How To Cope With Body Sensations
Different emotions are associated with different sorts of body states. When we are sad or low we can feel tired and heavy. When we are anxious we can feel jittery and on-edge. It is not unusual to dislike certain body sensations and sometimes we can become afraid of them. However, because we have to live in our bodies these kinds of fears can prove limiting!
Identifying The Difficult Meaning Associated With A Body Sensation
Remember that CBT says it is not situations, events, or sensations that bother us – it is the thoughts we have about them, or the meaning that we bring to them.
Bill’s father had died from a heart attack at a young age and Bill had always worried that the same thing could happen to him. When they were both 25 Bill’s friend died in a car crash and Bill became more aware of how fragile life can be. He started to pay more attention to his heart, and would worry if he noticed it beating fast or if he felt it was beating irregularly. He began to monitor his pulse, and would walk everywhere slowly so as not to over-stress his heart.
Whenever Bill noticed his heart beating, the meaning he associated with it was “I’m going to have a heart attack”.
Facing Your Fears: Interoceptive Exposure
Our bodies are capable of giving rise to a great range of sensations. The best way to become more comfortable with the sensations it can generate is to expose yourself to them. This is called interoceptive exposure: interoception means being aware of sensations within our body, and exposure is one of the most powerful ways of overcoming fears.
For Bill to overcome his fear he needed to do exercises to increase his heart rate. His therapist encouraged him to do exercises such as running on the spot, or stepping up and down a stair. Bill initially found these exercises anxiety-provoking because he thought he might damage his heart. However, he became more comfortable with them over time. The more he practised the interoceptive exposure exercises the less he came to believe that he was going to have a heart attack. Eventually he completely changed the way he thought, and began to exercise regularly.
Safety: “…But I’m worried that doing these exercises could be dangerous”
These exercises are for people who find certain bodily sensations difficult. They are not dangerous and will typically produce mild to moderate symptoms. Most people should be able to do them safely. However, for people with certain medical conditions particular exercises may be unsuitable and it is recommended that you check with your medical doctor whether they are happy for you to complete the exercises. It may be helpful to take the worksheet with you to your doctor and ask them to say which exercises they are happy for you to do. If you suffer from any of the following medical conditions it is recommended that you check with your doctor before attempting the exercises:
- High blood pressure
- If you are pregnant
How to carry out exposure to body sensations exercises
To overcome fear of body sensations you need to work through all of the exercises on the Interoceptive Exposure (fear of body sensations) worksheet. The tasks are not dangerous, but even in people without panic or fear they tend to produce moderate feelings of discomfort. To begin with you will need to try all of then, one by one, until you find the ones your panic responds to. Before each exercise read the instructions carefully.
- Only do one exercise at a time
- You might find it helpful to have someone with you when you practice these exercises initially (can you treat it like a game and both do them together?)
- Always try to complete the task for the allotted time – stopping early counts as avoiding
- Focus on the sensations you feel during the exercise – don’t try to distract yourself
11 Things That Anxiety Can Do To Your Body
Some symptoms of anxiety are obvious — a fast heart rate, negative thoughts, trouble breathing, to name a few. But anxiety can also cause a number of weird things to happen to your body, some that might even seem totally unrelated to your mindset. Living with anxiety is already detrimental enough to your mental health, but it can also have some physical and cognitive effects as well.
"Anxiety has an effect on your entire body because your body responds to psychological stress in the same way it responds to physical stress," says psychotherapist Jennifer Weaver-Breitenbecher LMHC, CRC over email. "Whether you're sick to your stomach over a breakup or being chased through the woods by a bear, your body registers stress as stress. It's doesn't differentiate."
Every person responds to anxiety differently, but there are a number of reactions that are common among people who suffer. If you've noticed some things have been off in your body, your mental state may actually be to blame. Whether it's related to how your stomach is feeling or how well you're able to focus on all the small details in your life, here are 11 weird things that can happen to your body when you have anxiety.
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This Common Anxiety Symptom Makes Me Feel Like Reality Is Slipping Away
I thought I was losing my mind. But I was just experiencing anxiety symptoms: derealization and depersonalization.
Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.
It was like the world was made of wax.
The first time I felt it, I was walking down the streets of New York City. I’d been anxious for months, having panic attacks upon waking, while teaching, while in the back of a cab.
I’d stopped taking the subway and was walking to work when suddenly the buildings around me started to shimmer like their atoms didn’t hold together. They were too bright, immaterial, and shaking like flip-book cartoons.
I didn’t feel real either.
My hand looked garish and it panicked me to clearly feel the thought, move your hand, echo cavernously inside my head — and then see my hand move. The whole process that was supposed to be automatic, instant, and unnoticeable was broken down.
It was as if I were an outside observer of my innermost processes, making me a stranger in my own body and mind. I feared I’d lose my grip on reality, which already felt tenuous and shaky because of a severe flare-up of lifelong anxiety and panic.
I felt reality melt away a week later when I was having one of the biggest panic attacks of my life.
I was on my couch, my hands frozen into claws, the EMTs poised with an oxygen mask and EpiPen above me. I felt as though I were in a dream and everything was hyper-real — colors too bright, people too close, and huge clown-like people.
My skull felt too tight and my hair hurt. I could feel myself seeing out of my own eyes and hear myself talk too loudly inside my brain.
Aside from being deeply uncomfortable and distracting, what made it even scarier was that I had no idea what it was.
I thought it was an indication of total insanity, which caused me more anxiety and panic. It was a devastating cycle.
It would be a decade before I heard the terms derealization and depersonalization.
Although one of the most common symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder, it’s one that doctors, therapists, and people with anxiety rarely talk about.
One reason doctors may be less likely to mention derealization to patients could be because, while associated with panic, it’s not completely clear what causes it. And why it happens for some people with anxiety and not others.
Confronting the scariest symptom of my anxiety
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about half of US adults will experience at least one depersonalization/derealization episode in their lives.
The Mayo Clinic describes the condition as, “observing yourself from outside your body” or “a sense that things around you aren’t real.”
Depersonalization distorts the self: “The sense that your body, legs, or arms appear distorted, enlarged, or shrunken, or that your head is wrapped in cotton.”
Derealization deranges the outside world, causing one to feel, “emotionally disconnected from people you care about.” Your surroundings appear “distorted, blurry, colorless, two-dimensional, or artificial.”
However, the terms are often used interchangeably, and diagnosis and treatment are often the same.
Health Research Funding reports that stress and anxiety are the primary causes of derealization, and that women are twice as likely to experience it as men. Up to 66 percent of people who experience a trauma will have some form of derealization.
A sense of unreality came over me during times of heightened anxiety, but also randomly — while brushing my teeth with the nauseating feeling that the reflection in the mirror wasn’t me. Or eating dessert at a dinner party when suddenly my best friend’s face looked as if it were made out of clay and animated by some foreign spirit.
Waking up with it in the middle of the night was especially scary, shooting up in bed intensely disoriented, too acutely aware of my own consciousness and body.
It was one of the scariest and most tenacious symptoms of my anxiety disorder, lingering months after the acute panic attacks and phobias had eased.
When I first started seeing my therapist, I tearfully described this symptom, concerned about my sanity.
He sat in his overstuffed leather chair, completely calm. He assured me that while bizarre and scary, derealization is not dangerous — and is in fact quite common.
His physiologic explanation eased some of my fear. “Adrenaline from prolonged anxiety redirects blood from the brain to the big muscles — the quads and biceps — so that you can fight or flee. It also sends your blood into your core, so that if your extremities are cut you won’t bleed to death. With the redirection of blood from the brain, many feel a sense of light-headedness and derealization or depersonalization. It’s actually one of the most common complaints of anxiety,” he told me.
“Also, when nervous, people tend to over-breathe, which changes the composition of blood gasses, which affects how the brain works. Because anxious people can be hypervigilant of their bodies, they notice these subtle changes that others wouldn’t and interpret them as dangerous. Because this scares them, they keep hyperventilating and derealization gets worse and worse.”
