Almost everyone experiences some amount of anxiety once in a while. However, those diagnosed with anxiety often feel anxious, worried or afraid of ordinary events. Not only are these feelings upsetting and challenging to manage but they can impact the day-to-day routine and functioning of individuals suffering from anxiety. Anxiety also has physical symptoms. People experience a spectrum of symptoms from an elevated heart rate to excessive sweating to nausea and dizziness.

It’s helpful to recognize and alleviate the physical symptoms of anxiety when you experience a trigger.

How does anxiety manifest physically?

Some common ways in which you can experience the physical signs of anxiety include:

  • Stomach pain, nausea or digestive trouble
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Muscle pain or tension

Different types of anxiety may have additional physical symptoms. For example, if you are experiencing a panic attack, you may fear that you are dying, have difficulty in breathing, have chest pain, feel dizzy or lightheaded, get chills or feel overheated, and may have numbness in parts of your body. Some symptoms may vary in individual cases.

Why does anxiety cause physical symptoms?

Anxiety is the body’s reaction to the stress you experience when triggered. The physical symptoms are simply a way for your body to alert you to the threat and help you get ready to deal with them. This is also known as a flight or fight response.

One of the ways that the body responds to danger is by causing rapid, shallow breathing because your lungs are preparing to move more amounts of oxygen through the body, in case you need to escape. Unfortunately, this leads to shortness of breath, triggering further anxiety in turn.

However, our bodies are not designed to be always on alert. The constant flight or fight mode caused by chronic anxiety can have long-term, negative implications on your physical health. For instance, tensed muscles help you get away from danger quickly. But muscles that are constantly tense cause tension headaches, pain, and migraines.

Similarly, adrenaline and cortisol lead to rapid heartbeat and breathing, needed when you are in imminent danger. But the same hormones may adversely affect digestion and blood sugar. Releasing these hormones frequently as a result of constant stress can have lasting health effects.

Identifying and relieving the physical symptoms

If anxiety disorder symptoms affect your mental and physical health or make daily life difficult, it is important to see a doctor. The first step is to meet your primary care provider to rule out medical issues that might be causing similar symptoms. If the physical signs have no underlying medical cause, you might be suffering from anxiety.

A mental health specialist can diagnose the symptoms and related conditions. And while there is no medical test for anxiety, mental health specialists use screening tools to determine if an individual is suffering from anxiety.

It is important to share all relevant information with your therapist, including the use of substances or thoughts of self-harm etc. Since many individuals have anxiety combined with other mental health conditions, a comprehensive look at the history and prevailing symptoms can get the most accurate and helpful treatment.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of American (ADAA) states that individuals with anxiety are at increased risk of physical health issues and as the anxiety symptoms aggravate, it can lead to asthma, migraines, vision problems, heart problems etc.

Interrupting the cycle as it happens:

Long-term treatment of anxiety can certainly help alleviate the symptoms. But what can you do when you are in the middle of a panic attack or anxiety symptoms? Some of these ways are proven to help you ease the symptoms of an anxiety attack as they occur:

  1. Pause and reflect
    If you are feeling overwhelmed and start experiencing any of the typical signs of anxiety, the first thing to do is to pause and observe what’s happening with your body. Be aware of your feelings or reactions and how they have started building up in your body. For e.g. tensing of muscles.
  2. Learn to distract
    Distraction is a great tool to take the focus away from anxiety. Find something simple like watching your inhalation exhalation movements, putting up a puzzle together or watering the plants.  This can help you get out of the vicious cycle of elevated anxiety and physical symptoms. Each person needs to find their own set of activities that help them distract successfully.
  3. Practice relaxation
    Deep breathing and relaxation exercise are some of the best ways to ease the symptoms of anxiety. There are multiple online resources and mobile apps that can guide you through relaxation tools.
  4. Comfort yourself
    When you know that the symptoms are caused by anxiety, you can comfort yourself that what you are experiencing is not fatal and will pass when the anxiety eases. The reassurance and self-affirmation can certainly ease some of the discomforts.


Understanding your symptoms and being aware of the triggers is the first step in taking control of your mental health. Using simple strategies you can reduce the pain and other symptoms caused by anxiety.