“That’s why we often talk about belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing,” says Dr. Potter. This is a grounding technique where you essentially breathe slowly and deeply by really using your diaphragm (the main muscle involved in breathing tucked underneath your lungs), and research shows it can have a really positive effect on both physiological and psychological stress.2 By slowing down how quickly you’re breathing, you have more of a chance to get the oxygen you need, Dr. Potter explains.
3. Constant exhaustion
Feeling like you’re always tired or worn out is another physical symptom to take note of, according to the NIMH. For starters, that anxiety-activated uptick in stress hormones can keep you revved up on high alert, which can be seriously draining, says Dr. Potter. But there’s an additional factor that feeds into fatigue: Sleep and anxiety have a complicated relationship, which brings us to the next symptom…
4. Trouble sleeping
If you have a tough time falling asleep or wake up during the night and can’t doze back off, anxiety could be a culprit, according to the NIMH. Elevated levels of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline make it hard to get a good night’s sleep, since your buzzing body may not be able to relax enough to rest. The racing thoughts that can come with anxiety are no recipe for great sleep, either.
To make matters worse, the problem can often turn into a vicious cycle. Struggling to get enough sleep (and chugging coffee the next day to make up for it)3 ends up making you more anxious, which makes it even harder to fall and stay asleep, and so on and so on, the Cleveland Clinic explains.
5. Muscle tightness, soreness, and pain
According to the APA, your muscles tense up as part of your stress response. And holding parts of your body so rigidly for prolonged periods can actually lead to tension and pain, says Dr. Potter, who notes that many people with anxiety report feeling tight in their neck, back, or shoulders. You might also clench your jaw or feel muscle tension all the way up into your head, leading to headaches, says Dr. Potter. This can include your everyday tension headache4 and range to a full-blown migraine5 in those who are susceptible.
6. Stomach discomfort
“Anxiety really hits the G.I. system hard,” says Dr. Potter. People with anxiety may notice general stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, or other kinds of digestive distress, she explains. Gassiness and bloating can become regular physical signs of anxiety as well, per the APA.
All the bad belly stuff is thought to come from what experts call the gut-brain axis, a communication system between your brain and the enteric nervous system that governs your digestion.6 This connection is why stress can so easily mess with your poop. There’s also the fact that anxiety-induced lifestyle choices, like eating foods that don’t agree with you or not exercising regularly, can affect your digestion as well.
Considering anxiety’s overall effect on your digestive system, it might not come as a surprise that feeling nauseous is another common physical symptom. In fact, a one-year study published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry found that people who regularly reported symptoms of nausea were more than three times as likely to have an anxiety disorder compared to those who didn’t have frequent nausea.7
8. Heart palpitations
Remember that racing heart we talked about earlier? In some cases, it can get so intense that it can actually start to feel like your heart is skipping beats or jumping into your throat. While the sensation might (understandably) make you even more anxious, try to keep in mind that even though heart palpitations can feel scary, they aren’t typically dangerous in this context and will ease up as you start to feel calmer, according to the Cleveland Clinic. (With that said, you should seek medical attention if you experience heart palpitations with feelings of chest pain, dizziness, trouble breathing, or confusion.)
9. Nonstop nervous sweating
If you’re already grappling with anxiety, the thought of sweating profusely may just make it worse. Who wants to worry about pit stains or wiping their palms when they’re already feeling worried and on edge? Unfortunately, sweating is a common physical symptom of anxiety disorders, per the NIMH.
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