20 Common and Uncommon Symptoms of Anxiety and What Causes Them

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By Gabriel Gonsalves

Have you ever been hit with a pounding headache, or blurred vision, and immediately thought the worst? Or maybe you’ve experienced a racing heartbeat, intense nausea, and an unexplained feeling of dread all at once. If so, there’s a chance you’re not falling prey to a severe medical condition, but instead dealing with the unexpected and diverse symptoms of anxiety.

Shocking as it may seem, anxiety isn’t just a form of mental and emotional unrest, but it can manifest seemingly unrelated physical symptoms that can disrupt your everyday life. Often these symptoms of anxiety can be alarmingly similar to those of serious physical illnesses, which can increase your stress levels, providing fuel for a vicious cycle of chronic anxiety.

In this article, we’ll dive headfirst into the unsettling world of anxiety, identifying 20 different symptoms – both common and uncommon, that could be your body’s way of signaling anxiety. Understanding these symptoms of anxiety not only allows you to differentiate anxiety from other health conditions but also equips you with the knowledge to manage your anxiety better.

For each symptom, I’ll also delineate the causes, and along the journey, you’ll learn how to decode your body’s whispers into a language you can comprehend, enabling you to address it appropriately.

Let’s dive in…

Throughout my journey as a professional coach, HeartMath trainer, and spiritual teacher specializing in Heart Mastery, I’ve witnessed first-hand the far-reaching effects of anxiety. I’ve spent extensive hours working closely with numerous individuals grappling with the detrimental ramifications of anxiety. With endless worry, interrupted sleep, and an inability to find joy, anxiety does more than just dampen one’s spirits – it significantly undermines the quality of life. Witnessing individuals brimming with potential getting consumed by the relentless wave of anxiety is indeed a heartbreaking sight.

Today’s rapidly advancing society sees anxiety taking many forms and leaving no one untouched – be it the overworked corporate employee, the anxious homemaker, or the stressed student. While techniques like mindfulness, meditation, and HeartMath’s Quick Coherence are valuable tools for managing symptoms of anxiety, understanding and recognizing the core markers of anxiety remains critical. The escalating prevalence of anxiety in our fast-paced lives fuels my passion for breaking down this complex psychological condition. 

What Exactly is Anxiety?

Anxiety, a common psychosomatic condition, is characterized by heightened fear, restlessness, excessive worry, and preoccupied thinking about potential threats or uncertain outcomes. It triggers our nervous system’s stress response, resulting in physical symptoms that are easily identifiable. Recognizing and understanding the causes of these symptoms can be the initial step in learning how to manage your anxiety. So, I’m going to explain 20 common symptoms of anxiety, some of which may not be well-known, and the causes behind them.

20 Common Symptoms of Anxiety and What Causes Them

1) Headaches 

The journey begins with an exploration of headaches, a common but sometimes misunderstood symptom of anxiety. As anxiety takes hold, it causes tension in your suboccipital muscles – a group of muscles found at the base of your skull. This tension can, in turn, trigger chronic headaches.

Some people might brush off these headaches as the result of a stressful day at work or insufficient sleep, however, in the presence of anxiety, it’s most likely that these frequent and persistent headaches are directly linked to your mental health condition. In fact, tension-type headaches are often associated with anxiety and depression. This is why it’s integral to consider anxiety as a potential cause when you start experiencing headaches more frequently than usual. 

2) Blurred Vision 

A symptom of anxiety that’s typically under-recognized is blurred vision. When our body senses a threat, it releases an adrenaline surge, which triggers the dilation of our pupils. This natural response mechanism is designed to enhance our ability to perceive potential danger better, as larger pupils allow more light to enter and heighten the visual acuity significantly. 

However, an intriguing paradox to this phenomenon is that this rush of adrenaline can sometimes, instead, cause blurred vision. Although it might seem counterintuitive, the factors causing this are highly complex. Adrenaline also accelerates our heartbeat and redirects blood flow towards major muscle groups. These changes reduce blood flow in the eyes and affect fluid balance, leading to temporary changes in vision. 

3) Ringing in The Ears 

Experiencing a ringing sound in your ears, or tinnitus, is a less frequently talked about yet remarkably prevailing symptom of anxiety. Putting it simply, tinnitus is a condition where an individual hears a ringing or buzzing sound, which may be persistent or come and go, and yet, no external source for this sound exists. This condition varies significantly from person to person. For some, it’s a mere annoyance, while for others, it can cause significant distress, hampering their daily routine and sleep patterns. 

