Sometimes when I talk to people about how my anxiety makes me think, they don’t quite get it. Thoughts are something that most people can control, and therefore, it’s hard for people to understand intrusive and self-destructive thought patterns that don’t just go away.
I sometimes wonder if I’m alone in this, but when I discuss the physical symptoms my anxiety manifests, it resonates more with some people. It seems to be more “real.” Perhaps it’s because of how terrifying the physical symptoms of anxiety are when you hear them out loud. But just like my thoughts, I can’t control the physical symptoms.
I feel like I have to put this out there before I go into detail about the physical symptoms of anxiety. These are not things every single person who lives with anxiety experiences. There are things others feel that I don’t. I am not trying to claim that this is how it is for everyone. I’m simply just sharing to help broaden your understanding of the scope of mental illness to hopefully create more compassion in the world.
These are also things that some people with anxiety live with outside of a panic attack. For me, for example, I experience these feelings on a daily basis to different degrees. Sometimes, the feelings are muted and I can sort of ignore them. Other times, they are so overwhelming and prominent that it can be scary.
1. “Fast” Heartbeat
I have fast in quotations because for me, when I feel like my heart is racing, it usually isn’t.
If you’re around me for long enough, you have probably seen me put my fingers up to my neck to check my pulse. That’s because out of nowhere, my heart will feel like it’s about to beat out of my chest, but its actually beating at a normal pace.
Yes, I have had my heart checked more than once.
2. Difficulty Breathing
You might laugh, but sometimes, I have to remind myself to breathe.
I spend a lot of my time thinking about my breathing. Sometimes, it feels like I’m gasping for air. Sometimes, I have to practice breathing exercises to calm myself down (I will talk about these in length another time).
I can tell you that having to constantly remind yourself to breathe is exhausting, even though it’s all in your head.
You might have heard that anxiety attacks mimic a stroke. That’s why an overwhelming number of people living with anxiety has visited an ER at least once due to stroke-like symptoms.
When I experience numbness, it’s often in my arm, hand, or wrist. I have to pinch myself to ensure the area isn’t actually going numb. My left arm is numb as I type this.
4. Chest Pain
Chest pain is common for me, and it’s one of the scariest symptoms in my opinion.
Chest pain can come out of nowhere. I don’t have to be stressed or exerting physical energy. It’s difficult to make it go away. You kind of just have to ride it out.
I do find that sometimes taking a nap or sitting outside in fresh air can help subside the pain. And MINT! I never go anywhere without a packet of mints. The feeling of menthol in my throat helps soothe everything.
Sometimes it kind of feels like all of the mind battles that occur in my head daily cause me to have terrible headaches.
These headaches sort of travel to different parts of my head. Every now and then, they mimic migraines. I can usually get through the day with them, but they aren’t pleasant.
Most of the time, I have some variation of dizziness and constantly feel like I’m off balance. I can get dizzy quickly as well, even if I’m just sitting down or walking.
I know I’m dizzy because of my anxiety so I can be a little bit careful when I move around. It’s part of why I’m so clumsy! There are moments where it’s too much and I get scared that I’m going to pass out.
As much as I’m always tired, anxiety can make me very restless. I can’t just do one thing at a time. I often have trouble sleeping because I don’t want to stay in one place, or I have too much mental energy to rest. Being restless while also being tired due to lack of sleep is not a fun combination. This can often exacerbate other physical symptoms.
I also fidget a lot and exert that restlessness in a lot of physical ways. I play with and pick at my hair, rub my neck, shake, and play with random things around me. It’s my unintentional way of trying to pass off that restless energy onto something else.
One of the hardest things for people to understand about mental illness is how incredibly tiring it is. While most of what ails us is in our head, trying to function and live a “normal” life is very exhausting.
I’m incredibly conscious of every move I make and try to emit positivity and happiness as much as I can, which can take a lot out of me. I rarely give myself enough time to relax and I don’t sleep very well. All of that mental stimulation I live with takes a toll on my body and even causes me physical pain sometimes. I try not to let it make me lazy, but sometimes, I kind of have to be.
I hope that sharing how anxiety, and other mental illnesses even, can affect someone physically gives you more insight as to what a person you may know experiences daily or often. There’s so much more to it than having a handle on your thoughts.
If you experience any of these things on a normal basis, sometimes what helps is to give yourself a little test to see if what you’re experiencing is real. For example, if my arms go numb, I raise them up and pinch them to ensure I still actually have feeling in them. Once you know that it’s anxiety related, practice calming self-talk such as ” Okay, you’ve been here before and you beat it! Let’s take some deep breaths and continue on and this will pass.” If any of these symptoms are new to you/ or you’ve been recently battling mental illness, PLEASE go see your doctor to ensure everything is working properly.
Do YOU live with physical symptoms of a mental illness? I’d love to hear what helps you conquer and thrive.