What Are the Main Symptoms of Anxiety?

5 min
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What Are the Main Symptoms of Anxiety?

Anxiety presents in many different ways. The range of symptoms is so broad that many people don’t even realize that they’re suffering from anxiety. An estimated 3.8% of the world’s population live with an anxiety disorder, but many more go undiagnosed. And while it's true that everybody feels anxious now and then, prolonged anxiety affects our ability to show up authentically and live life to the full. And when anxiety pervades everyday life, it is also highly likely to manifest as physical issues that can turn into chronic disease. These are some of the main symptoms to look out for. 

Exhaustion, brain fog, and chronic fatigue

Anxiety is ultimately a low-level sense of fear that’s putting the body in a constant state of fight or flight response. It is incredibly draining, even if you don’t feel like you’ve been doing anything particularly tiring. The nervous system is working overtime, so it can feel a bit like when too many apps are running in the background of your phone ー except instead of your phone, it’s you. Processing slows down, and even ordinary tasks can feel like a lot of effort. 

Intrusive or obsessive thoughts

Over-analyzing situations, decisions, and possibilities is another draining pattern that’s rooted in anxiety. We obsess over what could have been rather than accepting what is, and we worry about what could be instead of trusting the unfolding of what we ultimately cannot control. Rather than having a sense of detachment and curiosity about our thoughts, we can feel controlled and overwhelmed by them. Intrusive thoughts can also lead to compulsive behavior.

Muscle tension, body aches, and joint pain

The prolonged activation of the body’s fight or flight response means that it is constantly preparing to spring into action. The stress hormones being pumped around the body take their toll on the muscles, particularly around the neck, shoulders, back, legs, and jaw. The resulting muscle tension can also lead to mobility issues and pain in the joints.

Headaches and migraines

Tension headaches are another consequence of the activation of the fight or flight response, while migraines are a particularly miserable symptom. These can, in turn, cause more anxiety and further exacerbate the problem.

Sleep disturbances

Getting enough sleep is essential to our health and wellbeing, but sleep disturbances come in many forms. Inability to fall asleep, waking up in the night, and waking up too early are all forms of insomnia caused by hyperarousal of the nervous system. Other disturbances include sleep apnea ー where breathing is disrupted ー as well as sleep paralysis, while difficulty waking up in the morning can also be a sign of poor sleep quality due to anxiety.   

Restlessness and unease

Many of us become so used to living in a constant stress cycle that we don’t realize this shouldn’t be the norm. We need regular restorative rest, and an inability to relax and feel truly calm is a symptom of anxiety. Prolonged feelings of guilt, dread, shame, irritability, or other unpleasant emotions are all signs that the body’s safety sensors are on constant alert. 

Digestion issues and inflammation

Chronic inflammation is a symptom of anxiety that can manifest most noticeably through issues with digestion. These include gas and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome. 

Heart pounding and palpitations

Regular, unexplained feelings of panic such as heart pounding or palpitations are a sign that the body is overwhelmed with alert signals. It is especially confusing to experience intense physical reactions like these when there’s nothing overtly stressful or dangerous taking place. 

Social phobia

Some people overcompensate for social anxiety with alcohol and other stimulants, while others are more likely to withdraw. Both can be isolating and stem from a fear of being seen, which can result in excessive nervous chatter or difficulty with forming ideas and speaking in the moment, even in casual settings. 

Menstrual pain and difficulties

Painful periods, heavy bleeds, and skipped periods are all signs that something in the body is out of balance. Anxiety can be linked to hormonal imbalances and inflammation that aggravate or interrupt the menstrual cycle throughout the month, but symptoms are usually more obvious during or just before menstruation.

Anxiety can be difficult to live with, but recognizing these symptoms is a big step towards treatment and recovery. Speak to a wellness practitioner, coach therapist or doctor if you have any concerns.

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: Etiology And Pathophysiology Of Insomnia; Primary Headaches In Patients With Generalized Anxiety Disorder; Symptoms Of Anxiety And Tension And The Accompanying

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