Returning to reality by accepting my unreality
Depersonalization can be its own disorder, or a symptom of depression, drug use, or psychotropic medications.
But when it occurs as a symptom of severe or prolonged stress and anxiety, experts agree that it’s not dangerous — or a sign of psychosis — like many people fear.
In fact, the quickest way to return the brain to normal functioning is to deescalate anxiety and panic, which often means meeting the dissociative feelings with calm and acceptance, a herculean task at first.
My therapist explained that adrenaline is metabolized in two to three minutes. If one can calm themselves and their fear of the derealization, the production of adrenaline will cease, the body can eliminate it, and the feeling will pass more quickly.
I’ve found that listening to soothing, familiar music, drinking water, practicing deep breathing, and listening to affirmations can help take the focus off the strange zinging awareness and bring me back into my body.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has also shown to be one of the most effective treatments for anxiety-induced depersonalization/derealization. It can help train the mind away from obsessing over the troubling state, and help you build skills and tools to redirect attention where you want it to go.
As intense and all-encompassing as it feels, derealization does abate with time.
I used to have bouts of it several times a day, every day, and it was incredibly distracting, uncomfortable, and scary.
While I was teaching, shopping, driving, or having tea with a friend, it would send a shock through me and I’d have to retreat to bed, to the phone with a friend, or another safe space to deal with the fear it aroused. But as I learned not to react with terror — as I learned to ignore derealization with the confidence that it would not catapult me into insanity — the episodes got shorter, milder, and less frequent.
I still experience unreality sometimes, but now I ignore it and it eventually fades. Sometimes within minutes. Sometimes it takes an hour.
Anxiety is a lie. It tells you you’re in mortal danger when you’re safe.
Derealization is one of anxiety’s lies that we have to see through in order to gain our freedom and comfort. When you feel it coming, speak back to it.
I am myself; the world is here; I am safe.
Gila Lyons’ work has appeared inThe New York Times, Cosmopolitan,Salon,Vox, and more. She’s at work on a memoir about seeking a natural cure for anxiety and panic disorder but falling prey to the underbelly of the alternative health movement. Links to published work can be found atwww.gilalyons.com. Connect with her onTwitter,Instagram, andLinkedIn.
Causes and treatment for internal vibrations
Internal vibrations, also known as internal tremors, can affect people with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or essential tremor. Internal tremors are not harmful, but they be can be worrying and may interfere with a person’s daily life.
Internal tremors are shaking sensations felt inside the body. They occur without visible movement, which external tremors produce.
A person may experience internal tremors in the trunk, arms, legs, or internal organs.
In this article, we look at the causes and treatment of internal tremors.
People with Parkinson’s disease (PD), multiple sclerosis (MS), or essential tremor (ET) may experience internal and external tremors.
The causes of internal tremors are not well understood, and current research is limited. However, doctors tend to believe that these tremors stem from the same neurological causes of external tremors.
A published in 2017 found a link between tremors and social anxiety. Some researchers have also suggested that internal tremors may produce physical movement too slight to detect.
Authors of a 2016 study have suggested that internal tremors are early, unusual symptoms of movement disorders, such as PD. Other researchers have proposed that anyone can experience internal tremors, but they are more pronounced in people with PD, MS, and ET.
Below, find more information about PD, MS, and ET, the three most common causes of internal tremors.
PD is a neurological disease that results from the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. It usually occurs in people .
People with PD may experience some of the following symptoms:
- slowness of movement
- external tremors, including visible trembling in the hands, limbs, face, and jaw
- internal tremors
- stiffness of the arms, legs, and trunk
- poor coordination and balance
These symptoms may progress quickly or slowly, and they can make daily activities difficult. Tremors are not always the most evident symptom of PD, though many people with the condition have tremors.
Initially, a person may only experience a tremor in one limb. As the condition progresses, the tremor can spread to both sides of the body. Strong emotions and stress can make tremors worse.
Treatments for PD
There is no cure for PD. It is a chronic condition that progresses over time. However, there are several treatment options.
