10 Physical Signs of an Anxiety Disorder

Even though anxiety is a psychological disorder, we can't forget that our emotions are intimately interwoven with our physical health. How can anxiety manifest itself in the body?
10 Physical Signs of an Anxiety Disorder

Last update: 30 May, 2022

Anxiety is a psychological disorder described as an involuntary anticipatory response to internal or external stimuli, such as thoughts and certain situations in everyday life. Did you know that it is possible to identify several physical signs of anxiety?

This set of physical and mental reactions usually appears when going through situations of danger or stress, or when certain hormonal changes occur. In each person it manifests itself in different ways, depending on their background and ability to manage emotions.

Most cases are temporary. However, for some patients it becomes a recurrent and chronic problem. The worst thing about it is that many ignore the fact that they are experiencing it and don’t take the necessary measures to put a stop to its harmful effects.

Anxiety and its physical signs

Sigmund Freud once pointed out that people experience three types of anxiety. The first is that which is related to a real and objective fear. The second, however, does not have an objective stimulus, but is rather that state of mind in which worries and anguish lead to states of great suffering.

The latter type of anxiety would have to do, according to Freud, with a neurotic state, or with what we could now define as nervous anxiety. This state of activation has the feature of preparing the organism to defend itself against a threat, whether real or not.

This activation can be positive at a given moment: it allows us to react better to certain circumstances. However, as a study published in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology explains, when anxiety lasts over time, it can lead to psychosomatic illnesses and other associated discomforts.

The hormonal changes – such as a rise in cortisol – generated by an anxious brain can often be very intense. Therefore, it is always advisable to have expert and professional help in these cases.

As mentioned above, it is important to know the warning signs of anxiety and to be aware of them, even though they may seem common. Below, we want to share the 10 main ones so that you can do something before they become a major problem.

1. Chest Pain

Anxiety is one of the reasons I get sick so often. In general, it can cause various physical symptoms.

According to research published by Emergency Medicine Journal, chest pain is very common among anxious patients. Most of the time, it is caused by muscular tension.

Sometimes, the pain is so strong that it is confused as a heart attack. The main difference is that it is usually momentary and doesn’t lead to further complicated situations. However, consultation with a physician is always recommended.

2. Feeling a Lump in Your Throat or Difficulty Breathing

This symptom, known as “Globus pharyngeus”, is produced by the contraction of muscles found within the throat when anxiety or stress appears.

As explained in a 2005 study published in the Revista Mexicana de Neurociencia, this is a very common somatoform disorder in anxiety. The main feature is feeling a lump in your throat and having difficulty swallowing food.

In addition, a study published by Respiratory Medicine confirms the close link between a person’s psychological state and respiratory symptoms. These include shortness of breath as one of the physical signs of anxiety.

3. Excessive Sweating

The UK National Health Services cites excessive sweating as a common symptom in a publication on general anxiety disorder.

Sweating is a normal response of the body. In fact,  it’s necessary to maintain body temperature at an adequate level. However, during periods of anxiety the sweat gland activity is altered. As a consequence, excessive or abnormal amounts of sweat is produced.

4. Neck and Shoulder Pain

Muscular tension during anxiety attacks tends to directly affect the most sensitive areas of your body such as the neck and shoulders. A study published by BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders places anxiety as one of the main causes of neck pain.

5. Digestive Problems

The digestive system has a strong connection with the emotional states of the body. Therefore when having an anxiety episode many digestive problems can occur.

Indigestion, excessive production of stomach acid and constipation are conditions that affect anxious people, as explained in a study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

6. Skin Changes

Periods of anxiety also tend to affect the body at an esthetic level, since it causes noticeable skin changes.

Studies such as one published by Clinical Pharmacology highlight that the connection between emotions, the brain and the skin is very close, so much so that the following conditions are common:

  • Skin inflammation.
  • Premature aging.
  • Facial rashes, blemishes and excessive dryness, common symptoms of those who are going through an emotional imbalance.

These changes are generally seen on the face. However, they can also appear on the arms, back and other areas of the body. It is always advisable to consult a specialist to treat these problems properly.

7. Tingling Sensation

The sensation of weakness and tingling in the joints is a consequence of hyperventilation. This is rapid, deep breathing that occurs as the body’s response to stressful and anxious situations.

As a MedlinePlus publication explains, hyperventilation leads to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the blood of the extremities, which is caused by a decrease in the oxygenation process.

8. Insomnia

According to the NHS article cited above, insomnia and other sleeping disorders are  one of the most disturbing and common effects of those who suffer anxiety.

Having difficulty sleeping or staying asleep almost always has to do with emotional problems the person is going through. What’s aggravating is, that as days go by, other physical and mental side effects appear. Hence, it also affects the quality of daily life.

9. Eye Pain

Anxiety tends to cause the reduction of some body fluids or their derailment to other body tissues. This causes a reduction in natural lubrication for the eyes, which can cause redness, irritation and dryness. Research published in Current Eye Research proves the relationship between these two conditions.

10. Migraines

Severe headaches like migraines are closely related to long periods of anxiety. Tension and circulatory problems that come from anxiety are usually the cause of this debilitating symptom. According to a recent WebMD publication, the exact link between these two pathologies has not yet been proven.

Identify and react to the physical signs of anxiety

Do you recognize any of these signs? If so, it’s recommended that you start taking measures to control this emotional imbalance.

Practice relaxation and breathing techniques, make changes in your lifestyle, adopt a healthy diet to cope effectively and, most important of all, ask for expert help. No one better than a specialist to tell you how to deal with these states and overcome them.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.