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Anxiety symptoms

Symptoms of anxiety can be manifested physically, mentally and emotionally.

Introduction

Anxiety symptoms arise as a result of being under stress  – when you feel you are in a situation which is too difficult or overwhelming to cope with mentally. Symptoms of anxiety overlap considerably with symptoms of stress.

Anxiety is sometimes also described as being nervous. It is normal to experience a bit of nervousness or be mildly anxious in certain circumstances. For example, it is normal to feel nervous when going for a job interview.

This page discusses the anxiety symptoms you can expect to experience if you are stressed or under pressure. As stress is common, you may already be familiar with the anxiety symptoms described, which can be manifested either physically or psychologically (non-physically).

Many people who feel anxious will want to know what steps they can take to help themselves. Follow the links for anxiety treatments and self-help for more information.

Physical symptoms of anxiety

Physical symptoms of anxiety result from the ‘fight or flight’ reaction of the body to danger. Adrenaline and other chemicals are released into the bloodstream and these account for acute physical symptoms experienced, such as:

  • Awareness of heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fast shallow breathing (hyperventilation)
  • Muscle tension (esp. in neck and shoulders)
  • Feeling nauseated or being sick
  • Flushing in the face
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating
  • A ‘knot’ in the stomach
  • Diarrhoea
  • Feeling tingly
  • Feelings of tiredness

If stress is prolonged, these acute symptoms decrease in intensity, but can still lie in the background. This is the reason that people with the tendency to feel anxious can suffer from conditions such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Headaches
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

Mental and emotional anxiety symptoms

When stress is long-standing, or if the mind and body are not coping with stress, a series of emotional or psychological anxiety symptoms can arise. These include:

  • Feeling restless or ‘on-edge’
  • Feeling irritable, impatient or short-tempered
  • Being negative, worried, low in mood or depressed
  • Experiencing difficulty getting to sleep or not sleeping well through the night
  • Mood swings
  • Having a sense of ‘dread’ that something is about to go wrong
  • Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem
  • Loss of concentration, being easily distracted or having a poor memory
  • Feeling you can’t cope with normal everyday issues such as running late for a hairdressing appointment
  • Having irrational thoughts such as the desire to give up work and ‘never mind the consequences’
  • Poor judgement
  • Relying more on alcohol, cigarettes (or even drugs) to help you through the day

Health problems associated with stress and anxiety

If anxiety symptoms persist and stress is experienced over time, a number of health problems may result. These include:

  • Depression: It is normal to feel a bit low or moody from time to time especially if you are under a bit of pressure. However, anxiety can lead to depression and a feeling of despair
  • Panic attacks: These are acute anxiety attacks where symptoms worsen and become more acute. Typical symptoms include hyperventilation, difficulty breathing and a choking sensation in the throat
  • Circulatory problems: People who experience long-standing anxiety symptoms tend to have a higher blood pressure. This in turn can lead to an increased risk of strokes and heart attacks
  • Digestive problems: Feeling a ‘knot’ in the stomach can be a symptom of anxiety. However, when prolonged, specific digestive conditions such as stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome can develop
  • Increased inflammation: The chemicals giving rise to anxiety symptoms can disturb the normal healing processes in the body. This explains why stress and anxiety can make symptoms of certain underlying conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis or asthma) worse.

If any of the health problems mentioned in this section become serious or if you experience unexpected or severe symptoms, you must seek medical advice.

Further reading:
Anxiety
What is anxiety
Anxiety treatment and self-help

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