A doctor may prescribe a combination of levodopa and carbidopa to replenish the brain’s dopamine supply. This can help to treat advanced PD.
Other drug-related options include bromocriptine, pramipexole, and ropinirole.
A doctor may recommend surgery for people who do not respond to medication. The primary type is called deep brain stimulation (DBS).
During the procedure, a surgeon implants electrodes in a person’s brain. These stimulate targeted areas to alleviate some symptoms of PD. DBS can also reduce the need for certain drugs, and this may especially benefit people experiencing unpleasant side effects.
Multiple sclerosis (MS)
MS is a chronic condition that affects the central nervous system.
Many experts believe that in a person with MS, the immune system attacks and damages the body’s nerves.
This can affect many parts of the body, and it can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life.
Symptoms of MS usually develop between the ages of . They can include:
- blurred or double vision
- color blindness
- blindness in one eye
- muscle weakness
- poor coordination and balance
- a sensation of numbness or pins and needles
- speech difficulties
- internal and external tremors
Around of the people with MS also experience difficulty with:
A person may also experience tremor.
Treatment of MS
There is currently no cure for MS, and its severity varies from person to person.
Disease-modifying therapies (DMTs)
In the past, doctors considered MS untreatable, but new drugs and treatment options are changing the outlook.
Current guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) advise doctors to start prescribing a type of medication known as disease-modifying therapy (DMT) as soon as possible after a diagnosis.
With early use, these drugs appear to reduce the numbers of flares that a person experiences in relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), and they may slow the progression of the disease.
- injectable interferon beta-1a and 1-b, such as Avonex and Extavia
- injectable glatiramer acetate, for example, Copaxone and Glatopa
- oral medications, such as siponimod (Mayzent) and fingolimod (Gilenya)
- infusions, including alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) and ocrelizumab (Ocrevus)
Mitoxantrone is an older DMT that can have severe adverse effects. A doctor will only prescribe it if a person has severe symptoms and if the possible benefits outweigh the risks for the individual.
Anyone who has been using mitoxantrone for some time should ask their doctor about newer drugs that may be safer and more effective.
Flares and symptoms
A person will take a DMT regularly, whether they are experiencing a relapse or not.
When flares occur, a doctor may prescribe:
- steroid injections to reduce inflammation and help manage severe symptoms
- specific medications to help with specific symptoms, such as weakness and muscle spasms
A doctor may prescribe muscle relaxers or tranquilizers for people with sustained muscle stiffness and spasticity.
Treatment for tremor
Drugs to help relieve tremor include:
- isoniazid, for example, Laniazid or Nydrazid
- clonazepam, for instance, Klonopin, Rivotril or Syn-Clonazepam
Exercise, occupational therapy, and physical therapy can also help. A doctor can advise on an exercise plan to suit an individual’s needs.
They may also advise on assistive devices that may help, such as a walking cane.
The symptoms and progress of MS vary widely between individuals. Each person will make a treatment plan with their doctor to suit their needs.
ET is the type of abnormal tremor.
The condition is sometimes associated with mild degeneration of some of the cerebellum. This is the part of the brain that receives information needed to regulate the quality of a person’s movements.
The cerebellum receives this information from other parts of the brain, the spinal cord, and the body’s sensory systems.
People with ET may experience unintentional, rhythmic movements, most commonly a hand tremor. The tremor may also affect the head, tongue, limbs, trunk, and the ability to speak.
Symptoms can develop at any age, but they usually become noticeable in people . Triggers of ET can include:
- stress and anxiety
- heightened emotions
- feeling physically tired
- low blood sugar
The tremor usually appears on both sides of the body, but it is often more noticeable in the dominant hand.
Treatment of ET
While there is no cure for ET, medications can help to reduce symptoms. These can include beta-blockers or anticonvulsants.
Some people with ET find physical, occupational therapy, and DBS helpful. Treatment plans often involve reducing triggers, such as caffeine and other stimulants.
There are currently no diagnostic tests for internal tremors. However, anyone experiencing a tingling sensation, shaking, muscle weakness, or poor coordination should speak with a doctor.
