Physical signs of anxiety

When you are suffering with anxiety, you are in what’s call the ‘fight or flight’ response.


What does the science show us?

Your body is preparing you for a ‘dangerous’ situation and and a part of the brain is triggered to prepare for this and your body reacts in several ways physically. This response happens without you thinking, which triggers the nervous system, called the ‘autonomic nervous system’ which automatically activates physical responses within the body. The brain activates the muscles, lungs and heart to enable you to prepare to engage with the dangerous situation or to flee. You muscles tense, your heart beats faster, blood rushes to the extremities and sweating increases.

Hormones rush through the body, namely adrenalin or cortisol and the sympathetic nervous system controls the flight or flight response. An anxiety disorder is diagnosed when intense multiple physical symptoms persist.

Everyone responds individually and differently to anxiety provoking situations. However, there are common physical signs that people experience.


1. Shortness of Breath

We are likely to breath quickly and have much more shallow creating. A shortness of breath creates pressure in the chest and hyper ventilating can occur as we are more aware of our breathing during any periods of anxiety.


2. Dizziness

The increase in the heart pumping the blood around the body and an increase in blood pressure can lead to dizziness or spells of feeling dizzy or feeling ‘light headed’.  You can also experience headaches as well.


3. Fatigue or weakness

Continual worry and anxiety can cause exhaustion and fatigue. A lot of energy is being used up during this time too. It can also make it difficult to fall asleep or may suffer from interrupted sleep, which affects energy levels and fatigue as well.


4. Heat palpitations and chest pain

Often, those who are suffering with extreme anxiety or an episode of anxiety will often feel chest pains and may mistake this for an impending heart attack. A full panic attack means the heart is beating rapidly and blood is pumping around the body as you go into fight or flight, which can then cause hyperventilation.

It is important to note that a rush of adrenaline does not damage the heart. However prolonged episodes of anxiety and stress if not managed correctly can lead to heart tension and heart problems. This may not be helped by lifestyle choices, e.g lack of exercise or poor food choices low in nutrition and high in fat or sugar. If chest pain does persist, do be sure to make an appointment with your GP.


5. Hot temperature, sweating and shivering

A rise in temperature can occur due to the rush of adrenalin and the state of arousal. You perspire as your body is trying to cool you down. Once you do cool down, especially after a panic attack, this can cause cold feelings and shivers.


6. Muscle pain

As the increase in oxygen caused by anxiety can lead to chest pains, similarly, there can be the experience of sensations and feelings in the muscles. The muscles can tense, which is caused by stress and regular or daily occurrences of this can lead to muscle pain. Regular feelings of anxiety can also have a negative impact on your posture which can affect your muscles, causing tension or pain. You can very much be on edge and have feelings of agitation.

Additionally, poor lifestyle choices can negatively impact anxiety. Ensure you are eating healthily, exercising regularly, getting fresh air and vitamin D intake and drinking plenty of water.


7. Poor sleep

Increased anxiety or high stress can lead to problems with sleep. More often than not, it is difficult to fall asleep, due to feelings of anxiety, or negative worrisome thoughts before bed. Equally, sufferers of anxiety can wake regularly during the night for the same reasons. Or this can be a double edged sword, lack of sleep can also lead to increased anxiety. Also, a panic attack or prolonged feelings of anxiety can leave you feeling exhausted.

Ensure you have a positive routine during the day time which includes healthy eating and regular exercise. Also ensure you check your sleep hygiene. Ensure all devices are switched off well before bed time. Do something relaxing before bed like go for a gentle walk, have a bath, read a book or follow a guided meditation (there are thousands on YouTube). Ensure the bedroom is just for sleep and remove anything that could interrupt your sleep.


If physical symptoms do persist, be sure to consult with your GP.


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Janine is the founder of Change for Success

She specialises in transforming mental health and mindset.

Janine helps people create calm, clarity and focus, banishing stress, anxiety, worry and negative thinking.

She also works with companies and organisations by helping them improve their performance and productivity by reducing stress in the workplace.

She has a Masters’ degrees in Psychology, is a published researcher and a hypnotherapist, NLP and EFT practitioner.