The link between anxiety and tinnitus is intricate. The phenomenon is still being heavily researched, but it is known that stress and anxiety can exacerbate the perceived intensity of tinnitus. The cause behind tinnitus remains ambiguous to experts, but popular theories suggest that alterations in blood flow or pressure within the ear due to anxiety might be potential culprits. 

4) Concentration Problems 

Experiencing difficulty with concentration or finding yourself enveloped in a hazy mental state? This symptom is linked to the body’s fight or flight response, which triggers the release of cortisol and adrenaline. In an attempt to respond to this perceived danger, your brain enters a state of hyperfocus. Not on your daily tasks or responsibilities, but on the potential threat it perceives. 

Essentially, these hormonal changes can cause your brain to become overstimulated and may lead to concentration problems. This may also manifest as a ‘brain fog’, where you find it challenging to think clearly, make decisions, or remember things. It’s almost like trying to navigate through a thick fog – you can’t see clearly, and everything feels distant and blurry. 

5) Lump in The Throat and Swallowing Difficulties 

If you’ve ever felt like there’s a lump in your throat or had trouble swallowing, you might have been experiencing symptoms of anxiety. This sensation is due to the body’s natural response when we feel threatened. When this occurs, our bodies instinctively allow more air to flow into our lungs as a preparatory measure for the perceived danger ahead. This is the brain’s protective mechanism as it believes your body needs to either flee or fight. Consequently, this physiological response can result in feelings of discomfort in your throat, often manifested as a lump or an obstruction, or it could even create the sensation of choking.

6) Difficulty Breathing 

During a panic attack, individuals often experience a significant surge in adrenaline levels which prompts faster breathing – a physical response designed to prepare the body for ‘fight or flight’. Unfortunately, this physical response can inadvertently escalate feelings of panic, leading to what is known as hyperventilation, a state where the affected individual resorts to rapid, shallow breaths instead of engaging in normal, deep breaths from the diaphragm.

This shift in breathing pattern significantly impacts the carbon dioxide levels in your blood, leading to a decrease that, in turn, sets off a chain reaction of various other symptoms, the details of which we will delve into as we progress through this article.

7) Dizziness and Feeling Faint 

Dizziness and a sense of feeling faint during a panic attack can indeed be a disconcerting experience. These feelings are usually elicited by hyperventilation and changes in blood flow in the ears. When anxious, your body releases adrenaline, which essentially primes it to respond to danger.

This response can affect various systems in your body, including your circulatory and respiratory systems. As your heart rate increases due to the adrenaline rush, your blood pressure rises as well. The rapid increase in blood flow can sometimes create an imbalance, causing less blood to reach your brain. This, in combination with hyperventilation, could result in feelings of dizziness and faintness. 

8) Chest Pain or Tightness 

Feeling a tightness or discomfort in the chest can be a direct symptom of anxiety and a panic attack. This uncomfortable feeling is often due to a couple of key factors. The primary triggers are generally muscle tension and constrictions within the arteries or blood vessels of your heart.

So, what’s the reason behind this? Well, it boils down to hyperventilation. Hyperventilation, as discussed earlier, can cause your blood’s carbon dioxide levels to drop, this, in turn, makes your blood a bit more on the alkaline side. This change in blood’s pH can cause your arteries and blood vessels to narrow. While this feeling can be uncomfortable, it’s usually not harmful for most people.

9) Heart Palpitations and Skipped Heartbeats 

Under the influence of anxiety, sensations surrounding your heartbeat can become remarkably distinct. Be it heart palpitations – a strong, often rapid heartbeat that one can feel in their chest or throat – or feeling your heart ‘skip’ a beat. Both emergent responses occur as your heart works harder to prepare for perceived threats. 

The latter, known medically as ectopic heartbeats, might be disconcerting but it’s important to note that they are seldom a cause for alarm. Even if you perceive these sensations in your throat, it’s simply a manifestation of increased blood flow and speed through your carotid arteries. While comprehensive explanation of these occurrences would edge into complicated medical parlance, in the end, they’re just demonstrative of your body’s reflex to anxiety. 

10) Disrupted Sleep Patterns 

Anxiety often infringes upon our sleep. Frequent waking, trouble falling asleep, problems staying asleep, or waking up feeling unrefreshed – these disruptions in sleep patterns are major indicators of anxiety disorders. Anxiety can heighten sensitivity to the surroundings, making people more likely to wake up due to minor disturbances. 

Moreover, anxiety-caused hyperarousal can upend sleep schedules, leading to daytime fatigue. Whether it’s anticipatory anxiety about a looming task or residual tension from the day’s stresses, disruptions in your slumber point towards an overly worried mind needing attention.

