Chances are good that you'll experience feelings of anxiety from time to time over the course of your life. During periods of stress, it's not uncommon to feel overwhelmed and anxious. That being said, if you're experiencing any of the physical red flags your anxiety may be more serious than you think, especially if your anxiety seems to be lingering, it might be time to look into getting professional help or find other ways to successfully manage it so that it doesn't derail your responsibilities and other activities in your daily life.
"Anxiety can put a strain on your relationships as there may be negative energy when you are with others and negativity finds a way of bringing everyone down," Kimberly Hershenson, a therapist, tells Romper via email. "Engaging in deep breathing, meditation, yoga, [getting] adequate sleep, [eating] a balanced diet, and seeing a professional can all help you cope with your anxiety."
You may even be more anxious than you realize and if you're dealing with some of the more subtle physical signs of anxiety, they could be your body trying to tell you that there's more going on than meets the eye. You may not recognize all of the signs of anxiety as such, but they could be indicators that your anxiety is more serious than you think.
1. Sleep Issues
While sleep disturbances can happen for a number of reasons, struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep and other sleep issues could be a sign of anxiety. "These symptoms are activated due to body going into flight or fight mode (activation of the sympathetic nervous system), which is a physiological response to perceived threat," Sonya Veytsman, a psychotherapist, tells Romper by email. Not being able to sleep might mean that your body's on edge, which can indicate anxiety.
Although you might not realize it, your constant headaches might mean that your anxiety is ramping up. "Tension, stress, anxiety, and overwhelm tend to go hand in hand," Evanye Lawson, a psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety, tells Romper via email. "When someone does a lot of [worrying], overthinking, and obsessive thinking, this can trigger headaches and migraines. Notice when the headaches are happening. Notice how often they are happening. Ask yourself if there is any present stress in your world that is making you nervous or 'in your head' a lot. These things can start creating awareness around anxiety and if it is happening in your body."
Tension headaches are called what they are for a reason.
Exhaustion can also tell you that your anxiety is worse than you thought, even if you didn't know you were all that anxious in the first place. Cara Maksimow, a therapist, coach, and author, tells Romper by email that feelings of fatigue and exhaustion are a symptom of anxiety that most people don't consider. Part of the reason you're exhausted when dealing with anxiety may be tied to the sleep problems, but regardless, anxiety can be exhausting.
4. A Racing Heart
Anxiety can affect your body in a lot of ways and the way that it can get you all worked up can actually sort of disguise it. For instance, you might be experiencing worsened anxiety, but think it's just general nerves like those you experience before you give a presentation or address a conflict. Amanda Petrik, a licensed clinical professional counselor, tells Romper via email that a racing heart can indicate anxiety. So while you might not think that that's what your experiencing, it could mean that any anxiety you've got going on has gotten worse.
Oftentimes, dizziness can go along with a racing heart, clammy palms, and a dry mouth and this too can indicate anxiety, Hershenson says. When you experience symptoms like these, knowing how to calm yourself down or otherwise manage the situation can really help.
6. Stiff Muscles
While you might not have considered it before, if you're experiencing stiff muscles or a lot of muscle tension, it might be because your anxiety is worse than you thought, Shawna Murray-Browne, a mental health therapist, QiGong instructor, and mind-body medicine practitioner, tells Romper by email. It's one pretty common way that anxiety can manifest in the body.
7. Changes In Appetite
Your appetite is another thing that can fluctuate as a result of stress, anxiety, or depression, as Dr. Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, professor of psychology, and author, tells Romper via email. People react differently to stressors and anxiety, but if your appetite has changed, it might be a sign that your anxiety is more serious than you thought. It also might alert you to the fact that you missed some other, more subtle signs along the way.
8. Nausea & Digestive Issues
In college, I had one particularly bad period of anxiety and stress, and found that I couldn't take more than a few bites of food before feeling extremely nauseous. Before this happened, I probably wouldn't have considered that nausea could be a sign of anxiety, but it — and digestive issues — absolutely can be a sign that things are more serious than you thought.
"Anxiety, tension, and stress can live in the stomach for many people and one way to know you could potentially have some signs of anxiety is to start looking into how your digestion is being interfered," Lawson says. "Are you having more stomach pains than usual? Do you have a hard time digesting the food? Are you nauseous when you eat? Does the stomach pain seem to come out of nowhere? These are some questions to start asking yourself to determine if medical and mental health professionals can support you in determining if anxiety is the culprit."
9. Loss Of Concentration
When you have anxiety or are feeling anxious, it can be quite difficult to concentrate on the task at hand. You might not realize it, but those things are directly tied together. "[Y]our mind is [so] fixated on things that you're worried about or feeling generally overwhelmed that you can't concentrate on work or other tasks," Bina Bird, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Romper by email. Talking to a professional or doing other things that help alleviate your anxiety, like going to an exercise class, cooking something challenging, or coloring in a coloring book, might help allow you to better concentrate on what you need to get done.
10. Neck & Back Pain
"Many people can associate this with feeling like 'a weight on my shoulders' and are often not sure how to start getting rid of it," Lawson says. "Slowing down and noticing if you have a lot of neck and upper back issues can be the key. Notice if you are tensing up in uncomfortable situations at work or socially or in your relationships. Taking notice of when you are tensing these parts of your body can play a role into where the anxiety may live for you." Holding tension in your neck and upper back can also make tension headaches a much worse experience.
11. Shakiness Or Tremors
Panic attacks are, of course, a red flag that your anxiety might be more serious than you'd previously thought. Shaking and tremors can be symptomatic of a panic attack, as Kimberly M. Lee-Okonya, a licensed clinical social worker and owner of Life Begins Here Therapeutic & Counseling Services, tells Romper by email. If you're shaking, having trouble breathing, feel like your heart is racing, or feel like you could faint, that's a tell-tale sign that your anxiety is serious.
12. Feelings Of Anger
If you start to feel angry in situations that really don't warrant it, that might also be a sign that you are dealing with anxiety, Whitney Hawkins, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Romper via email. It can be difficult to manage your emotions or react the way you otherwise would when you're in the throes of serious anxiety. Reaching out for help or knowing how to work through your anxiety can make all the difference.
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