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Common (and Uncommon) Symptoms of Anxiety

When starting treatment, most of my patients do not know that a lot of the physical symptoms they are experiencing hour by hour and day by day are symptoms of anxiety.

Commonly and Less Commonly Known Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Tension/migraine headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Cold/hot hands
  • Increased/decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration
  • nausea and vomiting
  • Sudden need to pee
  • constipation/diarrhea
  • Shivering
  • Hair standing on ends
  • hyperventilation/fainting
  • Teary eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Foggy/unclear thinking
  • Limpness/jelly legs
  • Tunnel vision

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is our conscious awareness of the bodily sensations associated with fear. We can become afraid because of actual threats in the environment. Think about our body’s reaction when we perceive that a car is hurtling rapidly towards us. That’s fear.

Anxiety is when we become afraid because of our feelings. For many of us, feelings are perceived as dangerous. That’s because feelings trigger unconscious memories of earlier relationships. There was a time when in fact our feelings were dangerous. Our early caretakers couldn’t always (or in some cases, usually) tolerate our feelings.

You’re in session. We’re talking about your relationship with your father, which is…complicated. You start to talk about a time he yelled at you. Suddenly, you break out into a cold sweat, notice that you’re nauseous, and your vision becomes a bit cloudy around the edges. What’s going on?

Remembering a time he yelled you, you became angry at him for doing that. That feeling makes you anxious, and so you get anxiety symptoms.

Thus, when you start to experience “unacceptable” feelings (like anger at your father for yelling at you) you become anxious. Your internal systems go on high alert:

Beware, beware. You are beginning to experience potentially relationship-threatening feelings. Ignore these feelings at all costs!

However, often people don’t know what they’re feeling that’s causing them to become anxious. They learned early on to ignore the feelings that made their caretakers anxious. Once ignoring feelings becomes an unconscious, automatic habit, people no longer know what triggers their anxiety. They don’t know that feelings trigger their anxiety, because they have become so good at ignoring their feelings before they even get a hint that they’re there.

With treatment, you can get better at identifying your feelings, so that you can better control your anxiety, and so that you can have better information about what actions you want to take in your life so that you are in control of your life, rather than your anxiety being in control.