11) Nausea or Butterflies In The Stomach 

Your body, when confronted with a perceived threat, shifts its focus away from functions that are less crucial at the moment, such as the process of digesting food, a task that is typically a priority under standard conditions but falls to the wayside in the face of potential danger.

As a result of this shift, the supply of blood that would typically support your stomach’s digestion processes is instead redirected towards your arms and legs, a maneuver designed to further prepare and prime your body for a potentially necessary fight or flight response. Consequently, your tummy might feel as though it has been taken over by an army of fluttering butterflies, creating a sensation commonly referred to as ‘butterflies in the stomach’ or as feeling ‘fluttery’, a sensation that is, in itself, another symptom of the anxiety you might be experiencing. 

12) GERD or Acid Indigestion

Have you ever experienced an unpleasant bout of GERD, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or a nasty bout of acid indigestion? If you have, you might be surprised to learn that anxiety could be the underlying cause. When your body goes into a state of high, recognizing a alert perceived threat, it responds by redirecting the blood flow from your digestive system – responsible for breaking down food into nutrients and energy – to your muscles.

This preparatory action equips you for the evolutionary “fight or flight” response. However, a significant side-effect of this is a slow-down in your digestion process, which can lead to a buildup of stomach acid. This can, in turn, lead to chronic heartburn and indigestion – frequent and uncomfortable outcomes of prolonged anxiety. Furthermore, this can create a vicious cycle, where the discomfort stemming from your stomach triggers further bouts of anxiety, locking you into a frustrating loop that seems inescapable.

13) Bowel Changes 

When nerve-wracking situations arise, do you often find yourself desperately looking for the closest restroom? This is more common than you might think, as anxiety is known to interfere with our bowel movements. During times of stress, the nerves in our body can expedite the passage of food through our digestive system, which can result in loose stools or even diarrhea.

This can be particularly jarring if you are in a public place or a situation where you can’t readily access a bathroom. Strangely enough, everyone’s body reacts differently to anxiety, and in some cases, the reaction can be just the opposite, causing a significant slowdown in bowel activity and leading to constipation, a condition that brings its own set of uncomfortable challenges.

14) An Overactive Bladder

Anxiety, a condition perplexing in its expression, surprisingly could lead to an increased need to urinate, a symptom that although common among those who deal with anxiety, still stands as relatively mysterious as the underlying cause continues to remain somewhat unclear, stimulating theories and inviting conjecture about its roots.

One plausible explanation that presents itself is the possibility of muscle tension inducing undue pressure on the bladder, whereas more in-depth theories propose a likely association between the cortisol-induced effects on the bladder and the complex interplay of the serotonin system, each suggesting an interconnection with anxiety, all underpinning the fact that frequent urination is indeed a very common feature to emerge amongst those battling anxiety.

15) Tremors and Twitches 

Whenever a threat is perceived by your body, it sets off a series of responses to get ready for action. These include increasing the blood supply to certain areas, tensing the muscles for either a fight or flight reaction, boosting blood sugar, and preparing the body as a whole for a potential confrontation.

This heightened state of readiness can lead to physical symptoms such as tremors or muscle twitches that can sometimes happen in rather unexpected places, like your eye. If you have experienced these physical responses and are feeling concerned, understand that your body is merely responding as it is naturally programmed to when faced with danger.

16) Feelings of Skin Crawling or Burning

Moving on to a tad out of the ordinary yet of equal importance symptom – experiencing your skin as though it’s crawling or even undergoing a burning sensation. Such a feeling is often due to shifts in blood circulation during spells of heightened anxiety.

Moreover, anxious situations release a stress hormone named cortisol, which can render your skin more susceptible to allergens, specific chemicals, or even to the sweat your body produces. Like many of your body’s reactions in these circumstances, this is yet another aspect of your internal self-defense system responding to perceived threats.

17) Derealization or Depersonalization

If you’ve ever felt an out-of-body experience or as though you were observing your life events in a detached state, you’re not alone. This can be a symptom of anxiety known as depersonalization. It’s as if all of a sudden there’s a glass wall separating you from your physical self, creating the sensation of being in a dreamlike state. You might question the reality of your own existence or experience a distorted sense of time and space. You grasp onto reality, but everything seems distant and unreal. 

On the other hand, derealization takes depersonalization to another level: not only do you feel distant from your own self, but the world around you also appears hazy, foggy, and unfamiliar. It’s as if the vibrancy and vividness of life are muted. People and things around you may seem strangely lifeless or visual perception may be distorted with objects appearing flattened or looming. 

The root cause for these unsettling sensations lies primarily in the process of hyperventilation—an overbreathing condition that upsets your body’s natural balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, leading to an alkaline shift in your blood levels. The blood becomes too alkaline and affects the brain, altering its normal functions, thus causing the aforementioned sensations of unreality. Dealing with such experiences can be a daunting task. But don’t forget, understanding the concept and causes behind these symptoms is the first step to manage your anxiety.