For people with internal tremors, doctors may recommend treatments similar to those for other movement or neurological disorders.
However, the severity of internal tremors can vary from person to person, and some may find that no treatment is necessary.
When PD, MS, or ET is responsible for internal tremors, doctors will aim to treat the underlying condition.
Treatments for internal tremors can include:
- reducing anxiety and stress
- avoiding dietary stimulants, such as caffeine
- avoiding intense exercise and heat
For some people, doctors may recommend DBS or medications similar to those for PD, MS, and ET.
While internal tremors are not harmful, they can be disconcerting and may interfere with daily activities.
PD, MS, and ET are the most common causes of internal tremors. For many people, treatments for tremors will be similar to treatments for these neurological conditions.
Avoiding known triggers, such as stress or stimulants, can also help.
Inside weird body my feels
In the age of online symptom checkers and live chats with medical professionals, it's all too easy to give into a sense of hypochondria. Aside from playing WebMD, knowing some of the stranger symptoms of serious health issues is still a good idea. Of course, these symptoms often occur in the absence of serious illness. Still, these tips might just save you a lot of time and expense trying to figure out what's wrong, or they may even save your life.
The jaw is actually close to the heart, and even in the absence of chest pain, sudden jaw pain may indicate a heart blockage. Especially if accompanied by any shortness of breath or pain in and around the heart area, this can be a telltale sign of heart issues that need to be addressed by a doctor immediately.
Doctors often examine the ankles for swelling to get insight into how the kidneys are functioning. This is because decreased kidney function or kidney failure leads to the body retaining more sodium, which creates swelling, especially in the ankles and feet.
Trouble breathing and tightness in the chest are symptoms of many things, including seasonal allergies and anxiety, but also more serious issues like heart attacks. If there is a blockage in the arteries, the entire chest area may be affected and manifest itself as a feeling of asthma.
Making a lot of trips to the bathroom could mean you are doing an excellent job of staying hydrated, but if it seems excessive, it could also indicate Type 2 diabetes. This happens because sugar builds up in the blood and your organs are working overtime to clean it all up, leading to a frequent need to keep things draining. For men, frequent urination can also mean prostate trouble.
HICCUPS THAT WON'T GO AWAY
Hiccups can be caused by a local disturbance, such as a tumor or cancerous cells in and around the throat. Persistent hiccups can also be a warning of problems in the brain, such as indicating a stroke.
Being cold all the time is a sign that something is off. Oftentimes, it points to thyroid issues, specifically underactive thyroid. An underactive thyroid decreases the amount of energy you burn and sometimes your bodily temperature, making you feel chilly.
CHANGES IN BOWEL HABITS
Even if you don't like talking about poop, it's an important indicator of health. Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or blood/mucus in the stool, can indicate a number of underlying issues. Some of the most common culprits are irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, intestinal parasites, and anxiety.
A sore tongue can indicate a lack of vitamin B12, which can lead to anemia. Especially when accompanied by fatigue and weak or brittle nails, this is a classic sign that a body is deficient in this essential vitamin. A simple blood test can determine levels of B12, which can be replenished with a vitamin pill or through diet.
FACIAL HAIR AND/OR PATTERN BALDNESS IN WOMEN
These symptoms may be uncomfortable to bring up with a doctor, but they can help point to the cause, which can be Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). This disease affects the endocrine system, which regulates hormones throughout the body, and can be present with or without cysts on the ovaries.
Diabetes causes the blood to get overrun with insulin and/or sugar, depending on the type of diabetes. This forces the organs to work harder to bring balance back to the blood, and signals the body to eliminate waste more often, leading to a feeling of dehydration and never-ending thirst.
This very specific symptom is a strong indicator of thyroid issues. When it comes to checking the thyroid, there are many different lab tests that can be done. If you notice thinning in your eyebrows, especially the outer edges, ask your doctor about possible thyroid issues.
TINGLING HANDS AND FEET
Diabetes is known to cause nerve damage, which can manifest as either tingling or pain in the limbs. Most people experience tingling before pain, and a recurring tingling sensation in the hands and feet can help identify diabetes in people who are developing the disease.
