Anxiety can look different in just about every single person. While it may seem like anxiety is all about intrusive thoughts and your brain chemistries…anxiety can very much be a physical disorder, and physical anxiety symptoms are common.
But those physical symptoms are there to give you a heads up that something’s off. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to how your body is manifesting anxiety—and not ignore it. These physical symptoms could be signs of anxiety, so take note!
Experiencing Physical Anxiety Symptoms? Don’t Ignore These
As you get anxious or worry, your body will secrete adrenaline and cortisol to help your body prepare for the ‘threat’ ahead. This is your fight-or-flight response. During that fight-or-flight response you may notice that you start to sweat, typically on the palms of your hands or your underarms. Over time, anxiety might trigger your body to remain in fight-or-flight, causing you to perspire all day, every day.
Fidgeting, tremors, or restless legs
Clicking pens, bouncing legs, fidgeting with hair or in your seat—we’ve all caught ourselves being all over the place. To calm ourselves down or create ‘control’ in a situation, we may develop habits to compensate for our anxiety.
If you find yourself having these patterns, try taking some calming herbs like Kava or Passion Flower. Notice a difference while taking the herbs, like an ease in your movements? That fidgeting may have been anxiety.
Chest pain, tightness, or heart racing
This is a biggie. Chest tightness first and foremost could be heart-related so speak with your doctor ASAP if you’re concerned. But if you’re cleared from a cardiac workup, think about the structure of your chest. Those muscles in-between your ribs are small, and holding tension in them all day every can lead to uncomfortable feelings.
Not to mention that we tend to hold our breath when we’re anxious. Or we hyperventilate, which can cause a lot of tension in that thoracic cavity. I’ll often think of anxiety when I hear someone concerned about chest pain.
Also on my list of differentials for anxiety? Iron deficiency, estrogen dominance (the breast tissue is full of estrogen receptors that make that area pretty tender!), and rib heads out of place.
Anxiety is a huge stress on the body. Worrisome thoughts, racing hearts, a roller coaster of blood sugar, extra blood flow needed to muscles… it’s a big orchestra of events that happen when we feel anxious. We’ve written a lot about cortisol and all the things it’s used for in your body. After a long period of time of unmanaged stress and anxiety, your body starts to put you into HPA Axis Dysfunction (aka adrenal fatigue), which can lower your cortisol over time.
Anxiety might still be prevalent, but now people usually mention they are ‘wired and tired,’ which can be due to cortisol compensation. Lower AM cortisol values can cause you to be excessively fatigued, but not necessarily mitigate your anxiety reactions.
Tense muscles that aren’t relieved by traditional measures
You’ve probably had someone tell you to ‘drop your shoulders’ or that your shoulders were up by your ears. Anxiety can cause a person to tense up, and particularly hold stress in their upper back. All of this muscle tension can cause trigger points that cause tighter muscles, inflammation, increased tension on ligaments, and fascia, and ultimately lead to pain, like headaches, and other symptoms, like difficulty sleeping. We like to team up with bodyworkers and chiropractors to help with these areas!
Dr. Cassie Wilder is a registered Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and founder of MIMC. Her passion is empowering her patients through education, understanding, and support through their healing journey. After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Wilder earned her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, a fully accredited and nationally recognized institution in Phoenix, AZ. During her clinical training, she received extensive hands-on training with many leading experts in the field of functional medicine and developed a passion for treating hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and adrenal fatigue.