18) Excessive Body Heat

Feeling unexpectedly warm or even slightly feverish during a period of anxiety is a fascinating symptom. In fact, it’s your body’s natural response to perceived threats. Think of it like your body bracing itself for a bout of physical activity, such as running or exercising. When you’re in an anxious state, your body prepares itself for potential dangers, a remnant response from our ancestors’ times when a physical threat often meant a fight or flight situation. 

This increase in heat is essentially the result of improved blood flow throughout your body. When the brain detects stress, it signals the heart to pump faster, delivering more blood to your muscles. This increased blood flow elevates your body temperature, hence the the unexpected warmth. 

19) Weakness or Fatigue

After confronting a distressing episode of panic attack or a prolonged stretch of intense anxiety, it is not uncommon to be weighed down by a pervasive sense of weakness or fatigue. If you’ve ever indulged in an intense workout session, this bone-deep exhaustion may seem not too dissimilar. Though, in this context, the depletion of energy isn’t a result of physical endeavor but rather the emotional turmoil sparked by anxiety. 

Anxiety acts as a stimulant for your body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, triggering a myriad of biological reactions. This includes a rapid increase in heart rate, surge in adrenaline levels, and tension within muscles – all factors contributing to creating an optimal state of readiness to tackle potential threats. However, in the absence of any real or immediate danger, this exhaustive preparation takes a toll on your body’s energy reserves, leaving you feeling drained. 

20) Aches and Pains

Living with perpetual anxiety can often feel as though you’re stuck in an unrelenting state of fight or flight response. This is a state wherein your body is persistently on high alert, conditioned to believe that it’s continually battling or escaping an imminent threat. This seemingly unending “war” within the core of your being is a tumultuous struggle that unfortunately engenders a continuous and often overwhelming surge of troublesome physical symptoms.

Symptoms such as unpredictable aches and pains can mysteriously manifest themselves anywhere within your body. These symptoms are a direct repercussion of the heightened cortisol levels that your body persistently generates in its ceaseless quest to enhance your fight or flight response and the chronically tensed muscles that are constantly primed, braced, and ever ready to protect you from the perceived dangers that your anxiety tricks you into believing are imminent.

How to Manage Symptoms of Anxiety

The 20 signs we’ve discussed in this article show how your body naturally reacts to a built-in defense mechanism known as the fight or flight response. If you try to suppress these symptoms, it might confuse your brain and cause a stronger fight or flight reaction, which can make your symptoms of anxiety even worse. So, the goal isn’t to address each symptom separately. Instead, you should understand that these symptoms occur as a reaction to certain triggers in your environment that set off the fight or flight response. Identifying these triggers is, therefore, the important first step in learning how to manage feelings of anxiety.

The Root Cause of Anxiety

When we look at the main cause of anxiety, it all comes down to fear. Understanding this helps us make sense of the 20 symptoms of anxiety we’ve talked about. While these symptoms may be upsetting, they’re simply your body’s normal reaction to a perceived threat. This reaction is built into us from our ancestors as a survival tool. It prepares us to either stand up to (‘fight’) the danger or escape from it (‘flight’). So, all the symptoms of anxiety you’re feeling are just your body getting ready to either fight or flee.

If you often feel scared and believe the world is a dangerous place, you’re more likely to experience these symptoms constantly. This intense awareness can result in long-lasting fear, creating anxiety. Tragically, this bodily reaction, which is designed to keep us safe, can turn into a threat when it’s triggered at the wrong time. Being continually in a state of fight-or-flight is hard on the body, causing chronic stress and many physical symptoms of anxiety.

Final Thoughts

To summarize, these 20 symptoms of anxiety aren’t the actual issue. They are simply signals that highlight the main problem – a consistent state of fear, often unconscious, that tricks your brain and nervous system into thinking you’re perpetually endangered. This fear leads to your brain overstating its reactions and creates distinct physical signs that we perceive as anxiety. Ignoring these signs won’t solve the problem. Instead, learning what they represent and addressing the fear behind them is the first step in learning how to efficiently manage your anxiety. This will be the topic of my next two articles.

In closing, please remember…

“You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you.”  

– Dan Millman

Embrace this wisdom and keep in mind, you’re always capable of overcoming your fears and anxiety with the right support, patience, self-compassion, and understanding. By taking control of your emotions instead of them controlling you, you empower yourself to live a happier, healthier life. That is the beginning of Heart Mastery and true emotional wellbeing.

From my heart to yours, 

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