LOSS OF TASTE
Researchers still don't know exactly how Alzheimer's disease works, but we do know that it affects the brain, which controls the nervous system. One of the many unfortunate symptoms of the disease is a loss of taste, which can often occur in the beginning stages of the disease before other more obvious symptoms start to show.
Sometimes itchy skin is a sign of a disorder more serious and costly than just dry skin. Persistently itchy skin can be a symptom of conditions like dermatitis and psoriasis. Psoriasis alone costs the country upward of $50 billion a year, a 2015 study found. There are no cures for these conditions, but early diagnosis can save patients money over the long term by identifying cost-effective treatment. Itchy skin can also be a sign of liver disease or cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.
Blurred vision is commonly associated with myopia, or nearsightedness, which is easily remedied with glasses or contact lenses. Parents may save money over the long term by having an ophthalmologist or optometrist identify impairments in children early. Research indicates that corrective measures can slow the progress of some vision disorders. Sudden blurring of vision can be cause for a hospital visit, as it's associated with more serious health issues like diabetes, stroke, and multiple sclerosis.
Stephen Johnson contributed to this report.
Can Anxiety Cause a Weird Feeling in the Head?
The symptoms of many mental health disorders show up cognitively, emotionally, and physically. Anxiety is no exception. This common mental health condition is linked to various symptoms that can span the entire body, such as:
- heart palpitations
- stomach issues
Commonly, people with anxiety experience a range of symptoms affecting how they feel “in their head.” These can include:
- brain fog
- dissociation — the sensation of feeling disconnected from yourself and the outer world
If you or a loved one has been experiencing these or other “weird” feelings in your head, it’s possible that anxiety might be the cause.
How anxiety affects the head
While occasional anxiety is a part of everyone’s life, when fear or worry begin to adversely affect a person’s life, it can turn into an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders include:
These all appear to be influenced by a mix of genetics and a person’s situational environment, including their lifestyle choices and upbringing. These disorders sometimes co-occur with depression or other mental health disorders, compounding the symptoms.
Why does it affect the head?
Anxiety has also been linked to in the brain and body.
Scientists have found connections between anxiety and some strange physical, cognitive, and emotional sensations that seem to mainly affect the head. Here are a few common ways that anxiety can affect your head:
- negative self-talk
- constant worry
- racing thoughts
- obsessive thoughts
While experts agree more research is needed to understand exactly how anxiety is linked to weird feelings in the head, they have also uncovered a link between .
Researchers point out that people with anxiety tend to have issues with controlling worried thoughts, which seems to trigger migraines and .
How it feels
Certain physical symptoms associated with anxiety can cause weird feelings in the head as well. Symptoms that affect the body’s circulatory system, like heart palpitations and temporary spikes in blood pressure, can cause feelings in the head like:
- a choking sensation
- sweating on the face
Other common anxiety symptoms include:
How to know if it’s anxiety
There are various types of anxiety disorders, each with associated symptoms. Any of these anxiety disorders may cause a weird feeling in your head.
You might have anxiety if those strange sensations are accompanied by:
- excessive sweating
- heavy and quick breathing rate
- hot flashes
- dry mouth
- hair loss
- fast heartbeat
Eliminating the underlying cause of the weird feelings in your head requires treating the underlying issue.
These sensations and other symptoms of anxiety can also be symptoms for other types of mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Determining the underlying cause will help you seek appropriate treatment.
If anxiety is the cause, just know that recovery is possible, and treatment and support are fairly widespread and available for many people.
An example treatment plan includes regular talk therapy, and sometimes antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. Anxiety can also be managed with:
- therapy animals
- art therapies like music and drawing
Medical cannabis is a treatment that may work well for some people, but in others could make anxiety worse, depending on the strain ingested. More research is needed to determine how successful it is at treating anxiety.
Getting professional help
If you suspect you might have an anxiety disorder, or if the weird feelings in your head don’t go away in time, schedule an appointment with a mental healthcare professional right away. The same is true if the feelings in your head are so severe they interfere with your everyday life.
