Different anxiety disorders can have different symptoms, but there is one common theme to them all: a feeling of fear. Fear can manifest itself in numerous ways in a person’s conscious and subconscious mind, but all the reactions stem from a person’s fight-or-flight response. The mind determines the physical, emotional, and behavioral responses to the stress placed on it when experiencing anxiety.
Many times, a person will think that he or she has a medical condition due to physical symptoms of stress and anxiety—the most prevalent example of this is a panic attack. Anxiety manifests itself with real physical symptoms that sometimes mimic a heart attack or other medical emergency, but the brain is fooled into thinking that because the fight-or-flight response is heightened. Also, when a person experiences intense or repeated trauma, the mind can trick the body into thinking something is physically wrong either because of the severity of the trauma or the fact that it is prolonged. So the longer the event occurs, the worse the anxiety may get, and the worse it gets, the more physical symptoms may manifest themselves.
Anxiety symptoms can be easily categorized into three main segments: Behavioral, Physical, and Mental. However, a fourth small category exists, and that is Illness-related Symptoms that don’t seem to fall into the other three categories. While the complete list of symptoms could fill a small book, a shortened list of the most common can be summarized here.
Sometimes anxiety manifests itself with behavioral symptoms, and sometimes it does not. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder sufferers tend to be those with the most obvious behavioral symptoms because they tend to repeat an action over and over as a way to lessen their anxiety. However, other forms of the disorder can present behavioral changes as well, such as:
- Temperament changes, such as anger, impatience, irritability, and restlessness
- Social withdrawal and avoidance of situations that trigger anxiety
- Difficulty focusing or relaxing
- Self-medicating or self-harm
- Weight loss or gain
While other behavioral symptoms may surface, the important thing is to watch for changes in a loved one or yourself that may be concerning. It is important to seek help for yourself or the other person, especially if you think there may be a danger of self-harm.
While the list of mental symptoms may not be the longest, they are perhaps the most important. Anxiety can change the chemical makeup of the brain, altering the connectors that communicate how to think—and sometimes how to act. Anxiety can even cause severe mental states, such as removing a person’s ability to feel pleasure or even causing a person to forget who they are. Thankfully, however, it is also possible to restore the mind once the anxiety is healed. Receiving help and treatment can prevent and reverse mental changes, keeping them from becoming permanent.
Mental symptoms can essentially be broken down into three categories: thoughts, emotions, and cognitive function.
Thoughts: negative, racing, crazy, strange, violent, obsessive, irrational, disturbing, scary
While it can be hard to control your thoughts, one step toward curing anxiety is to remind yourself each time you have one of these types of thoughts that it’s due to the anxiety and try to let it go. Awareness of the thoughts is important to recognize symptoms.
Emotions: mood symptoms, such as anger, hyperactivity, hysteria, euphoria, mood swings, sadness, suicidal thoughts—or fear symptoms, such as fear of death or going crazy, hypochondriasis, being scared easily
Just as it is important to recognize symptoms in your thoughts, recognizing mood changes will help you overcome anxiety faster by acknowledging them and recognizing them for what they are.
Cognitive Functions: memory loss, hallucinations, nightmares, detachment, disorientation, confusion, distorted reality
While thoughts, emotions, and cognitive functions are tied together, cognitive function describes more how the brain acts as opposed to thoughts or moods. Moods and cognitive functions are more noticeable by others; anxious thoughts can be kept to oneself more easily.
The list of possible physical symptoms anxiety can cause by far the longest, proving that what affects the mind also affects the body. Symptoms can be felt in the entire body, such as aches and pains or a weakened immune system; they can also be felt in specific areas of the body, such as muscles, organs, head, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, chest, neck, back, arms, stomach, etc. They can be vague, such as hormonal changes or high/low blood pressure, or specific, such as acne or tingling feet or toes. They can be internal, such as digestive issues or incontinence, or external, such as sweating or wheezing. Symptoms can even be subconscious nervous habits such as nail biting or inadvertent, such as drooling. Anxiety can even cause heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat, leading a person to believe that they have a severe medical condition.
When a person experiences any physical symptoms (and an underlying health condition is ruled out), it is important to remember not to let the symptoms worsen the anxiety. Try to remain calm and remember that the symptom (and others you may experience) are brought on by the anxiety and will be reduced when the anxiety gets better.
Since each person is vastly different, symptoms can vary greatly, some perhaps even experiencing ones that may not be on any list. It is important to remember not to focus on the symptoms but to seek help and work toward retraining your brain to recognize anxiety and overcome it. Help is available, and there are always others out there who have experienced it and can support you in your journey toward healing.