Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
10 Physical Signs Of Anxiety That May Show Up For You
Published Oct 20th, 2020 & updated on Mar 20th, 2021
The body can be a weird and wonderful thing. Sometimes, it can be weird but not so wonderful. Anxiety is a complicated mental health issue that affects all parts of the body. Surprise! It’s not just all in your head! I mean, it is, but it also isn’t. You know? So yeah, you may definitely see some physical signs of anxiety too.
Shall we look at what those could be?
Physical Signs of Anxiety
Anxiety can manifest in many different ways, and sometimes that means showing up in the body as (really shitty) physical symptoms. We love manifesting, butttt maybe not this kind. Here are some common physical signs of anxiety that may appear in your body.
Sweating is a super common symptom that people with anxiety experience. Sweating if you’re anxious is totally ok! Being a Sweaty Betty is completely normal if you have anxiety, and it can happen for a number of reasons.
It’s part of the body’s natural stress response. The body releases stress hormones and changes its response based on what information it’s receiving. If you’re having a panic attack, these stress hormones will likely cause you to sweat.
If you’re overstimulated for an extended period of time, sweating can be the way that the body involuntarily handles the stress. So, it’s normal to sweat even if you don’t know why. Anxiety can heighten your senses and there might be environmental stimuli that are affecting your level of anxiety as well. If you notice that the room you’re in has become too noisy, or if bright lights are bothering you, it’s your body’s way of hyper-focusing on your environment when you’re in a heightened state of awareness.
Thinking about how much you’re sweating can actually cause you to sweat more. Soooo, don’t think about it too much if you can. If you still think about it, no worries. Shit happens and the mind is a bananas place to be sometimes. Forgive yourself a little bit and just ride the anxiety wave as best as you can.
Chills / Hot Flash
How’s this for a fancy word: vasoconstriction.
Vasoconstriction means that the blood vessels in the body contract to move blood to other parts of the body when it’s in fight, flight, or freeze mode. It’s also what makes you feel hot when you have anxiety.
When the body starts to cool down, even a little, our senses are so heightened in an anxious state that we begin to feel chilly with the temperature change.
You might feel cold, then hot, or only hot or cold. Whatever the case is, know that your body is looking out for you and is just trying to regulate itself.
If you have any grounding or breathing techniques that you use to help calm yourself, try doing those to soothe your nervous system. This will hopefully calm your body and mind, and help stop the hot and cold flashes from continuing.
Increased Heart Rate
Thousands of years ago, humans faced a lot more physical dangers than we do now. Giant cats could eat us at any moment so our hearts would pump blood to important parts of the body that could help us run away faster and evade danger.
Now in the 21st century, our hearts still pump blood to parts of our body so that we are ready to run away from our fears and anxieties. Fortunately, we are no longer afraid of giant cats attacking us. We are afraid and anxious about a number of different things. Anxiety is different for everyone, but our bodies still respond to fear and stress like they did thousands of years ago. That means physical signs of anxiety still include an increased heart rate and as you’ll see below, a bunch of other fun symptoms.
Like with managing chills and hot flashes, grounding and breathing techniques can be a great way to help a panic attack subside. Some of us here at DiveThru also like to use distraction techniques as well! For example, we like watching our favourite TV series or scrolling on TikTok.
But seeing a mental health professional is probably the best way to help you effectively manage your anxiety and lower your heart rate.
Just like an increased heart rate, tense muscles were how humans survived danger thousands of years ago. Our muscles would contract, and we would be on high alert if we felt danger was near.
So, if your muscles feel tight after being anxious, now you know why! Unclench your jaw, relax your shoulders, take a deep breath, and treat yourself to a massage. You deserve it!
Anxiety Canada has a fantastic blog post about a technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation. They go into more detail about it than we will here, but we’ll give you the Coles Notes version! It’s basically tensing and relaxing muscle groups all over your body in a mindful way to help calm your mind.
Remember the little muscles too! If you need a guide to walk you through this process, there are many free and fantastic videos on YouTube such as this one that you can listen to while practicing this technique.
Stomach Problems / Nausea
Has your stomach ever felt like crap when you have an anxiety attack? Has it ever said, “There ain’t no time for rest and digest! I’m afraid and have no time to eat, so I’m gonna stay in knots instead.”
Yeah? Ours too.
This is one of those physical signs of anxiety that is just straight up unbearable for some people.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that can affect the stomach. So, if you ever feel nauseous or have stomach pains when you’re anxious, this might be why.
But sometimes the culprit truly is just your body and anxiety hormones. So, managing your anxiety with your favourite soothing techniques might be the best solution to your stomach pains.
Derealization / Depersonalization
Derealization and depersonalization are really common physical signs of anxiety that not many people know about.
Derealization is when the world around you doesn’t feel real. You might feel detached from the objects and people around you, as if you’re looking at things through a veil or a film.
Depersonalization is when you feel like you’re detaching from yourself, your mind, and your body. It can feel like you’re outside of your body, telling it what to do.
These symptoms are actually quite common! So, don’t worry. Because the blood is rushing to other parts of the body and away from the brain, these symptoms can occur if someone has a prolonged panic attack.
Numbness / Tingling
When the body is under stress, it takes the blood out of the extremities and moves it towards your core.
This can make parts of your body feel like they’re numb or tingling. When you have a panic attack, your senses can heighten, and you can end up hyper-focusing on these sensations.
We know that this is more easily said than done, but we believe in you. You’ve got this!
Just like muscle tension is a response to stress, so is chest pain. It’s the tensing of the muscles in the chest for a prolonged period of time that causes them to hurt. That plus an increased heart rate can make your chest feel even tighter and hurt more.
First things first. If you have any concern about your chest pain being related to a heart attack, you should go to the emergency room or call your local emergency services. This is not something to play around with! But, it’s also helpful to take note if you recognize other anxiety symptoms, like those noted in this article, accompanying the chest pain.
You may even know exactly what prompted your anxiety. If so, work on taking several deep, slow breaths.
It can be scary! Anxiety is a hard barrier to overcome, but we know that you’ll get to the other side of it eventually.
Ok, so you’ve gotten ready for bed. You’re in your coziest pjs and you’ve made a tea to sip while in bed. You’ve had a hard day! But as soon as your head hits the pillow, your brain refuses to turn off, your eyes can’t stay shut, and you can’t seem to fall asleep!
Sleeplessness is a common manifestation of anxiety. Some scientists say that the relationship between sleep and anxiety is bidirectional (meaning that they both influence each other).
So, it’s totally normal if you can’t sleep when you have anxiety. It sucks, but it’s normal!
Having a podcast or music play in the background while you try to doze off can be a great way to help your brain focus on something other than your thoughts. Sometimes our minds are racing so fast that we just can’t seem to fall asleep no matter how hard we try, but having background noise can distract us just enough for our mind to take a break and our bodies to fall asleep for a much deserved rest.
Shortness Of Breath / Hyperventilating
If you’ve ever had shortness of breath while having a panic attack, we can relate. It’s not uncommon for people to hyperventilate when trying to overcome an episode of anxiety.
Breathing is an unconscious action for humans, and anxiety can disrupt a person’s normal breathing pattern. They then begin to take more shallow breaths, causing an increase in carbon dioxide in the body.
This increase of carbon dioxide can even cause some of the symptoms we’ve already talked about. For example, it can cause chest pains, numbness, tingling, and depersonalization or derealization.
Hopefully this list gave you some peace of mind and that you learned a thing or two about anxiety. Just remember that all of these are all normal and common physical symptoms of anxiety. We know how hard it can be to try and overcome them, but we also know that you’re strong as hell!