Is restlessness a symptom of anxiety?

Qualified Life Coach
Ask Marianna

09 April 2019

Why do I feel so restless?

Have you found yourself feeling on edge recently? Perhaps you’re finding it more difficult to unwind at the end of the day, or maybe you’ve noticed that you’re more impatient than usual or fidgeting when you try to sit still? Restlessness can manifest in many different ways and impact not only your sleep patterns and mood, but also how you interact with those around you. 

So, why does restlessness crop up in the first place? Well, a number of factors could be at play when it comes to restlessness but, as with most things related to anxiety, your ‘flight or fight’ reflexes must shoulder some of the blame. 

This is because, when you experience anxiety, your nervous system has no sense of moderation. It won’t distinguish between minor worries (things like, ‘What if I freeze up during the presentation?’ or ‘What if I don't make this deadline?’) and life-or-death situations, such as facing a dangerous predator or running away from a natural disaster. 

As a result, it will trigger the release of inflammatory steroid hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These are designed to redirect attention to key organs and tissues like your lungs, heart and muscles (often at the expense of other areas like your digestive system and reproductive health!) in addition to heightening sensations of alertness and wakefulness, so you can respond to any threat as quickly as possible. 

It’s these feelings of alertness and hyper-vigilance that are responsible for restlessness. Your body is all geared up for action at this point and you’re on edge, waiting to react to any potential danger. This is great if you’re in a death-defying situation but, if you’re sitting at your desk, these feelings are less welcome and can be incredibly distracting.  

What are the symptoms of restlessness?

Okay, so how does restlessness manifest and interact with other possible anxiety symptoms? Below, I’m going to delve into a few common restlessness symptoms and how they can potentially affect your mood, exacerbating your other symptoms. 

  • Feeling jittery or on edge: This is perhaps the most common symptom of restlessness. As I mentioned earlier, once your ‘fight or flight reflexes’ have been triggered, thanks to cortisol and adrenaline, you’ll be primed for action. This means you’ll be on edge and extremely reactive, perhaps finding it difficult to sit still for long periods of time
  • Inability to concentrate: If your nervous system is on red alert, then this means that your mind could be affected. If your body is anticipating a threat, you’ll probably find it difficult to focus and may find that your racing thoughts distract you from performing basic tasks
  • Impatience: Restlessness can often give rise to feelings of impatience. If, subconsciously, you’re waiting for something to happen then this is going to bleed into your mood, making you feel more impatient than usual. As we will soon see, impatience can often lead into negative emotions such as anger and irritability
  • Irritability: If you’re on edge then this isn’t going to do wonders for your mood. In fact, symptoms such as impatience and poor concentration can often cause your temper to flare, making you far more irritable and more likely to lash out than usual. Of course, this can affect your interactions with those around you as you may find yourself reacting  negatively to incidences that would not have previously inspired this response
  • Poor sleep: If you’re going to bed with your mind racing and your nervous system on edge then, naturally, it’s  unlikely that you’ll get a good night’s sleep. When it comes to anxiety, this can be problematic as sleep deprivation will only make you more vulnerable to this distressing emotion, thus compounding symptoms like restlessness
  • Muscle tension: Muscle tension is often associated with anxiety and this is, in part, due to the effect anxiety has on our magnesium levels. You see, magnesium is extremely important when it comes to our muscles and joints, but stress and anxiety can leach our stores of this vital mineral. Combined with restlessness, you may find your muscles become tenser and more prone to spasms. 

How can I relieve restlessness?

1. Practice relaxation techniques

If your mind is racing then forming coherent thoughts is going to be tricky; however, it’s really important that, if you do feel restless, you take steps to try and calm yourself down. This is where relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and mindful meditation come into the picture. Just breathing properly can make a huge difference and help to relax your nervous system. 

Start by placing a hand over your stomach. Inhale deeply through your nose and pay attention to the way your stomach rises; hold the breath for four counts and then release through your nose, feeling your stomach fall. Try to make your exhale a little bit longer than your inhale. 

In addition to breathing techniques, it might also help to practice mindful meditation. This practice helps you to observe your thoughts objectively rather than being an active participant, so it’s definitely worth trying if your mind is racing. The really great thing about mindfulness is that there are now plenty of apps you can download to your phone to help, such as Calm or Headspace, which are completely free and offer quick 5 or 10 minute guides. 

