Some symptoms of anxiety are obvious — a fast heart rate, negative thoughts, trouble breathing, to name a few. But anxiety can also cause a number of weird things to happen to your body, some that might even seem totally unrelated to your mindset. Living with anxiety is already detrimental enough to your mental health, but it can also have some physical and cognitive effects as well.
"Anxiety has an effect on your entire body because your body responds to psychological stress in the same way it responds to physical stress," says psychotherapist Jennifer Weaver-Breitenbecher LMHC, CRC over email. "Whether you're sick to your stomach over a breakup or being chased through the woods by a bear, your body registers stress as stress. It's doesn't differentiate."
Every person responds to anxiety differently, but there are a number of reactions that are common among people who suffer. If you've noticed some things have been off in your body, your mental state may actually be to blame. Whether it's related to how your stomach is feeling or how well you're able to focus on all the small details in your life, here are 11 weird things that can happen to your body when you have anxiety.
Since anxiety triggers a fight or flight response, it can wreak havoc on your your gastrointestinal system. "Normal digestive processes are put on hold, as they are not a priority," says Dorian Crawford, PsyD over email. "The end result can be an urgent and uncomfortable 'urge to purge' anything weighing you down, which could cause diarrhea. The 'fight' body chemicals can also lead to nausea or a fluttering spasm in the stomach area." If the anxiety is ongoing, the end result can be constipation or even reduced appetite.
2Mistaken Heart Attack
Anxiety can make you feel like you're really dying, as a panic attack is a process that that can feel very much like a heart attack. "Your heart will race, you may have trouble breathing, and you could feel like you are going to black out," says Crawford. "The good news is that the body can only maintain this degree of heightened arousal for around 16 minutes. It will pass. There are several excellent therapies focused on recognizing the triggers to panic attacks, learning how to sit through them and even how to shorten them or stop them completely."
Anxiety can make you paranoid, as being persistently anxious leads to something called hypervigilance. "When you are hypervigilant, you are always looking out for the things that cause fear or distress," says Crawford. "As a result, you may be unable to focus on studying, friends, conversations or work due to being on the constant lookout for danger."
4Inability To Talk
Ever felt at a loss for words when feeling anxious? You're not alone. "Anxiety might make you unable to talk," says Crawford. "Selective mutism is a reaction to stress that usually comes about in social situations. Even though you are capable of talking and may be able to talk in many other situations, some scenarios are so anxiety provoking that you become mute and completely unable to speak."
5Surge Of Energy
When you are anxious, your body pumps adrenaline, which can give you a surge of energy — whether it's wanted or not. "When you are anxious, your body pumps adrenaline," says clinical psychologist Dr. Helen Odessky over email. "Your reaction time becomes faster, which means you are more able to act in an actual emergency, like hit the car brakes to avoid a collision. "But you may experience a surge of physical energy that's unwelcome, such as if you become anxious in the absence an emergency, like when you are attempting to sit and watch a movie."
Feeling anxious can affect your memory, and you may even find that you stop tuning into details. "When our bodies feel as though they are under attack, we only see the major pieces of a situation and the details become hazy," says Weaver-Breitenbecher. "We see this often in bystander reports of crimes or accidents. The details usually vary from report to report because our brains don't allow us to tune in."
7Abdominal Weight Gain
Weight gain isn't the worst thing in the word, but in occur in people with long-term anxiety thanks to the release of the stress hormone cortisol. "When we experience chronic or daily anxiety, we may notice that we start to gain weight around our midsections," says Weaver-Breitenbecher.
8Cold Hands & Feet
As a result of the fight-or-flight response and adrenaline rushing through your body, your heart rate is sped up and blood is rushed away from your hands and feet to your organs that would need it most during "danger," according to the Calm Clinic. This can leave your extremities feeling colder thanks to the decrease of blood moving through them.
Not all skin issues are a result of bad hygiene. In fact, anxiety can cause eczema-related flare-ups as well as other skin rashes such as psoriasis or rosacea, according to Prevention. Cortisol is to blame for this issue as well. With all that extra stress-hormone, your body's defenses are weakened, which makes it harder to fight off any potential irritants.
All that anxiety can leave you feeling fatigued, both physically and mentally, according to the Calm Clinic. There are a number of reasons why you could feel so exhausted from anxiety: Your body tends to crash after the adrenaline runs out, your brain becomes tired after all those rapid fire thoughts, you don't sleep well, etc.
"Anxiety can literally freeze your cognitive processing," says Crawford. "When the brain is overwhelmed by a stressor — a licensing exam or public speaking, for example — the fear inhibits problem solving, verbal processing, auditory processing, and executive functions."