Does Being Anxious Affect the Body? 6 Physical Signs of Anxiety

Anxiety is a mental health condition, so it may seem logical to assume it primarily involves mental or emotional symptoms, not physical ones. But anxiety often also involves somatic symptoms, or symptoms felt in the body. In fact, some people may experience more physical symptoms than emotional ones.

Anyone who’s ever felt nervous can likely name many common physical symptoms, including:

Shaking or trembling
Flushed skin
Increased sweating
Pounding heart
But people living with chronic anxiety issues, including panic, phobias, general anxiety, or social anxiety, may experience more persistent symptoms, even when they don’t have any reason to feel nervous.

These symptoms can resemble those of serious health conditions, and some people may not recognize the nature of their distress. They may worry instead they have heart trouble, chronic migraines, or other health issues. Accordingly, these physical symptoms may not only cause immediate distress, they also often contribute to long-term confusion and stress around the true cause of symptoms.

Learning more about anxiety’s physical effects on the body can help make anxiety more recognizable to people dealing with physical symptoms.

Learning more about anxiety’s physical effects on the body can help make anxiety more recognizable to people dealing with physical symptoms. family and marriage

Anxiety can cause plenty of physical complaints, so people living with anxiety could notice the following physical signs, in addition to mental health symptoms.

1. Anxiety and dizziness
Dizziness often arises as a symptom of anxiety. You might feel:

Off-balance, particularly in crowded areas or open spaces
As if you’re spinning or swaying from side to side
The relationship between anxiety and dizziness can go both ways, creating a feedback loop. People who worry about losing their balance, falling, or losing control in a public place may become anxious whenever they feel dizzy, and one symptom may worsen the other.

Research from the Academy of Neurologic Physical Therapy suggests this happens when the vestibular system, which helps regulate sensations of movement in your environment and the position of your body, interacts with the limbic system, which helps regulate emotional experiences.

These fears can lead many to cope by avoiding activities likely to cause one or both symptoms, including physical activity or experiences likely to provoke anxiety or stress. This can have a negative impact on quality of life over time.

2. Anxiety and chest pain
Chest pain is one anxiety symptom that often causes alarm, especially when pain accompanies a rapid increase in heart rate and shortness of breath. These symptoms, of course, can also suggest a heart attack, so many people who experience chest pain worry their symptoms are life-threatening. When seeking emergency medical care, they may feel frustrated and distressed when there’s no medical explanation for their pain and heart palpitations.

But according to one study of 151 patients reporting chest pain, 59 percent had symptoms of anxiety. Research from 2006 supports the finding that people who seek emergency care for chest pain often have anxiety rather than a cardiac condition. Panic attacks, in particular, may share many similarities with an oncoming heart attack.

Someone having a heart attack, however, will most likely experience a squeezing pain that may radiate toward the jaw or left arm. Women often notice pain in their upper back or shoulders.

3. Anxiety and headaches
Experts have linked anxiety to both tension headaches and migraines. Headaches can develop as a symptom of anxiety for many reasons, including the following:

Sleep disturbances. Insomnia and other sleep issues also commonly occur with anxiety, so many people living with anxiety don’t get enough sleep. Insufficient or disrupted sleep can trigger a migraine.
Low serotonin. Some research suggests the neurotransmitter serotonin can help regulate emotional health. Low levels of serotonin may contribute to mental health symptoms, including anxiety. A rapid drop in serotonin levels could also narrow your blood vessels, which can lead to headaches.
General stress. Stress can contribute to anxiety, especially when you feel overwhelmed and aren’t sure how to cope. Both stress and anxiety can cause muscles to tense up repeatedly, and lingering muscle tension often leads to head pain. But stress is also known to trigger migraines.
4. Anxiety and digestive issues
Persistent gastrointestinal distress often occurs as a physical symptom of anxiety. Medical research suggests this happens because of the connection between the brain and the gut. Nerves shared by the gut and the brain can interact with each other and have a negative impact on normal bodily processes.

Most people have experienced stomach “butterflies” or nausea when nervous or worried about something. But people living with chronic anxiety might notice more serious issues, such as:

Chronic stomach pain or cramping
Diarrhea or vomiting
Appetite changes
Worsened irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Worries about experiencing things like vomiting or diarrhea in public can contribute to increased anxiety and emotional distress. Long-term GI distress can even make it difficult for some people to function as they usually would, which can lead to significant negative consequences for their quality of life.

5. Anxiety and breathing difficulties
Many people experience breathing problems when feeling anxious. Breathing troubles can range from hyperventilation, or very rapid breathing, to sensations of choking or feeling unable to draw a breath.

These symptoms don’t typically persist over time. They generally happen whenever a situation becomes tense or involves some fear or nervousness. Panic attacks often involve choking sensations, and it’s not uncommon to feel as if you can’t breathe. These feelings can be very frightening, and they often worsen anxiety’s emotional symptoms.