You should also schedule a physical exam with a medical professional for any onset of physical symptoms, even if you suspect they are a result of a mental health condition.
The bottom line
Anxiety is a common human experience. However, some people experience the emotional, physical, and cognitive symptoms of anxiety on a more frequent and intense basis than others. Those who do are said to have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is known to manifest in various ways throughout the body, including in the head. Anxiety is a highly treatable condition, and in time and with effort, symptoms will become manageable.
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When we think of anxiety, we often think of a mental health condition that induces feelings of worry, concern, fear and nervousness. But, although we are absolutely correct to assume that anxiety starts in the brain, it is actually just as much a physical state as it is a mental one.
'Anxiety is the feeling you have when you think that something unpleasant is going to happen in the future. Other words such as feeling "apprehensive", "uncertain", "nervous" and "on edge" also provide a good description of feelings linked to anxiety,' explains Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK, in her guide Understanding Anxiety.
And with lockdown starting to lift, more and more people are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, as we wonder about what's next. In fact, there's a name for it, 'post-lockdown anxiety', as we ask, how will we adjust our routines again? What will our new normal look like? And how will our jobs, family life and relationships be affected?
So, it is useful to understand the broad array of physical symptoms that someone with an anxiety disorder, or panic disorder, can feel both during a panic attack and on a daily basis. Knowing that lots of physical sensations are caused by anxiety can reassure an anxious mind that they are not suffering from a more serious health condition.
It also reminds them that these physical feelings, however easy to misinterpret, are not in their heads – they are very real and have plausible, scientific explanations.
'Anxiety is completely normal and something that all human beings experience from time to time,' says Nicky. Therefore, understanding the science behind why our bodies react the way they do can help us break anxiety down, shatter our perception of it being an all-powerful dictator, help us get to know our bodies and, ultimately, take back control.
Here, we look at the common physical symptoms of anxiety and provide a physiological explanation for each.
THE SCIENCE: HOW DOES ANXIETY AFFECT OUR BODIES?
'When you are put into an anxiety-provoking situation, an automatic chain of events begins, often known as the 'fight or flight' response. This response happens without us thinking about it because it is triggered by the part of our nervous system whose job it is to control our automatic functions (e.g. breathing, heart beat, etc). This part of our nervous system is called the 'autonomic system' and is split into two components: the parasympathetic and the sympathetic systems. These work opposite each other and only one can dominate at a time. When we are in any situation that causes us anxiety, our sympathetic system starts to dominate and the 'fight or flight' reaction begins (sometimes also known as the 'adrenaline cascade'). '
It is important to remember that everyone experiences anxiety differently. An individual may feel all or none of the following symptoms or combination of a few. There can also be more unique physical symptoms that may not be listed here.
1. Chest pain and heart palpitations
You may think it's a sign of an impending heart attack but it's not. When you feel anxious or are having a full-blown panic attack, the heart beats faster to pump more blood around the body to prepare for fight or flight.
This action can cause hyperventilation which leads to breathing in too much oxygen. This, in turn, causes a contraction of the blood vessels which can lead to chest pain.
Chest pain caused by anxiety is often felt across different areas of the chest and comes and goes.
It is also important to note that a rush of adrenaline does not damage the heart.
But there's no need to feel silly if you've ever thought you were having a heart attack. Nicky says: 'Over the years we have been contacted by many people who have told us that they have had to rush off to casualty because they truly believed they were having a heart attack. Once there, they were told (sometimes after many medical tests), that their problem was entirely psychological.'
Note: Whenever chest pain is concerned, it is always a good idea to visit the GP once to rule out any other heart conditions.
2. Shortness of breath
The same applies (explained above) as to why we feel a shortness of breath or pressure in the chest during periods of anxiety.
We are also hyper-aware of our breathing which can cause us to 'over breathe' and take on more oxygen.
3. Limb and muscle pain
There are lots of ways anxiety can affect the limbs. Firstly, similarly to chest pains, an increased intake of oxygen can cause sensations and pain in the muscles. It could also be caused by:
Tension in the muscles caused by increased stress: Experiencing daily stress can harden the muscles which can cause them to ache or hurt.