If you feel as though you need a helping hand to wind down, it might also be worth taking a look at our AvenaCalm remedy. This tincture is prepared using organically grown extracts of the oat flower herb, which means it contains an alkaloid called ‘gramine’.  This compound can help to soothe the nervous system, making you more resilient to emotional upsets like anxiety or stress. 

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A gentle preparation derived from the oat flower herb, just mix 25 drops with a little water to help soothe your nervous system.

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2. Address the underlying cause of your anxiety

Once you feel more in control of your symptoms, it might be a good idea to address the underlying cause of your anxiety. Otherwise, all you’re doing is treating the symptoms without thinking about any final resolutions. 

For example, if money problems have got your nervous system all ramped up, it might be worth seeking out financial advice from a support unit like Citizens Advice. Alternatively, if your anxiety is related to a deeper issue that cannot be overcome so simply, then the best thing you can do is talk about your problems. 

You might not want to share your grievances with your loved ones, either because you don’t want to impose on them or because you don’t want to admit that you are in distress. However, even if they cannot directly solve all your problems, at least they can offer a sympathetic ear and help you rationalise your feelings. The simple acting of airing your thoughts aloud can be very soothing and it’s much better for you in the long-run, instead of keeping all of your worries and concerns bottled up. 

3. Use exercise as a release 

If you’re feeling tense and overstimulated, exercise can be a great way to release all your pent up jitteriness and impatience. Not only can it help to provide you with a physical outlet, it can also help to release happy hormones such as dopamine, improving your mood and supporting your nervous system. 

If you feel like you have a lot of energy to burn up, then vigorous exercise classes like bodypump or zumba might be a good idea; however, these fast paced exercise regimes aren’t for everyone, and that's fine. Everyone is different - what works for one person might not work for another.

If these high-intensity workouts don’t sound like your cup of tea, you may wish to look at low-impact forms of exercise, such as yoga, tai-chi or swimming. These can be great for teaching you self-calming techniques and enabling you to relax and calm down.

4. Up your magnesium intake

Magnesium, as I’ve mentioned, is extremely important for relaxing your muscles and supporting your joints, but did you know it can also help to improve your mood? In my blog, ‘Can magnesium help with anxiety?’ I delve deeper into this miracle mineral’s many benefits but, to summarise here, magnesium can help to convert tryptophan, an amino acid, into serotonin, a mood-boosting neurotransmitter. It can also help to regulate your GABA levels, plus you need it to absorb vitamin D properly.

Another reason why magnesium might take on added importance is, if you’re feeling anxious or stressed, you’re more likely to use up your stores of the nutrient.  Plus, low levels of magnesium can also promote symptoms like fatigue and mood problems.

Magnesium-rich foods: Bananas, avocados, spinach, kale, raspberries, quinoa and dark chocolate.

5. Get plenty of good quality sleep

When it comes to supporting your nervous system and mood, it really is impossible to undersell the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. Your body needs sleep to rest and repair, to consolidate new memories and to detox your brain! If you’re not getting enough sleep then the symptoms will make themselves apparent very quickly – you may feel more fatigued during the day, experience unhealthy cravings, find it difficult to concentrate and feel as though your mood is more volatile.

Sleep deprivation will also exaggerate any anxious feelings you’re experiencing and, when it comes to restlessness in particular, you may find that overtiredness makes matters worse here too. That’s why I’d check out our Sleep Advisor Marianna’s sleep hygiene tips to make sure you’re doing the most to get a good night’s sleep.

6. Avoid stimulants

Finally, if you’re feeling jittery and on edge, you’ll really want to avoid stimulants like caffeine or alcohol. These definitely won’t help you to relax and may only worsen the symptoms you’re experiencing. Caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee are definitely worth mentioning here, but foods that are rich in refined sugar also deserve a shout out  as they can impact your blood glucose levels, impacting your mood as well.

Instead, try to focus on foods and drinks that are going to help to soothe your symptoms. Chamomile tea, for example, has been used for centuries to help promote feelings of relaxation, while foods like oats (which are rich in B vitamins and tryptophan) can help to stabilise your blood glucose levels. For more information, please take a look at my blog, ’12 foods to fight stress’.

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