Being stressed and being anxious aren't the same thing. So sometimes, although you don't have any particular worries you can recognize off the top of your head, your body reminds you that you're still anxious underneath it all. The physical symptoms of anxiety can show up any time, even when you least expect it.
While you may consider anxiety to be all about your thoughts, it's actually a pretty full-body experience. So even when you aren't having a particularly stressful day or night, anxiety can still be present in your system. "Anxiety is a highly physiological experience," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "So many of the symptoms of anxiety can intertwine physical, cognitive and emotional experiences. It’s not uncommon for people experiencing anxiety to not be aware or not link what they are experiencing to that of being anxious because the experience is so physiological." Treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy may be able to help you find the connection between your thoughts and your feelings, but you can also start by better understanding what physical symptoms may be connected to feelings of distress.
Experiences like panic attacks can be more obvious, but anxiety's daily symptoms are sometimes so subtle that you may not interpret them correctly right away. Luckily, these symptoms are well-studied, so a psychologist can help you identify what may not be obvious at first.
Here are 10 physical ways anxiety can manifest itself, even when you're not feeling stressed, according to experts.
You May Have Difficulty Breathing
If you've ever noticed yourself having trouble breathing, even when you don't seem particularly stressed, then you may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety.
"Another physical symptom is rapid [or] shallow breathing (hyperventilation)," licensed clinical social worker Sheilah Ledesma, owner of Lighter Living Counseling, tells Bustle. "Even when a person is not feeling stressed in that moment, they can become a victim of this physical symptom." If you are dealing with unresolved anxiety, this may be more likely. Your body may be warning you that you have some underlying issues to deal with.
You May Sweat More Than Usual
Nervous sweating doesn't just happen before a big speech or another stressful event. You can experience this symptom of anxiety even when you're feeling relatively calm.
"A person can start sweating out profusely even when nothing stressful or anxious is happening," Ledesma says. "This is evidence that there is a build up of anxiety that has not been addressed. The body is so accustomed to sending anxious signals to the brain and the body responds by releasing cortisol, the stress hormone." Since this may be another sign that you may not be properly addressing your anxiety, you might want to seek professional help if this happens often.
You May Wake Up A Lot In The Night
If you've ever woken up in the night with a racing heart, even if you went to bed feeling fine, then you may be dealing with a physical symptom of anxiety.
"This physical response could be due to that person's anxious neural pathways that have been created over time," Ledesma says. "The brain is powerful enough to recognize a person's thought patterns, and overtime will be conditioned to respond anxiously even when a person is not stressed." Finding a therapist who can address your anxiety, and perhaps focusing on clean sleeping, may prevent this from happening too often.
You May Make Repetitive Movements
You may feel like these are totally harmless habits, but tapping a pen, shaking your leg, or doing other repetitive movements could be a sign of anxiety — even if you aren't feeling stressed.
"[People with anxiety may] wring hands, pace, shake a leg or tap a foot," Dr. Klapow says. "All of this is driven by our brain prepping the body for defense." Since anxiety puts your body into "fight-or-flight" mode, this can be a sign of your body reacting to anxiety in a very innate way. If you notice you have a repetitive habit you can't shake, it may be worth examining whether it could be tied to anxiety.
You May Eat Or Speak More Quickly
Just like anxiety can cause racing thoughts, it can also speed up some of your physical processes as well.
"People can eat and speak more quickly even when they aren't aware," Eagan says. Being more mindful throughout the day may help you slow down when you notice yourself potentially being anxious, and having trouble regulating your pace.
You May Have Digestive Issues
Even if you aren't thinking about anything stressful, your body switching into "fight-or-flight" mode can still cause all sorts of physical symptoms — including digestive upset.
"During the activation of the 'fight-or-flight' system, the body's ability to digest food properly decreases," licensed clinical social worker and licensed clinical addictions specialist, Lauren Moser Vilar, tells Bustle. "[...] However, if we are constantly anxious our bodies do not properly digest and excrete our food intake." If you've noticed a change in your digestion, talking to a doctor is an important step for both your physical and mental health. Anxiety and the gut are closely linked.
You May Feel More Tired Than Usual
One reason that you may experience physical symptoms of anxiety even when you aren't stressed is because the symptoms can build up over time. And when this happens, you may begin to feel quite tired.
"The sympathetic system, or 'fight-or-flight' system, is very active even if you aren’t consciously aware of the work your body is doing," Moser Vilar says. "Over time, the underlying anxiety can create exhaustion and fatigue." If you've noticed a change in your energy level, it's important to reach out to a doctor or therapist for help.
Your Shoulder And Neck May Feel Tense
Shoulder and neck tension are classic anxiety symptoms. If you have been dealing with anxiety for a while, this tension can become a painful physical issue even when you aren't feeling stressed.
"Over time, the muscle tension that we experience from stress builds up and can create neck cramps and stiff shoulders," Moser Vilar says. Both physical and psychological remedies may be able to ease this tension.
You May Feel Like You're Having An "Out Of Body" Experience
Dissociation can be a scary word. But if you've ever felt like you're having an "out of body experience," or simply felt "off" for a bit, you may be experiencing a physical response to anxiety.
"An example of a 'flight' response might be difficulty concentrating or feeling like we're detached from ourselves, as if detaching our body from our emotions will help us survive the perceived threat," licensed professional counselor Julie Williamson, tells Bustle. If you notice a pattern of this sensation, however, seeking professional support may be a helpful step.
Unfortunately, a lot of these physical signs of anxiety become apparent when anxiety goes untreated for a while. Learning to accept that stress and anxiety aren't personal failures may help you ease your symptoms. "When we consider stress 'bad,' we actually become more stressed by the presence of stress symptoms, creating a cycle of stress we seek to avoid," licensed marriage and family therapist Carrie Krawiec, tells Bustle. Instead, recognizing that stress and anxiety are important ways that your body protects you, may help you forgive yourself and feel more willing to find treatment to mitigate it — not eradicate these feelings completely.