15 physical symptoms of anxiety that prove it’s not all mental
All the bad belly stuff is thought to come from what experts call the gut-brain axis, a communication system between your brain and the enteric nervous system that governs your digestion.6 This connection is why stress can so easily mess with your poop. There’s also the fact that anxiety-induced lifestyle choices, like eating foods that don’t agree with you or not exercising regularly, can affect your digestion as well.
Considering anxiety’s overall effect on your digestive system, it might not come as a surprise that feeling nauseous is another common physical symptom. In fact, a one-year study published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry found that people who regularly reported symptoms of nausea were more than three times as likely to have an anxiety disorder compared to those who didn’t have frequent nausea.7
8. Heart palpitations
Remember that racing heart we talked about earlier? In some cases, it can get so intense that it can actually start to feel like your heart is skipping beats or jumping into your throat. While the sensation might (understandably) make you even more anxious, try to keep in mind that even though heart palpitations can feel scary, they aren’t typically dangerous in this context and will ease up as you start to feel calmer, according to the Cleveland Clinic. (With that said, you should seek medical attention if you experience heart palpitations with feelings of chest pain, dizziness, trouble breathing, or confusion.)
9. Nonstop nervous sweating
If you’re already grappling with anxiety, the thought of sweating profusely may just make it worse. Who wants to worry about pit stains or wiping their palms when they’re already feeling worried and on edge? Unfortunately, sweating is a common physical symptom of anxiety disorders, per the NIMH.
When your sympathetic nervous system gets activated, it can influence the sweat glands all over your body Marisa Garshick, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell–New York Presbyterian Medical Center, tells SELF. And once the waterworks start flowing and mix with the bacteria that are present on your skin, you might notice an increased body odor too.
10. Decreased or increased appetite
Anxiety has the weird ability to cause you to totally lose interest in food—or make you crave a big bowl of comfort. Hormones like adrenaline tend to shut down appetite when your fight-or-flight response is raging, according to Harvard Medical School experts. (Because who has time to stop and snack when they’re about to be pounced on by a tiger? Evolution, remember?)
But the hormones released from feelings of chronic anxiety or stress, like cortisol, can actually ramp up your interest in fatty, sugary foods. In other words, there’s a scientific reason for why that pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream seems more appealing when you’re seriously anxious.
11. Shakiness or trembling
If you’ve ever found yourself trembling with fear before a big event, you know how your body reacts under pressure. Turns out, you don’t need an external trigger like a scary presentation or an important meeting to start shivering like a leaf; shaking and trembling can be a by-product of anxiety-induced hormone surges, according to the NIMH.
12. Being easily startled
Trying to anticipate unknown threats is a common feature of anxiety. According to research8, constantly being on guard has been linked with an increased “startle response,” which could be why you practically jump out of your shoes if someone taps you on the shoulder on an anxious day.
13. Throat tightness
Hit with a weird sensation of not being able to swallow? It’s actually pretty normal with anxiety, which can cause some people to feel tightness in their throat or even like something is stuck in there, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. This is called globus sensation, and although the exact reason why this happens is unclear, it can definitely make anxiety even worse. “You feel like you can’t get enough air,” says Dr. Potter.
14. Immune system issues
There’s a clear link between chronic stress and a greater risk of getting sick, research shows.9 In the case of chronic anxiety that goes untreated, your immune system doesn’t function as well when your fight-or-flight response is operating for too long, according to the Mayo Clinic. This could mean that you’re more susceptible to issues such as the common cold, although a lot of other factors come into play here as well, like how robust your immune system is in general and how vigilant you are about hand hygiene.
15. Irregular periods
Anxiety has the power to mess with your periods, from missed or skipped cycles to more intense or painful PMS symptoms, according to the APA. Really, it’s just a hormone cluster&#%@. Cortisol can actually affect the release of ovulation-inducing hormones like estrogen and progesterone, which can throw your cycle out of whack, per the Cleveland Clinic.
When do physical anxiety symptoms overlap with panic attack symptoms?
Panic attacks are the hallmark sign of panic disorder, a type of anxiety that causes a person to feel unrelenting fear, often without warning or a clear reason why, per the APA. People who suffer from them say panic attacks can make you feel like you’re dying—as if you’re being held underwater or like you can’t move or breathe. It’s a truly frightening and debilitating experience.