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Anxiety symptoms

Anxiety disorders can result in some frightening symptoms. This page will explain what is happening in your body and why you are getting certain symptoms.

Physical symptoms

Chest pain

This can include pain or tightness anywhere in your chest and rib cage. It can feel like a tightness or fullness, pressure, or muscular pain.

If you have a clean bill of health and do not have an underlying medical cause for your chest pain (heart problems, asthma, or stomach-related issues), you are probably experiencing anxiety.

Chest pain, although very frightening, will go away when your nervous system calms down and your breathing returns to normal.
The pain is due to breathing more than you need to. During levels of high anxiety or a panic attack, you might notice that your muscles above your rib cage are expanding and contracting your chest muscles. This can cause pain, as when relaxed, you will breathe from your diaphragm.

You are hyperventilating due to a stress response, causing your blood vessels to contract. The stress response is causing your muscles to tighten. These two things combined can cause chest pain.

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Heart palpitations

Heart Palpitations, pounding, and rapid heartbeat are common with anxiety. It can feel like your heart is pounding out of your chest or that it is about to give up. You can hear your heartbeat in your ears, especially lying down; it can seem like it is pounding on your pillow.

You would expect this to happen and even appreciate it if you were in real danger. It is needed for you to take action fast. It will pound harder to make the blood flow more quickly and enable more oxygen to be at your disposal.

You are comfortable with the idea that if you got up now and went out for a run for five minutes, your heart would beat fast; it may even pound out of your chest if you are not a regular runner. Your heart needs to beat faster to pump more blood when active.

If your sympathetic nervous system gets activated, your heart will start to pound when it is not necessary. This is alarming if you are sitting at home watching the TV.

Once this starts, you are more likely to stop watching the TV, and your mind will begin to worry,

  • I’m having a heart attack
    What’s happening?
    Am I dying?

You will probably feel your pulse. You get terrified when you do, and feel it beating almost too fast for you to count. This fear sends a clear and definite signal that there is something to worry about, and your sympathetic nervous system is firing now. Your heart beats faster still.

Difficulty catching your breath

Breathing problems that are caused by anxiety can feel like you

  • are gasping for air
  • cannot get enough air
  • are gulping air
  • are not breathing at all
  • are suffocating and or/ feeling like you are smothering

These types of symptoms occur more with panic disorder, when the person is having a panic attack.

image of two cartoon lungs breathing

Why does it feel like I can’t breathe or am always aware of my breathing?
You are focusing on your breathing – you become incredibly aware of it. In life before anxiety, you probably never thought about breathing. You did not have to, as it is outside your control; you do not have to remember to do it.

Many people become acutely aware of their breathing changes once they start experiencing anxiety. You are more than likely over-breathing.

When you are relaxed and calm, you may not think about it; your intake of breath is natural and occurs at the right time when you need it. You are consciously thinking about breathing during high anxiety or panic – afraid of it stopping. This awareness may cause you to start to take your ‘in-breath’ before it is needed.

Numbness and pins and needles

When you are experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, the feeling of numbness and pins and needles are typical. Blood quickly gets diverted away from areas that are unnecessary to allow your heart to beat faster. When the blood is getting diverted, your blood vessels contract. Your breathing has also increased.

You are receiving more oxygen. You are also experiencing less carbon dioxide, which results in numbness, pins and needles, and tingly feelings you may have.


Many people find it difficult when they blush, as they are worried that other people can see that they are anxious.

You can feel the heat coming up over your throat and neck and then the burning in your face. If this happens to you, all you can think about is that the other person can see that you are anxious, which makes you blush more.

Adrenalin is released into your body, causing your heart rate to beat faster. It also results in your blood vessels dilating. This is necessary (in a real emergency) to allow blood to pump faster.
This is what you feel in your face, more blood flow.

Tummy problems

These include

  • Irritable Bowel
  • Syndrome
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Stomach pain/cramps
  • Pain from wind
  • Acid reflux problems

Why does this happen?
Your digestion slows down and the acid in your stomach increases. This happens because it is not that important that your body focuses on digesting your last meal in times of emergency. It is much more important to focus on supplying power to your heart and muscles for you to respond to the crisis.

If you are experiencing chronic anxiety, your ability to digest becomes slightly impaired and may result in the stomach problems listed above.

Frequent urination

Why do I need to go to the loo when anxious?

That old expression “I nearly wet myself” has to come from somewhere!
Have you noticed that you need to “wee” more often when you are anxious? It is a perfectly natural thing that happens when you get nervous.

If you were in danger, your bowels and bladder could empty on the spot. If you have a life-threatening situation in front of you, you do not want to be weighed down with the contents of your last meal. Your body can dispose of them; rapidly.

Cognitive symptoms; the effect on your mind

  • Feeling like you are going to die
  • Terror
  • Feeling like you are losing your mind
  • Unable to sleep
  • Fear of losing control
  • Feeling not real
  • Intrusive thoughts and images

Behavioural symptoms

An anxiety disorder can also affect what you do; these are known as behavioural symptoms.

  • Behavioural symptoms more specific to social anxiety
  • avoiding speaking in public
  • not wanting to eat in front of others
  • not going for promotion as wish to avoid being noticed or attending for interview
  • reluctant to meet in new surroundings
  • Behavioural symptoms more specific to panic disorder
  • avoiding places where you had a panic attack before
  • checking your pulse
  • check air coming out nostrils to ensure breathing
  • sitting near an exit in public places