your breathing.
It’s caused by shortness of breath, which in turn is caused
by a change in heart rate.
4. Digestive issues
Indigestion, the need to burp all the time, or just a plain
old stomach-ache are common physical symptoms of anxiety. In fact, around one
third of anxious people experience anxiety-related diarrhoea.
It’s caused by the fight or flight response, which changes
your hormones and digestive enzymes. It can be exacerbated by lack of sleep –
another common anxiety symptom.
Plus, emerging research is revealing the powerful link
between the brain and the gut, where gastrointestinal issues are triggered or
exacerbated by anxiety and stress, and on the flip side, your gut health can
impact your mental health.
5. Hair loss
You brush your hair and a lot comes out. Are you ageing
rapidly, or could it be anxiety?
Hair loss is a common symptom of anxiety in both men and
You might notice it just in one part of your head, or all
Anxiety Centre says its due to a body-wide hormonal response.
For example, stress activates neuroendocrine-immune circuits, which pause hair