Anxiety is a strange duck, mainly because it can be quite difficult to identify. Are you irritable? Tired? Restless? Off-kilter? Out of sorts? Is it anxiety, or something with a physiological cause?
To make matters worse, physical symptoms usually accompany emotional or psychological ones. Many times, until you get a proper diagnosis from a qualified healthcare professional, you may feel like you’re constantly battling a cold, the flu, allergies, or even a hangover.
This is because your brain’s connection to your body is very strong, and what may logically seem like unrelated mental and physical conditions could actually be intricately linked in an ongoing (sometimes vicious) cycle. Here are some clues that your body is manifesting physical symptoms of anxiety, and what to do to help yourself feel better.
1. Rapid Heart Rate
Because anxiety is part of your body’s built-in alarm system, it can cause your body to react as if it is under constant stress even though it is not. The amygdala is a part of your brain that lets you know there is a perceived threat, and it causes many different effects on your body, like a surge of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which prep us to flee or fight. This can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, and even lead to heart palpitations. While the fight or flight reaction is essential to our health and preservation because it allows us to move quickly and act decisively. However, if that alarm button seems like its stuck in the “on” position, the reactions it causes can cause strain on our bodies, as they are supposed to be temporary.
2. Chills or Sweating
As part of the fight or flight response, it is common to feel a sudden temperature change. This is because another part of the brain involved in anxiety is the hypothalamus which regulates body temperature. An overactive hypothalamus can cause you to have chills, be drenched in sweat, or weirdly, feel both things at the same time. This effect can also come from how your muscles tend to fire up during an anxiety response, which is another cool way your body readies itself to take on threats. This is why you may have odd muscle aches along with hot or cold flashes while experiencing anxiety.
3. Shortness of Breath
Since your heart and lungs work together to keep you going strong, it so happens that when one is affected, the other is likely to be, too. If you’re experiencing a sudden rise in your heart rate, this might lower your oxygen intake and your lungs will see this as signal to start working harder to oxygenate the body. This is why in an extreme anxiety attack or a panic attack, you will not only have a rapid heart rate, but also potentially shortness of breath. The advice for those is to try and do some deep breathing so that both can be corrected. However, if you’re experiencing chest pains, the symptoms don’t subside, or if you feel worse after a few minutes, seek immediate medical attention.
4. Nausea or Indigestion
The central nervous system also plays a major part in the stress response, along with your brain and your hormones. It is interesting to note that there are more nerve fibers in the gut than anywhere else in the body. This is why when you feel excited, you get what feels like “butterflies” in your stomach. This is your nervous system responding to stimulus. Another hormone, serotonin, also plays a major role in the stress response. Serotonin is the “happy chemical” that sends signals between the nerve cells, and it can also be found in your gut. When emotional distress happens, it can throw off your nerve signaling and serotonin response. This can cause nausea, indigestion, and an upset stomach.
5. Constipation or Diarrhea
When your body is preparing itself to respond to a threat, it shuffles resources like blood flow to what it considers necessary for short-term mobilization. This means that normal bodily processes like digestion are left high and dry. As your blood flows toward muscles, vision, and hearing to react to threats, your motility can change, which often results in constipation. This can also swing in the other direction towards diarrhea. In some cases, you may find yourself swinging between the two. Related effects can include bloating, excessive gas, abdominal pain, and cramping.
6. Tightness, Tingling, and Sharp Pains
Because your central nervous system is connected to the peripheral nervous system, this means your body is wired from head to toe. When there is anxiety in the brain, it sends signals out all along those connections resulting in tingling, pain, or tightness. If a nerve fires suddenly, there could sharp pain or tightness in areas where the nerves are in tighter clusters like your lower back, jaw, or neck.