Don’t Let The Physical Symptoms of Anxiety Rule Your Life!

Anxiety is now the most common mental health disorder in the US. Despite this fact, many people still don’t understand what anxiety really is and how it can affect them. Many of us assume that anxiety disorder is all about thoughts or feelings. This is not untrue. But did you know that anxiety can have a powerful effect on our physical functioning as well? In this article, we take an in-depth look at the physical symptoms of anxiety. Read on to learn more.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a broad term used to describe a range of disorders that encompass symptoms such as worry, nervousness, fear and distress. These symptoms commonly arise in situations that do not warrant such immense responses such as being in specific places or attending certain events. Sometimes even unidentifiable triggers can cause panic. Generally, the intensity of the symptoms is out of proportion to the level of threat posed by a triggering object or event.

Fight or Flight Response

This response is the body’s way of preparing itself for imminent danger. It is physiological as it causes the body’s sympathetic nervous system to be activated. This, in turn activates the adrenal glands which release stress hormones that are ultimately related to the thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms of anxiety. The fight or flight response is evolutionary in nature. It prepares the body to either fight the threat or flee from it. However, it is heightened in people who are suffering from anxiety disorders and is often triggered by events that are not life threatening: such as public speaking (in the case of social anxiety disorder) or germs (in the case of phobic disorders). A traumatic event could also trigger the fight or flight response.

Panic Attacks

People who are suffering from anxiety may experience panic attacks frequently. Panic attacks are characterized by intense fear and anxiety. Their onset is sudden and panic attacks usually bring with them the powerful physical symptoms of anxiety. These symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, trembling or shaking and an accelerated heart rate, among others. These physical symptoms may trigger and/or worsen feelings of anxiety or dread and unhealthy thought-patterns. In turn, this can make the physical symptoms of anxiety even more distressing. Anyone who has had a panic attack will understand just how terrifying this experience can be!

What Causes Anxiety?

We don’t know exactly what causes anxiety. But it’s clear that both genetic and environmental factors play a role. These could include a past traumatic event, a specific phobia or continual stress. Although anxiety may arise for no specific reason, certain situations may cause the onset of heightened fear responses. These situations are known as triggers. However; they vary from individual to individual, making it difficult to identify a specific cause of anxiety.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are various different anxiety disorders each with their own signs and symptoms. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive fears that are not connected to anything specifically. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder in which recurring thoughts occur that lead to consequent behaviors. Other anxiety disorders include social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety, hypochondriasis, and phobias.

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

The physical symptoms of anxiety disorders are connected to the emotional symptoms and they may include muscle tension, restlessness, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, digestive issues, dizziness, and headaches as well as insomnia and fatigue.

Muscle Tension

People who suffer from anxiety may experience back and neck tension which are only alleviated when certain psychological measures or relaxation strategies are implemented. This means that the muscle tension does not subside when the threat is removed. Rather, relaxation or mindfulness skills need to be employed to relieve the physical symptoms.


The psychological effects of anxiety impact the body’s physiological response to anxiety. These physiological changes can cause a constant feeling of being restless and on edge.

Shortness of Breath

The physiological changes that accompany anxiety (such as increased heart rate and blood pressure) may lead to shortness of breath, as the body’s resources are being used in an inefficient manner.

Increased Heart Rate

The constant thought of a fight or flight response associated with anxiety leads to an increased heart rate. This demonstrates how anxiety and its related fear symptoms may lead to a physical change in a person’s heart rate.

Digestive Issues

In some people, the physical symptoms of anxiety may include constipation and diarrhea. For others, anxiety may lead to appetite loss. Sometimes, people may become increasingly aware of tension and discomfort in their bellies whenever they’re stressed or anxious.

Dizziness and Headaches

Anxiety generally involves constant worry and fear which may manifest as frequent headaches. Additionally, the distressing nature of anxiety may cause interactions in the areas of the brain where dizziness can originate. This, along with the the cardiovascular effects of anxiety may lead to dizziness.

Insomnia and Fatigue

Anxiety not only leads to constant worrying and eventual tiredness, but it may also interfere with getting a good night’s sleep.

Diagnosis of Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorders are diagnosed when extreme fears arise from situations that do not warrant such intense responses. If the physical symptoms of anxiety are causing excessive distress or if they are interfering with your ability to live the life that you want to live, you may have an underlying anxiety disorder.

Treatment Options for Anxiety

Fortunately, anxiety responds incredibly well to treatment. Let’s review some of the options.

Talk Therapy

Confronting specific aspects that heighten the person’s anxiety may alleviate the symptoms they experience. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based approach that is very effective for reducing anxiety. It focuses on problematic thoughts and feelings

Medications for Anxiety

Medications such as antidepressants (e.g. Prozac) and benzodiazepines (e.g. Valium) have been shown to help in patients dealing with anxiety. However, these medications are often used in combination with a variety of other treatment methods. It’s important to note that some medications can lead to addiction or cause unpleasant side-effects.

Lifestyle Changes

A change in sleep routine is one lifestyle change that can be used to treat anxiety. Furthermore, physical activity and meditation have been shown to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Support Groups

These are very beneficial as they allow for people to experience a space in which they can receive advice and support.

Your Anxiety Need Not Rule Your Life

Although anxiety affects people in many different ways, treatment and lifestyle changes can help alleviate the symptoms. It’s no doubt that the physical symptoms of anxiety can be incredibly distressing. But these are symptoms that you can learn to manage.

Don’t delay getting the support and treatment that can help you take control of your anxiety.

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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