Anxiety: Physical symptoms and how to cope with them

Although anxiety disorders come under the umbrella of mental health conditions, they can also cause physical reactions.

In addition to distress, fear, and worry, a person may have physical symptoms of anxiety, including:

Panic attacks can occur suddenly. If a person experiences a panic attack, they may feel that they are in extreme danger or are losing control.

People can have strong physical reactions during a panic attack, and they may even feel as though they are having a heart attack.

Some symptoms of a panic attack may include:

  • chest pain
  • chills
  • difficulty breathing
  • problems swallowing, or a feeling of choking
  • excessive sweating
  • a racing heart rate
  • feeling faint and nauseous
  • feeling that death is imminent
  • hot flashes
  • hyperventilation
  • numbness or tingling in the fingers, arms, or toes
  • shaking
  • stomach pain
  • a feeling of cold in the hands and feet
  • feeling detached from the body
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • blurry vision

Learn more about the differences between anxiety and panic attacks here.

Why the body responds to anxiety

Stressful life events can trigger panic attacks. However, panic attacks do not always have an obvious cause.

The physical symptoms of panic attacks are due to the body’s fight-or-flight response, which generates fear and anxiety.

During the fight-or-flight response, an individual responds to authentic and unreal danger in the same way and with the same physiological reactions. For example, their heart and breathing rates increase, they have a surge of adrenaline, and their senses become hyperalert.

A person’s body responds in this way because it is preparing to either fight the threat or run away from it.

The increase in blood flow prepares the muscles to flee from danger and allows the brain to focus and make quick decisions. The rapid breathing provides the body with more oxygen, ready to escape.

However, these things may cause the individual to feel as though they cannot get enough air, which may result in further feelings of panic.

The long-term effects

Anxiety disorders can cause people to avoid situations that they know trigger negative emotions. They may feel ashamed that they cannot live their lives as everyone else does. In turn, this may lead to increased social isolation and further withdrawal.

When this happens, a person may enter a cycle of living in fear of fear, meaning that the fear of a panic attack causes them to have more panic attacks.

If someone has chronic anxiety, they are always on high alert. This may negatively affect their cardiovascular, digestive, immune, and respiratory health.