They’re Not in Your Head: Physical Symptoms of Anxiety and How to Manage Them

Medically reviewed by: Shane Trujillo, EdM
Tuesday, June 6 2023

Having anxiety from time to time is usual. You might be giving an important presentation at work so you can’t sleep well the night before. Or you’re attending a social event where you’ll meet new people and you start to sweat. But for the 40 million adults in the U.S. who have an anxiety disorder, anxiety symptoms like these can interfere with their daily lives. These physical symptoms are real and not just “in their head.”

Read on to understand what anxiety feels like physically and what you can do if you’re experiencing symptoms.

What are the physical symptoms of anxiety?

The effects of anxiety on your body include physical and mental symptoms. These are some of the physical symptoms you might experience:

  • Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilate)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Having sleep problems, such as falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Having gastrointestinal (GI) problems

You might also feel these mental symptoms:

  • Impending danger, panic, or doom
  • Having a hard time concentrating or focusing
  • Difficulty controlling your worry
  • The urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)panic disordersocial anxiety disorder, and phobia-related disorders can experience varying degrees of these symptoms. A licensed health professional can evaluate these symptoms and make a proper diagnosis. Learn more about the different types of mental health professionals.

What is anxiety fatigue?

It’s no surprise then that anxiety and fatigue are connected. A 2018 study in the British Journal of Psychiatry reports that three-quarters of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome have mood or anxiety disorders. And because anxiety can lead to problems with sleep, lack of sleep can make a person tired and affect daily functioning. A lack of energy can also affect cognitive functioning, making things like decision making more difficult. 

How can you cope with physical symptoms of anxiety?

There are things you can do to break the physical effects of anxiety on your body.

  1. Stop and observe. When you feel symptoms, pause and pay attention to what’s going on with your body. Did you recently have a stressful event? Was there a conversation that made you uncomfortable? Are you tensing your muscles? Think about what you’re feeling and are you feeling physical symptoms because of the stressful event? 
  1. Distract. Focusing on something else can help. Watch your favorite movie. Wash the dishes. Go for a walk. Focusing on something else can help you break the cycle of symptoms. Try what works for you. 
  1. Write it down. If your worries are keeping you awake, write them down. Journaling can help you practice self reflection and organize your thoughts and feelings. 
  1. Reassure yourself. Know that what you’re experiencing is not harmful. The symptoms will pass when the anxiety eases. 
  1. Move or relax your body. Try deep breathing, meditation, or relaxation techniques. Music can also help relax your body. Or do the opposite. Move your body. Try a walk or a jog. Or even dancing to your favorite music. But remember that when anxiety impacts your ability to function in everyday life, it’s no longer a matter of learning to relax. Most people living with an anxiety disorder will require some type of dedicated help to learn  proper coping mechanisms. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are types of talk therapy that can be effective in managing symptoms of anxiety. 

It’s important to remember that everyone deals with anxiety differently and there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to managing its physical symptoms. Taking steps toward understanding your individual needs and developing coping mechanisms that work best for you is key to living a life free from the physical symptoms of anxiety. 

Get help for physical symptoms of anxiety

The most important thing you can do is to see a licensed professional who can evaluate your symptoms. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Anxiety can trigger physical symptoms. Vice versa, there could be physical symptoms that trigger anxiety. For example, if you are having an asthma attack and have a hard time breathing, that could trigger anxiety symptoms. That’s why it’s important for a licensed professional to assess your symptoms and if needed, work with you on a treatment plan that’s unique to you. 

SonderMind can connect you to a licensed mental health professional who can evaluate your symptoms and work with you on an individualized treatment plan. Just answer a few questions so we get to know you, and see a mental health professional in your area either online or in person — whichever is most convenient for you. 

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