Physical Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
Written by Haley Broadaway
Anxiety can manifest with various symptoms, and most people mindfully acknowledge the mental toll anxiety takes. Still, because mental health connects to whole-body health, mental health can show up physically, especially when it comes to anxiety. It is not uncommon for anxiety pain to go unnoticed due to everyday stressors, but checking in with our bodies can be an excellent self-care source. Checking in with your body is not supposed to come from a judgmental place; it is best to approach yourself mindfully to understand the source of the symptoms better. The suggestions in this blog are for mild pains caused by anxiety. If you find that you are having severe, frequent, or persisting pain, please consult a medical professional or primary physician.
Headaches can occur when your mind is in a constant state of worry or thinking about scenarios that may or may not play themselves out. Headaches can also be a secondary symptom from looking at bright screens for long periods. Technology is all around us, and while we have ALL indulged in an excellent binge-watching session to reduce anxious feelings, screen time can be a definite source of headaches. If time and resources allow, I suggest attempting to alleviate your anxiety-driven headaches with natural methods before reaching for an over-the-counter pharmaceutical. Ensuring your body is hydrated and getting plenty of sleep can help mitigate a mild headache's discomfort. A cold compress while enjoying a cup of your favorite caffeinated tea or coffee is also a common pain-relieving remedy.
Tense Neck & Shoulders
When you struggle with anxiety, it can cause stress-induced aches and pains in the neck & shoulder region. Our body naturally tenses up when having an anxious moment, and with more severe anxiety, it can exacerbate the tension our muscles carry. It is essential to check in with these specific symptoms because it can build up over time if left unattended. If you feel the mild effects of anxiety on your neck and shoulders, try a gentle self-massage to work out those spots you can reach or start a daytime/nighttime stretching routine.
Most people are not conscious of their breathing patterns until they have a full-blown panic attack. Anxiety and panic attacks are linked together. Being mindful of our breathing can cue us to how our body handles our anxiety before it becomes a state of hyperventilation. If you struggle with anxiety, utilize the therapeutic method of grounding yourself. Grounding (also known as Earthing) is where you tap into your five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch). This technique helps reduce onset anxiety by electrically connecting with the earth, for example, submerging your hands in water, examining objects close to you, picking up tangible items and naming them, savoring a food or a drink, inhaling safe and calming scents. Grounding is used as a treatment for various mental health diagnoses and is best explored with licensed therapists or breathwork coaches. Still, the core concepts can be consciously used by anyone to help intentionally deepen those shallow breaths.
Upset Stomach, Nausea, & Cramps
The term "worried sick" rings true with these symptoms. When our fight-or-flight responses become triggered by anxiety, they significantly impact our nervous system due to the hormones released by our brain. The release of these hormones can cause an upset stomach, nausea, or cramps that can impact life quality and keep many from achieving goals or participating in activities. Guided relaxation and meditation are effective ways of soothing cramping muscles. Ginger and mint are also common homeopathic remedies that are known to settle an upset stomach but it would be beneficial to contact your doctor first. Deep breathing exercises can also help subdue nausea symptoms that come from anxiety. Again, these natural remedies are best used for mild cases. If you find that your anxiety symptoms are more severe, please consult with a medical professional or primary physician.
The physical signs of anxiety can be exhausting, especially when it comes to achy muscles. Just like with stomach cramps, stress can cause the muscles in our bodies to become tense. One of the most fruitful ways of relaxing muscles due to anxiety is receiving a consensual massage from a friend, partner, or professional. Our amygdala, the part of our brain where emotions are given meaning, responds to touch, imagery, and sounds. A nice hot bath or shower is also an effective way to help loosen up muscles from anxiety. Eucalyptus can be an effective stimulant for relaxing showers and baths. Hang fresh eucalyptus leaves in the shower or sparingly drop eucalyptus oil in your bathwater.
Fatigue is most associated with physical exertion, but it is just as prevalent with mental exertion too. When your intrusive thoughts from anxiety deplete your emotional fuel tank, it is understandable that you would find yourself to be tired. Like most physical signs of anxiety, fatigue can become a tragic cycle that prevents you from being active in a life you enjoy. Making your sleeping schedule a priority and practicing good sleep hygiene is essential for self-care.
Remember: Anxiety can show physical symptoms in many ways that aren't limited to the ones listed above. While self-care is an essential tool, community-care is also vital for individuals and family systems who may not have self-care resources. Having a network of people you can count on for support is just as important. Nevertheless, being in tune with your own body and cultivating awareness of your anxiety can help you take measures to attend to your physical and mental health. It is ok to do for yourself, and it is ok to have help from others.
Visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) for more information about anxiety.
Take good care of yourself,