General Symptoms of Anxiety
The symptoms of anxiety can be disturbing and even terrifying, but these are just sensations and there is a physiological explanation for them. The following list includes the most common symptoms reported and why they occur. As mentioned earlier, anxiety is an experience unique to each person, so you or someone you know may experience symptoms not listed here.
The physical symptoms of anxiety involve physiological responses, muscle tension, and change in motor function, which also impacts your mental functioning. If you feel physically stiff, awkward, and unbalanced, you will most likely feel mentally unstable as well. The physical symptoms of anxiety are as follows:
Rapid heartbeat, palpitations, and slow heart beat: Any of these might happen when stress hormones, such as adrenaline are released into the bloodstream.
Shortness of breath or feelings of being smothered: When fight or flight kicks in, breathing becomes rapid and shallow and can lead to hyperventilation. Acute fear and feelings of being trapped may lead to the sensation of being smothered.
Chest pain: Caused by extreme muscle tension and leads to fears of having a heart attack.
Inability to swallow, or feeling of a lump in the throat: Caused by contractions of throat muscles due to tension.
Shaking, trembling, and shivering: When we get afraid body temperature drops and we shake to warm ourselves.
Sweating: Occurs when the body cools to prepare for arduous activity.
Tingling and numbness: Changes in hormones and more blood pumped into muscles will create any of these sensations.
Numbness in head and face: Muscles in face become tense due to increased stress.
Blanching: When you are frightened, you lose skin color because blood is diverted to muscles needed for battle, so blood vessels in your face constrict.
Diarrhea/constipation/frequent voiding: Blood is diverted away from stomach to other areas, digestion slows, and muscles tighten leading to stomach problems.
Some people suffering from anxiety may also experience skin problems, as anxiety disturbs nerve endings in the skin, causing numbness and itchy sensations. Dry mouth often occurs because body fluids are sent to other areas, making the mouth uncomfortably dry. Your pupils may dilate and become hypersensitive to light or you may experience distorted vision, such as tunnel vision. Headaches can also occur because the blood vessels in the head constrict causing pain in the face, head, shoulders, and neck. Anxiety may even affect your hearing. Additionally, adrenaline increases the amount of sugar in the bloodstream and raises the heart rate. Cortisol keeps blood sugar high, and blood pressure up, making sure the body has the energy to defend itself. Studies have found that long-term elevated levels of cortisol are harmful to both physical and mental functioning.
Mental and Emotional Symptoms
The mental and emotional symptoms of anxiety affect all cognitive functions. When you get anxious you may find it hard to think clearly and to handle your emotions. There's a fear that you will lose control of yourself, and wonder how you will continue to live this way. Some of the symptoms are mild, but many can be frightening and debilitating. Some mental and emotional symptoms of anxiety are as follows:
Anger/aggression: Anxiety can lead you to feel frustrated and irritable. Some of this tension might release itself in the form of anger or aggression.
Feeling jittery: Some anxiety sufferers find it hard to sit still and concentrate on tasks at hand.
Feeling shocks: Anxiety can cause abnormal nerve impulses that result in many strange sensations, like the feeling of being jolted with electricity.
Suicidal thoughts: When anxiety becomes severe, with seemingly no way to stop it, feelings of hopelessness and despair are common.
Fear of losing control/going crazy: Changes in blood flow, hormones, muscle tension, nerves, etc., exhaust the mind, creating distorted thinking.
Other emotional and mental symptoms you may experience include: avoidance (straying from things that frighten you), depression, and sleep difficulties (such as insomnia and nightmares). Hyperfocusing on the anxiety and ceasing to do the things that make life enjoyable are also common responses. Anxiety sufferers may feel shame because they see themselves as weak. Feelings of “depersonalization,” feeling out of one's body, self-hatred, hopelessness, and low self-worth are also prevalent in people with anxiety disorders.
Anxiety is a complex condition that affects your overall mental and physical well-being. Now that you know a bit more about how the brain works, and what happens when it reacts to danger, whether real or imagined, you can see why an anxiety disorder can make daily living so challenging.