Anxiety symptoms manifest in literally hundreds of ways. They can range from an extreme nervousness to chest pains and shortness of breath. What’s worse: the symptoms of anxiety can be brought on by just about anything, at anytime.
First, what is anxiety? Anxiety is a state of fear, uneasiness and/or apprehension. These feelings can be about any real or made up situation, or can occur as the result of a specific event. Recognizing the signs of stress can help you better identify and cope with anxiety.
It is important to note the difference between occasional nervousness and worry, sometimes called functional anxiety, and an actual anxiety disorder that interferes with the way you go about your life.
Functional anxiety often manifest in the below symptoms before progressing to an anxiety disorder if you are unable to put your fears to rest. The distinction isn’t always clear, but that doesn’t mean the worry is any less real.
1. Most Common among Anxiety Symptoms: Panic.
Walking around constantly afraid that the other shoe is going to drop is one of the most reported anxiety symptoms. Social anxiety, in particular, comes about when someone experiences constant fear is social situations. This can be a fear of your work environment or walking around in a group of people with the fear of being judged or embarrassed.
Anxiety disorders commonly manifest by feelings of fear surrounding something or someone. When the fear escalates or is left untreated, it can trigger a panic attack – sometimes with little to no warning.
A panic attack may feel like a sense of impending doom; you could have sweaty and shaky palms, chest pains, and even an irregular heartbeat. It might even feel like a heart attack. When in doubt, always seek emergency treatment.
2. Insomnia almost every night.
Also popular among anxiety symptoms, insomnia – trouble falling asleep or staying asleep – can be caused by a wide range of conditions, both mental and physical. Just as there is a difference between functional anxiety vs. an anxiety disorder, there is a distinction between occasional sleep problems and clinical insomnia.
If you find yourself overly tired, but still unable to sleep because your brain won’t shut off at night, you may have an anxiety disorder. Sleep problems can lead to chronic fatigue and mental impairment. At this point you need to seek treatment, since these problems will exacerbate an anxiety disorder.
Over time, insomnia may also cause or intensify other anxiety symptoms. Your body needs sleep to restore your mental and physical systems. You may find that you have an inability to focus, your stomach is easily upset and you feel nauseous, and/or your muscles start feeling sore or weak. Whether you seek treatment through traditional or modern medicinal means, insomnia needs to be addressed.
3. Shortness of breath in your daily activities.
A common manifestation of anxiety and panic attacks; breathing problems alone can be scary. Experiencing breathlessness on top of feelings of fear or panic is a symptom of severe anxiety, even when the person having trouble breathing is able to disguise it.
If you are experiencing shortness of breath (for any reason) it is important to see your doctor to rule out a physical cause, as it may be indicative of a more serious condition.
Heavy and/or rapid breathing isn’t anything to be concerned about with physical exertion. However, if you find yourself hyperventilating as a result of your fears (rational or not), it can lead to lightheartedness, chest pains, muscle weakness, or even a full-blown panic attack. Learn tricks for how to get your breathing under control here.
4. Heart palpitations for small things.
First and foremost: should you find yourself experiencing heart palpitations or any irregular heartbeat, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor to rule out other heart conditions.
Heart palpitations are one of the most common anxiety symptoms, but they can also be brought on by anything as simple as dehydration to something as serious as heart failure. Your doctor will be able to tell the difference and recommend treatment if necessary.
Heart palpitations can feel like your heart is beating abnormally hard or is racing without having done any physical activity to cause a change. Abnormal stress levels and anxiety cause your body to release the hormones that trigger your cardiac muscles to work harder and faster.
If you don’t know what triggers your palpitations, begin keeping a journal of each occurrence so you can narrow it down. Include everything from what you were doing to the amount of caffeine you’ve had that day. A simple change in routine could make a big difference.
5. You feel like you will have a nervous breakdown.
If you feel constantly fatigued, agitated, and tense, it is only a matter of time before you might feel like you just can’t keep up anymore. Some days it may feel like you are one stress away from a nervous breakdown.
In fact, you may have mastered the ability to plaster a smile on your face in public while wondering how long you can hold it together.
Depression and anxiety can also occur at the same time, and for the most part the treatment for one will benefit the other. However, if left untreated, depression and anxiety disorders may amplify your anxiety symptoms and greatly affect your overall health and well-being.
6. Dry mouth all the time.
Dry mouth is one of your body’s first responses to stress. During times of stress, the body stalls or stops non-essential functions because it believes you are in a fight-or-flight type scenario.
You very well might be anxious for a good reason, or you may be genuinely thirsty or dehydrated since anxiety can make you forget to eat and drink properly.
This may be way too obvious, but when you get dry mouth: take a drink of water. Even better: get some soothing herbal tea and a snack.
By taking the time to eat or drink something, you are sending the signal to your body that you’re not in a true fight-or-flight situation and it’s time to calm down.
7. You often have cold feet or sweaty hands.
The same fight-or-flight hormones that cause dry mouth can also lead to cold feet or sweaty hands.
In more extreme manifestations of stress, your extremities may even go numb or feel like you’re on pins and needles. This is because the blood flow to your arms and legs can decrease due to the fight-or-flight response, and reroute to your essential organs.
Similar to hyperventilating, sweaty hands are not an especially uncommon symptom of anxiety. You may also notice a tingling in the hands.
These symptoms are the result of stress-response hyperstimulation and, like panic attacks, can occur without warning. Once you have calmed yourself down, it may take up to 20 minutes for your hands and feet to return to normal.
What is nausea? Nausea is the feeling that you are about to throw up, and may or may not induce actual vomiting. This anxiety symptom rarely comes about on its own. Nausea can be a secondary reaction to shortness of breath, panic attacks, heart palpitations, etc… Whether or not you actually do throw up will depend on a variety of factors, including the level of stress at the time.
Nausea most often manifests with dizziness and vertigo, so be prepared to take a seat until symptoms pass. Breathing exercises, a glass of cold water, or something minty can go a long way to help ease the nausea.
9. Your muscles feel sore when you didn’t workout.
Have you ever realized that you’re clenching your jaw for no reason? Do you ever have aching muscles or a backache that you can’t trace to a particular activity? All of the stress and tension associated with anxiety can cause your muscles to flex or partially flex for long periods of time. If this happens often enough, the lactic acid build-up will leave your muscles sore.
These anxiety symptoms are aggravated when your body doesn’t get enough rest. If you have insomnia, you are more likely to experience sore or weak muscles. You may want to consider getting a massage to help relieve some of the soreness and help you get a good night’s rest.
What should I do if I have some or all of these symptoms?
It’s ok to feel this way every now and then. Most people experience anxiety in some way, shape, or form when faced with different situations.
Getting nervous before a test or a presentation is completely normal – as long as the symptoms of anxiety subside afterwards. If you’re not sure, watch the video below on the most common anxiety disorder for a better idea of what to look out for.
However, if these feelings have become a constant state of being, you likely have an anxiety disorder. The good news is: there are a multitude of natural and prescription treatments available, and you are most definitely not alone.
Discuss treatment options with your doctor, to include counseling and/or behavioral therapy. Anxiety doesn’t have to rule your life; so don’t let it!