Published On: Wed, Aug 8th, 2018

4 Physical Symptoms That Could Signal Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are on the rise, but even as more people suffer from versions of this mental illness, they’re still widely understood. Most people only understand two kinds of anxiety: a low level of tension associated with normal stress, which is an adaptive response to dangerous situations, and panic attacks, characterized by hyperventilation, increased heart rate, sweating, and racing thoughts. What they don’t realize is that there’s an entire world of anxiety in between these two poles. In order to treat anxiety and the associated restrictions, we need to learn to identify the wider world of anxiety symptoms.

photo/ Mary Pahlke

Got Cold Feet?

Anxiety is an extension of our fight or flight mechanism, an instinctive response to danger, and in order for that instinct to work, we need to be able to run or fight back – blood needs to get to our large muscle groups. When we’re functioning with a low level of constant anxiety, though, this diversion can cause your hands and feet to feel cold all the time. Because all your blood is flowing to your hips and thighs, the muscles you need to run from a situation, there’s not enough available for your hands and feet to get proper circulation. That’s why your hands are freezing even when you’re not actually cold.

A Growing Bald Spot

When you’re already feeling anxious, the last thing you need is to feel self-conscious about your appearance too. Unfortunately, hair loss can be a symptom of anxiety, both because it can cause your hair to fall out through a process known as telogen effluvium, and because some people feel a compulsion to pull out their hair when they’re feeling anxious. You might not even know you’re doing it.

Most telogen effluvium-type hair loss is temporary – it can also occur during pregnancy, due to some medications, or because of an environmental change, and that means as you begin to address your anxiety, your hair will grow back and resume growing normally. Hair pulling, known as trichotillomania, however, is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder worsened by anxiety and can be much more difficult to treat.

photo/ Pete Linforth

Terrible Tummy Troubles

If you’ve been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), your symptoms might actually stem from anxiety. Though IBS has many other causes, our GI system is sometimes referred to as our second brain because it contains high levels of neurotransmitters. This means your gut is very sensitive to stress and anxiety.

Anxiety-related GI symptoms run the full gamut, with some experiencing constipation and others suffering from diarrhea and yet others experiencing constant gas, bloating, or reflux. Whatever your symptoms are, though, the moral of the story is that GI symptoms can be caused by what’s going on in your mind, not just what’s in your refrigerator.

A Fleet Of Phantoms

Perhaps the most surprising symptom of anxiety is hallucinating – not the elaborate hallucinations of schizophrenia, but a range of phantom smells (phantosmia), imagined ringing sounds, and minor but disruptive visual hallucinations. Ringing sounds or even phantom vibrations are a particularly modern variation of this issue and can be a manifestation of separation anxiety or attachment issues; you imagine your phone is ringing because you want to be connected to someone else. Phantosmia, on the other hand, often conjures up a smell associated with past stressful experiences, from smoke to perfume.

Anxiety is often the missing link between a range of mystery symptoms, so if you’re prone to fits of panic or are simply fueled by stress, it’s time to rethink those little irritations, like cold hands and stomach aches. Anxiety may be a mental health issue, but it’s expressed throughout the entire body.

Author: Anna Johansson

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