I was a senior in high school the first time I had an anxiety attack, and I rushed to the school nurse. "I think I'm having a heart attack," I told her. Of course, after a minute or two with me, she figured out what was really going on. My racing heart and chest pains were standard signs of anxiety, but over the years, I've learned they aren't the only signs to look for. You may not have connected the dots before, but these seven weird ways anxiety can show up in your body are, surprisingly, pretty common.
For many people struggling with anxiety, knowing that certain symptoms are "normal" is a source of comfort in itself. At the very least, understanding the different ways anxiety can affect the body can reassure them that they're not experiencing a life-threatening or urgent health condition. (Where my fellow hypochondriacs at?)
Additionally, being able to identify some of the stranger physical manifestations of anxiety is a useful tool in identifying your anxiety triggers. However, understanding and coping with these physical anxiety symptoms certainly doesn't mean you need to live with them. If you're struggling with anxiety that's negatively affecting your day-to-day life, speaking to a mental health professional could be incredibly beneficial for you.
Most people associate yawning with being sleepy and relaxed, but it can actually be a symptom of anxiety. Kristina Hallett, a clinical psychologist based in Hartford, Connecticut, explained this strange symptom to U.S. News. "Yawning is one of the body's relaxation methods to go the other way from the physiological stress response," said Hallett.
As a nervous flyer, I constantly find myself yawning before boarding a flight. More than once I've received comments like, "You'll fall asleep before the plane even takes off!" I wish that were the case. It turns out, the excessive yawning is simply my body trying to calm me down.
2. Phantom Smells
If you've ever found yourself asking others, "Do you smell that?" during the grips of anxiety, you might be experiencing something called phantosmia, which is basically a smell hallucination that Mayo Clinic explains, "makes you detect smells that aren't really present in your environment."
There are a few proposed explanations to this. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that, "Following experimental anxiety induction, prototypical neutral odors became negatively valenced." In other words, neutral orders can start being perceived unpleasantly by those experiencing anxiety.
3. "Burning" Mouth
Does it suddenly feel like your tongue, gums, or lips are burning? Yes, that might be another fun little manifestation of anxiety.
Don't worry, you aren't at risk of losing your tongue. Stress can actually heighten your senses, explains AnxietyCentre.com. "An active stress response can cause this symptom as part of the physiological changes the stress response brings about in response to the perception of danger," the site explains. It might not be comfortable, but it may be comforting to know this strange symptom isn't unusual.
4. Numbness & Tingling
Don't panic (even more) if you suddenly feel like you're losing sensation in your hands, feet, or even face. Easier said than done, considering that's a freaky experience, but numbness and tingling in certain body parts is actually a fairly normal physical response to high anxiety levels.
"This is caused by the blood rushing to the most important parts of the body that can aide [sic] fight or flight," according to online magazine Red. "This, therefore, leaves the less important areas feeling weak, numb or tingly."
Because having anxiety isn't fun enough on its own, naturally you need some gas to go along with it. If you find yourself experiencing excess gas, burping, and general stomach discomfort, your heightened anxiety might be to blame.
In an article published in Harvard Health's publication Healthbeat, they describe this powerful gut-brain connection: "The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut," according to Harvard Medical School. "That doesn't mean, however, that functional gastrointestinal conditions are imagined or 'all in your head.'"
6. Blurred Vision
During times of peak anxiety, you may notice your vision start to blur. This, of course, can create a vicious cycle; who wouldn't panic even more if their vision started to go? Turns out, there is a logical explanation: Your blurry vision may be linked to pupil dilation, according to an article by Calm Clinic. "Pupil dilation is a direct response of an overactive fight or flight system. When you have anxiety – especially an anxiety attack – your body reacts as though it is about to experience something profoundly dangerous (as if you encountered a lion)," the article states. "The evolutionary goal of this is to help bring in more light so that you can successfully fight or flee with better vision. But more light doesn't necessarily make vision easier, so some type of blurred or problematic vision may result."
7. Cold Hands & Feet
When anxiety strikes, you may notice that your hands and feet start to feel like icicles. Understanding why this happens can help your overall feelings of anxiety. (Fuzzy socks and a warm drink can help too, FYI.) Once again, this strange symptom can be attributed to your body's fascinating flight or fight response.
"When you're anxious, your blood flow is redirected away from your extremities and toward your larger organs in your torso," Anne Marie Albano, PhD, an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center explained to Prevention. "It's your basic 'fight or flight' mode, necessary for your body to protect the heart and other organs essential to your survival."
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