Your posture: Feeling anxious can affect the way you hold yourself, sit, lie and walk which, in turn, can change the way your muscles feel. This is because your whole body is on edge, you might move quicker or slower and rarely completely relax.
A poorer lifestyle: When feeling anxious, it's easy to forget how to look after yourself - be that eating healthily, exercising or keeping hydrated. All of these can affect the way your limbs feel.
The above reasons can also cause aches and pains in the jaw and face.
4. Skin tingling and numbness/ feeling weak
It is common for anxiety to cause feelings of numbness and tingling. This can occur almost anywhere on the body but is most commonly felt on the face, hands, arms, feet and legs. This is caused by the blood rushing to the most important parts of the body that can aide fight or flight. This, therefore, leaves the less important areas feeling weak, numb or tingly.
It can also be caused by hyperventilation and increased oxygen intake which is particularly felt in the extremities and the face.
5. Temperature: Hotness, sweating, shivering
'The state of arousal [caused by an adrenaline rush] also leads to a rise in temperature. Your body reacts by trying to cool you down – this is why you perspire,' Nicky explains.
Such sweating, in turn, can make you feel cold. Especially after a panic attack, as your body starts to cool down but is still perspiring to prevent overheating, it is common to feel cold and shivery.
During a period of increased adrenaline and panic, Nicky says that 'the heart pumps more forcibly, which is associated with a rise in blood pressure. It is this rise in blood pressure that makes us feel light-headed and dizzy.'
Anxiety and panic attacks commonly cause tension headaches due to a build up of stress. They can feel dull or sharp and occur in different areas in the head.
8. Sleep issues
A build up of stress and tension can make it harder to sleep - as can continuous worry and being unable to switch off. The best thing to do here is try a mindfulness or meditation technique to help your mind and body drift into sleep.
On the other hand, a panic attack and prolonged periods of anxiety can leave you feeling both physically and emotionally exhausted. You should listen to your body and rest, in this case.
9. Stomach sensations
During fight or flight, 'blood is diverted away from areas of the body where it is not needed – for example, away from the stomach. This is why we frequently experience a churning sensation in the stomach or a 'butterflies' feeling when anxious.'
It is also very common to urgently need the toilet when you feel panicky. This is the body's way of trying to get rid of any unwanted weight which could slow it down during fight or flight.
Similarly to chest pains being misinterpreted as a heart attack, Nicky says that "butterflies in the stomach [are often] thought of as being a sign that vomiting might occur." This however, isn't always the case.
10. Hearing sensations
When you feel anxious and your mind is going at 100mph, it can be hard to focus on the sounds around you. On the other hand, when you are hyper-alert to the potential (if non existent) danger around you, you can be extra sensitive to sounds you would elsewise ignore.
11. Blurred vision
It is common to experience blurred vision during an adrenaline surge. This is because the pupils become dilated in order to allow more light into our vision so we are better prepared to fight or flight. More light, however, can also sometime cause blurred vision. It can also be caused by hyperventilation.
12. Spots and acne
There are multiple reasons as to why anxiety and stress can cause breakouts of adult acne, these are:
- Increased production of the stress hormone which can up the amount of oil your skin produces.
- Increased sweating which can clog pores.
- Touching your skin more, including your face, neck and shoulders, as you feel fidgety and on edge. This transfers dirt from your hands onto your skin and makes you more prone to breakouts.
13. Unhelpful thoughts
It is common to fear the worst case scenario when you are in a state of anxiety which, for some, is a fear they are going completely crazy. If the anxiety is a new feeling or it is a first panic, the unknown sensations can cause the brain to overthink and worry about the cause.
Important note: Although anxiety is common, it is not something that has to be lived with or tolerated if it is becoming unpleasant or changing your lifestyle. Read our guide on signs that anxiety is beginning to take control and visit the Anxiety UK website for information on where to seek help and important helplines.
Anya MeyerowitzAnya is a freelance editor and journalist with a penchant for coats, shoes and handbags.
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