Most of these lesser-known symptoms of anxiety that we are outlining in this blog today are the result of the famous ‘fight or flight’ response – a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. This response essentially is a way to prepare the body to fight a danger or run away from it, purportedly garnered back in caveman times.
Nowadays, we set off our fight or flight response for things we don’t need to – situations which shouldn’t be posed as real dangers. Do you suffer with any of the below symptoms?
Cold hands and feet
A result of the fight or flight response. During this response, your body directs energy to your muscles and vital organs so that you’re ready to run from danger, thus taking it away from your hands and feet. There are of course many other things which can cause this (such as cold temperatures!), but this could very well be a sign of anxiety.
Skin tingling & numbness
This can occur almost anywhere on your body, but is most felt on the face, hands, arms, feet and legs. This is caused by the above-mentioned blood rushing to the most important parts of the body, that can aide fight or flight. Therefore, this leaves less important areas of the body feeling weak, numb, or tingly (as well as cold!)
Limb & muscle pain
This happens when your body has an increased intake of oxygen during fight or flight. Increased oxygen ensures we can run or flee faster, having enough oxygen for the muscles to do this – which causes sensations and pain in the muscles.
Additionally feeling anxious can affect your posture and how you sit, lie and walk. This can additionally change the way your muscles feel. Your posture changes because your whole body is on edge – you might move quicker (or slower) and rarely completely relax.
When feeling anxious, it’s also easy to forget how to look after yourself and be healthy – such as forgetting to eat healthily, exercise, or keep hydrated. All of these can affect the way your limbs feel.
Furthermore, stress and anxiety can cause tension in the muscles, as experiencing daily stress can result in tensing/hardening the muscles which can cause them to ache or hurt.
Anxiety can make you feel constantly tired even when you’ve been getting the recommended amount of sleep. All the mental energy spent worrying or overthinking, exhausting both your body and mind and staying on high alert, often results in anxious people feeling fatigued.
Change in body temperature (sweating, shivering)
The fight or flight response caused by an adrenaline rush leads to a rise in body temperature and your body in turn then reacts by trying to cool you down. Therefore, you sweat; because of this sweating, you can then often feel cold. It is especially common to get cold after a panic attack, as your body starts to cool down, but is still perspiring to prevent overheating. This often leads to feeling cold and shivery.
Many people with anxiety feel like every aspect of their lives must be perfect, and funnily enough this can be both a cause and a symptom of anxiety. It can lead to the desire to redo things over and over or spend an unnecessary amount of time on a project to get it just right.
Digestion isn’t one of the bodily processes prioritised during the fight or flight response, as it isn’t needed in an emergency. Therefore, it stops working as efficiently – which can lead to feelings of nausea, stomach ache, butterflies (which can make people think they might vomit) and even diarrhoea.
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 when trying to run from a danger.
To determine if anxiety is the cause, you will want to visit your doctor to rule out any digestive disorders.
Dizziness & light-headedness
When feeling anxious, it can be quite common to take shallow breaths, or even hold your breath without realising, all of which can make you feel dizzy or light-headed. During fight or flight the heart also pumps more forcibly to ensure blood can be carried as fast as possible to the muscles etc so we can run away, and this increased heart rate is associated with a rise in blood pressure. This rise in blood pressure also makes us feel light-headed and dizzy.
Chest pain & palpitations
As the heart beats faster to pump more blood around the body to prepare for fight or flight, this 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. It is often felt across different areas of the chest and comes and goes.
Shortness of breath
Note: Whenever chest pain is concerned, it is always a good idea to visit the GP once to rule out any other heart conditions.
For example, ignoring texts, putting off preparing work, cancelling plans at the last minute. Ironically, it can also make your anxiety worse, because then you feel ill-prepared for said work, or guilty for letting people down.
If you struggle to make decisions, or perhaps think that even the smallest of decisions could dramatically affect your life, this could be a symptom of anxiety. Some people with anxiety freeze when they need to make a decision (part of the fight, flight or freeze response).
It is common to experience blurred vision during an adrenaline surge. This is because the pupils become dilated to allow more light into our vision, so we are better prepared to fight or flight and to see/be aware of any dangers in front of us. More light coming into the eyes therefore can sometimes cause blurred vision. Note blurred vision can also be caused by dizziness & hyperventilation (other symptoms)
Low stress tolerance
While no one likes to deal with stressful situations, when you have anxiety, even the smallest inconvenience can feel unbearable. You might also get frustrated easily, burst in to tears for seemingly no reason, or have angry outbursts.
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.
Difficulty concentrating, which occurs due to all of the activity going on in your brain. Meditation, mindfulness, and learning how to exist in the present, can help slow this activity down, and make focusing less of a challenge.
Spots & acne
Acne can be caused by 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.
During periods of extensive anxiety, it is possible to feel like you’re losing touch on reality, or in an almost dreamlike state. It’s especially likely if you’re about to have a panic attack.
It is common to fear the worst-case scenario when you are in a state of anxiety. 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 and what is wrong
A build-up of stress and tension can make it harder to sleep – as can continuously worrying 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.
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.
We hope this helps you identify these lesser-known symptoms of anxiety! For further information, please take a listen to our podcast episode from the latest season of our ‘Making The Change’ podcast series, all about the aforementioned topic. Also, for extra measure – we have a video on our YouTube channel explaining 12 symptoms of anxiety.