Anxiety is a normal feeling that everyone experiences at one point or another. It often involves worries about an event that is about to happen or a potential scenario that could happen in the future. Often these anxious feelings subside quickly. Sometimes, though, anxiety may linger and seem like more of a generalized, chronic condition. In either case, anxiety can manifest as physical sensations….
Can Anxiety Cause Real Physical Symptoms?
Whether anxiety is an acute response to a sudden loud bang or a chronic mental health issue, it can be accompanied by certain physical symptoms. That is because the same autonomic nervous system that governs bodily functions like breathing and heart rate also initiates our fight or flight response in the face of a perceived threat. Understood in this sense, anxiety is in fact essential to survival.
Of course, there is some unpleasantness that comes with feeling threatened. Anxiety can cause breathing difficulties, chest pain, headaches, nausea, nervousness, heart palpitations, and other physical symptoms. People with anxiety disorders or those living in environments with constant conflict or danger might experience symptoms daily and constantly feel on edge.
What Are the Warning Signs of Anxiety?
Specific warning signs of anxiety can include fear or panic, trouble sleeping, obsessive thoughts, flashbacks to traumatic events, difficulty relaxing, and nightmares. Anxiety can also cause a sense of dread. People may refrain from completing simple tasks because they become overwhelmed at the thought of trying or from a fear of making mistakes. Some individuals isolate themselves socially because they fear being around others.
What Are Three Effects of Anxiety? GI, Cognitive, and Behavioral
So goes the popular inquiry on Google. (In reality, anxiety can have many effects, as illustrated by the full myriad of physical symptoms alone.)
Anxiety can cause people to feel physically sick. Anxiety-related gastrointestinal distress can include constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and nausea. Some people experience headaches, hyperventilation, panic attacks, and trembling.
The physical symptoms of anxiety can be debilitating enough to cause individuals with anxiety to isolate themselves from others, because they feel embarassed about what others will think. Individuals experiencing these problems may seek help from a primary care provider, assuming they have a medical condition. However, when anxiety is behind the symptoms, a healthcare provider who does not specialize in mental health may be unable to diagnose the problem.
People who suffer from anxiety may experience difficulty thinking and performing cognitive tasks. Fears and perceived threats can dominate thoughts to the extent that an individual finds it difficult to concentrate on other tasks. The physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, and sweating, can also impair cognitive performance.
Test anxiety is one example of how anxiety can interfere with cognitive functioning. A student who becomes nervous about failing a test may be well-prepared, but the constant worry prevents them from recalling what they studied. Test anxiety can affect individuals of all ages. For example, an adult may forgo applying for a promotion that requires a certification or competency test, because they are afraid of failing.
Chronic stress and anxiety may lead to memory loss. Although research is ongoing, some experts suggest that short-term and long-term anxiety can impact memory. Anxiety and stress compete with other cognitive activities for the brain’s resources, affecting the brain’s capacity to collect and store memories. Excessive fear and anxiety during childhood and early adulthood may predict cognitive decline in later years.
People suffering from anxiety can experience effects that impact their wellbeing and limit their ability to enjoy a healthy and fulfilling life. Individuals with anxiety can become fatigued by constant worry and vigilance. The inability to get adequate sleep can lead to exhaustion and irritability. Anxiety causes behaviors such as avoiding eye contact and withdrawing from social situations.
Other Commonly Asked Questions
Can anxiety cause weird body sensations?
Anxiety can lead to some unexpected body sensations. Individuals with anxiety can have heart palpitations or rapid heartbeat. Some people experience burning sensations that resemble sunburn. The lips, skin, and tongue may also feel as if they are burning. Numbness and tingling can be bothersome for some people with anxiety, including facial numbness and tingling in the arms, hands, and legs. Other people may experience ringing in their ears or tinnitus. People experiencing anxiety-related tinnitus may hear buzzing, chirping, swooshing, or whizzing sounds.
What can mimic anxiety symptoms?
An individual with anxiety should never make assumptions about physical symptoms, especially those that seem weird. Chronic headaches could suggest other problems, such as high blood pressure. Indigestion and diarrhea could be symptoms of serious digestive disorders. Chest pains and irregular heartbeat might signal issues that could lead to a heart attack. Numbness and tingling are also symptoms of neurological disorders and could be a sign of stroke, depending on the area of the body. Ear ringing may be a sign of inner ear issues.
When an individual experiences symptoms that mimic anxiety, it’s best to see a healthcare provider to rule out physical illnesses and seek treatment if necessary.
Get Help for Anxiety
No one should suffer from anxiety alone. Anxiety robs people of joy and keeps them from reaching their potential. It can get in the way of building and maintaining positive relationships. Anxiety may lead to drug and alcohol use when an individual does not know where to turn for help, but there is help for people struggling with anxiety. Treatments like therapy and medication have helped many people learn how to effectively manage and even overcome their anxiety—they can help you, too.